Reality of Aid – Asia Pacific’s feedback to the ADB’s Draft Guidance Note on Large Hydropower Plants reiterates the following principles as reflected in our CSO Critique on ADB’s Energy Policy:
1.“Do no harm” principle. The construction of large hydropower plants have only served to impede on Indigenous Peoples and affected communities’ lands and rights, causing conflict, instability, and exploitation. Following this principle, potential risks and adverse impacts resulting from projects must be prevented, reduced and controlled. Large hydropower projects financed by the bank that neither contribute towards mitigating environmental and climate challenges nor aid in facilitating the needed shift towards low-carbon and sustainable development paths, must not be pursued.
From the CSO Aid Observatorio, large hydropower projects pursued by the bank, such as the Nam Ngiep-1 Hydropower Project, Upper Trishuli-1 Hydropower Project and Nenskra Hydropower Project, have led to adverse environmental and social impacts on Indigenous Peoples and affected communities. Large-scale displacement from land acquisition, environmental destruction and threats to biodiversity, human rights violations from increased repression and militarization of communities, have often been caused by the construction and implementation of large hydropower projects.
In pursuing large-scale projects, the bank must be able to provide assessments of possible environmental and social impact and to formulate a comprehensive plan to mitigate these. The construction of large hydropower projects and dams have often led to pollution, biodiversity loss, flooding, landslides and water supply disruption. With this, the bank must be able to provide a mitigation plan from environmental and social assessments. Comprehensive information regarding projects’ prospective development impacts must be made available. This information should highlight the impact on marginalized sectors of society, by providing disaggregated data and statistics.
Adverse impacts to people’s homes, livelihoods, culture and ways of life must be avoided at all costs. Communities in possible sites of projects must not be forcibly displaced or resettled without their consent. In cases of resettlement, there must be clear and accessible processes for the adequate compensation for the replacement, restoration and rehabilitation of their homes and livelihoods.
The bank must uphold safe and humane working conditions for the workers it employs and affects. This can be ensured by upholding international labor standards and ensuring occupational health and safety measures. In promoting public health and safety, the ADB must support public health systems to adequately address risks. The needs of marginalized populations, such as women and children, peasants, fisherfolk, workers, urban poor, Indigenous Peoples, among others, should be adequately met.
2.People-oriented approach to the promotion of clean energy. Development and establishment of renewable energy systems must be consistent with the goals of promoting, protecting, and realizing human rights, and ensuring a climate-safe and equitable future for all. Therefore, in addressing potential and ongoing threats and risks, there is a need for robust safeguard mechanisms and processes by the bank.
As it updates its Safeguard Policy, it must explicitly adopt a rights-based and people-centered framework. The ADB must align their operations with the UN Declaration of Human Rights, the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Adoption of gender-responsive frameworks is also needed. Projects must only be implemented with the free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) of affected indigenous communities. This should also entail preserving and recognizing their rights over their ancestral lands, as well as traditional knowledge and systems that Indigenous Peoples have.
Grievance redress mechanisms must be made available to affected communities and sectors, both at the project level and through an institution-wide redressal mechanism of the ADB. From the construction of dams and hydropower plants, indigenous and rural communities facing threats of displacement, loss of livelihoods and environmental destruction from hydropower projects have often faced reprisals and retaliation from security forces. The bank and its partners must ensure human rights and civic space is protected and civil society is meaningfully included in its processes. Furthermore, affected communities and civil society must be involved in the design, implementation and monitoring of such mechanisms. Complaints and grievances should be adequately addressed by the ADB by providing plans to investigate and remedy violations.
3.Priority to DMCs in meeting their Paris Agreement commitments, and to local players in the energy sector, especially to micro, small and medium-sized enterprises. Alignment with the Paris Agreement means providing developing member countries (DMCs) the financial and technical assistance to develop and advance renewable energy. In pursuing large-scale infrastructure projects, the ADB, along with other IFIs, has disbursed loans and promoted the role of the private sector through public-private partnerships. This contributes to the debt being incurred by developing countries in the region, while ensuring profit for private sector contractors. Even worse, some of the energy projects that have incurred debt and led to adverse impacts do not benefit the local population as the produced energy is exported, as evidenced in the Nam Ngiep-1 Hydropower Project.
With this, there is a need to promote community-owned and led initiatives that promote public ownership over energy resources and systems. Energy access is inextricably linked to control over energy choices for people, especially the most vulnerable and marginalized. Sustainable energy is assured when it is linked with peoples’ capacity to design, manage, operate, and maintain such energy facilities.
Furthermore, the bank should prioritize support for developing member countries’ micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) in the energy sector, which are vital for developing member countries in reaching their adaptation goals. It must also assist local MSMEs to embark on clean energy projects, with the transfer of technology and knowledge. The promotion of the use of local goods and services can foster self-sustaining economies, which helps communities become more resilient to climate change.
4.Effective development cooperation principles of democratic country ownership, focus on results, inclusive partnerships, transparency and mutual accountability. The bank’s energy projects should contribute towards eradicating poverty, reducing inequalities, mitigating the climate crisis and upholding sustainable development. The ADB’s processes must be inclusive and participatory, ensuring that the democratic rights of communities, peoples’ organizations and civil society organizations are upheld in the design, implementation, and monitoring of projects. Transparency in its investments and accountability in its project implementation are also demanded from the bank.
Sector-wide long-term planning should be inclusive and participatory, especially to the vulnerable and marginalized populations. Communities should have a principal role in the identification, definition, implementation and evaluation of energy projects. Real sustainability of development gains will only ensue if communities themselves recognize, understand, and drive the processes. Consultation and planning of projects must include the voices of vulnerable communities, such as Indigenous Peoples, farmers, fisherfolk, workers, rural women and children, and urban poor, who continue to be the most impacted by the ADB’s energy projects and the climate crisis. Furthermore, environmental and social assessments must guarantee genuine free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) from communities. By strengthening these institutions, a people-centered and rights-based approach to development must be pursued, ensuring equal and affordable access to basic social services.
In ensuring sustainable and resilient energy systems, ADB must recognize civil society as development actors that will aid the transition of developing member countries and communities to clean energy. Civil society organizations, peoples’ organizations and communities have the duty and right to criticize and welcome policies, as development actors in their own right and in their own contexts. Clearly defining the role of civil society secures the obligations of developing member countries to respect the voices and spaces of civil society.
With the engagement of the private sector in the Energy Policy, ADB must be transparent and provide full disclosure on where their investments end up. Private sector partners in large-scale hydropower projects often lack proper monitoring and accountability mechanisms, which allows for negative impacts on peoples’ lives, livelihoods and environment. In implementing the Energy Policy, accountability is essential in securing energy access for all and in promoting a people-centered and rights-based approach. Accountability mechanisms to hold the bank and developing member country governments liable for energy projects and impacts must be set up. Through these, the bank makes itself accountable to the people, who should be benefiting from these projects.