Saturday, August 21, 2010

A few thoughts on the previous period
Renato Redentor Constantino
August 22, 2010

Prior to iCSC, I was with Greenpeace for almost a decade, working on climate issues as a regional campaigner with Greenpeace Southeast Asia, covering Thailand, bits of Indonesia and a large part of the Philippines.

I had a great time working on the negotiations, though it's really not my cup of tea - part of campaigning is about "putting out fires" or "igniting fires" in a campaign sense. In the global negos to hammer out a relevant climate treaty with enduring, positive consequences for the planet, troublemaking - both confronting it or being the source of it, is not immediately evident.

But no complaints. Colleagues younger than myself are at the helm now and they're really built and trained for such work, and as a result they're doing far better.

I remember this one bash in Vienna, where the range of emissions reductions was being debated. This was just before the big (or small?) Bali UN climate event, and what was called then as "the range" would prove a crucial incremental step towards laying down a real basis for further negotiations regarding the emissions cuts rich countries had to make.

Here's a blast from the past, courtesy of the coverage of Bloomberg's Mathew Carr in August 31, 2007.

"Industrialized nations," Carr reported, "need to curb emissions by at least 25 percent and as much as 40 percent by 2020 from 1990 levels to stabilize the world's climate, according to conclusions at a United Nations meeting in Vienna," in a news story he filed with the lead "Developed countries should cut emissions by 40% by 2020". There were scores more filed with similar stories.

I do remember saying as a Greenpeace campaigner in the event's closing presser then, a quote carried by Carr and other news agencies, that "The road to Bali is clear, though it's time to switch gears."

The year after, I moved to head the largest network of NGOs and community groups that has been monitoring the policies, projects and programs of the Asian Development Bank since 1992. The group's name -- the NGO Forum on the ADB. It was and remains the leading watchdog and monitoring group that has helped keep at bay many of the destructive lending initiatives of the regional development bank.

My stint as Forum head was to take me to India often - work which I enjoyed immensely due to the companionship and comradeship of great friends and the explicit historicity of the country -- a great house of memory.

The work also brought me to places Central Asia and the Caucasus, an incredibly fascinating world with diverse cultures and from where I've also made what I believe to be life-long friendships.

Another blast from the past - in early May in 2009, the Forum led one of the stronger push-backs against the ADB, which was then trying to leverage a huge capitalization increase from its main donor country shareholders.

With a great advocacy team composed of Jessica, Steph, Tea, Rina, Leak, and Joanna, and a comunications team led by Romil and ably guided by Rico - the savvy, suave media campaigner - and Afif, we registered enough pressure to eventually influence Bank decisions that led to the strengthening of ADB's safeguards and energy policies.

The editorial below by Manila Times reminds me of that period, which Romil, Rico, Afif and I celebrated by getting ourselves cross-eyed with booze on the event's final day in May 6, I think. The whole gang was there too, but the communications group was the one that got punch drunk, including myself.

The editorial title of the Times was "ADB, ‘rebalancing’ and Filipinos". It conveyed a fraction of the anger and frustration from social movements and community groups, in the midst of the ADB's bid for a general capital increase:

The Filipino activist and intellectual Red Constantino said, “The bank is proposing a blinkered, business-as-usual program that will not prevent developing countries from sliding back into poverty but instead is likely to cause environmental destruction and social dislocation.” Other activists slammed ADB plans to partner with private equity funds to advance private sector activity without proper oversight mechanisms. They berated ADB’s and governments’ cynical use of “the current crisis to re-promote discredited large-scale infrastructure-biased development” destructive of the environment and minority communities.

Elsewhere, international news agencies picked up most of our messages and for the coherence of our narrative and the preparations made by the communications team, our stories were picked up by the Associated Press several times, along with Xinhua, Deutsche Press Agency and Agence France Presse.

Here is Stephen Wright, whose story on the ADB's Annual Meet in Bali in 2009 was published by USA Today. Wright used the context we had provided earlier, as we released a barrage of reports indicting the Bank's directions.

In the May 3 story "Asia urged to rethink growth policies," Wright wrote about the clamor that "Asia's governments must spend more on social safety nets and reduce their reliance on export-driven growth even as they grapple with an economic meltdown that will keep tens of millions trapped in poverty, finance officials said Sunday." I had an interview with Wright that day, and the response I gave made it to the story he filed:

"Some hotels hosting conference delegates have nightly rates that are more than a poor family in Asia earns in one year. More than 900 million in Asia live on $1.25 or less a day," Wright wrote, including my response to the context -- "The accommodation is indicative of the bank's efforts in meeting the financial crisis," said Red Constantino, executive director of NGO Forum on ADB — an umbrella group pushing the bank to become more accountable. "There's a wide gap between their rhetoric and what they do in reality."

From as far as the Gulf Daily News, which covered the ADB's $10 billion lending push during the tail-end of the financial crisis last year, the Middle East paper wrote on May 3 that:

Activist organisations have not welcomed the bank's bigger firepower, saying ADB-funded projects often harm the very people they aim to help.

"If not managed well, this 200pc general capital increase could easily translate into a more than 200pc increase in social and environmental harm," said NGO Forum on ADB executive director Red Constantino.

A lot of the results from that period, and the months leading up to March 2010, which is when I moved out of the Forum, can be read here.

I encourage readers to contact the new chief of the Forum, Dr. Avilash Roul, who has since April this year taken over the reins. He cooks a wicked mutton masala, so be a friend if you want additional happiness.

Thanks again for dropping by. #


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