ADB meet looks beyond poverty to energy

Bank boasts 'clean and green' projects but protesters beg to differ

by Eric Johnston

KYOTO — Stressing “clean and green” development projects and vowing greater efforts to reduce poverty, the Asian Development Bank kicked off its 40th annual meeting Friday in Kyoto.

Protesters outside the venue, however, slammed the government’s ADB funding, saying the projects are corrupt and benefit large Japanese trading houses at the expense of the environment and the people the bank is supposed to be helping.

“Development challenges are emerging, such as rising inequalities and increased pressure on the environment,” ADB President Haruhiko Kuroda said. “Being in Kyoto 10 years after the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol, it’s appropriate to have a special focus on energy and the environment. And despite much progress, Asia remains home to two-thirds of the world’s poor, a fact we must not lose sight of.”

Investment in, and promotion of, clean energy is being supported through a recently announced ADB initiative.

“The Clean Energy Financing Partnership Facility, which was established last month, is designed to make it a lot easier to provide funds, technology and technical support to developing countries for clean energy projects,” said WooChong Um, director in charge of the ADB’s clean energy programs. The ADB’s goal is to raise $250 million initially for the initiative.

Over the next four days, the conference is expected to address not only energy and poverty issues, but regional integration and even the direction of the bank itself.

In March, a group of outside financial experts optimistically predicted that by 2020, absolute poverty in most of Asia will have been wiped out and 90 percent of Asians will be living in middle-income countries. Based on this prediction, the group urged the ADB to adopt radical changes and focus more on the concerns of Asia’s rising middle classes.

Specifically, the group recommended the bank shift its focus from fighting extensive poverty to supporting faster and more inclusive growth, emphasizing environmentally sustainable growth over traditional economic growth, and moving from a primarily national, country-by-country focus to a more regional focus. Kuroda said the report would be discussed among the delegates Saturday.

However, one major issue the ADB is unlikely to discuss at great length is tougher anticorruption measures in lending practices. The ADB’s critics have long charged that the bank turns a blind eye to corruption when it lends to governments and favors development programs that benefit large corporations in the wealthy donor countries.

A small group of Japanese protesters in front of the conference hall Friday morning blasted the Japanese government’s funding of the ADB. Much of the money, the protesters charged, is funneled to large Japanese trading firms in the form of large ADB-funded infrastructure projects that end up causing environmental damage or proving of little real benefit to ordinary people.

Finance ministers from Japan, China and South Korea as well as 10 Southeast Asian countries will meet separately Saturday to discuss how to avoid a repeat of the Asian currency crisis that occurred nearly a decade ago.

The ministers are expected to agree on pooling a portion of their foreign reserves as part of a multilateral Asia-wide program to block speculators from making a run on a single country’s currency.