Georgia to host development summit; climate change, aging on agenda

SYDNEY — The Asian Development Bank holds its annual meeting in Tbilisi, Georgia, next week, with discussions on climate change and the world’s aging population high on the agenda.

The four-day summit, starting Thursday, marks the first time that the ADB’s 68 members have gathered for a meeting in Georgia, which joined the multilateral development bank in 2007.

“Georgia sits at the crossroads of Europe and Asia,” said Shalini Mittal, a principal economist for Asia at the Economist Intelligence Unit.

“This meeting signifies ADB’s agenda of bridges to the future where technology and expertise from the West can be used to enhance structural reforms in Asia,” Mittal told VOA.

Alongside numerous panel discussions and a keynote speech from ADB President Masatsugu Asakawa, finance ministers from Association of Southeast Asian Nations member countries Japan, China and South Korea will also meet on the sidelines.

“Given the geopolitical uncertainty with the Ukraine-Russia war and tensions in Asia with China’s problematic relations with its neighbors, I think the meeting is taking place at a crucial time,” said Jason Chung, a senior adviser with the Project on Prosperity and Development at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“It provides an additional path to have meaningful discussions on global economic issues,” Chung told VOA.

Climate change stressed

The issue of climate change is set to headline proceedings at the conference, with the ADB now marketing itself as the climate bank for the Asia-Pacific region.

The bank pledged a record $9.8 billion of climate finance in 2023, supporting developing countries to cut greenhouse emissions and adapt to extreme conditions as global warming continues.

“Storm surges, sea level rise, heat waves, droughts, and floods — all our countries suffer from all of the imaginable impacts of climate change,” said Warren Evans, who, as senior special adviser on climate change in the ADB president’s office, acts as the institution’s climate envoy.

The bank says that the Asia-Pacific region was hit by over 200 disasters last year alone, with many of them weather related, a problem that shows no sign of letting up.

“Right now, there’s a heatwave in Bangladesh that is causing severe impacts. Schools are closed, they’re seeing a drop in agricultural productivity, hospitals are getting overloaded with people with heatstroke,” Evans told VOA.

“Mortality rates are going up and, of course, women and children are the most vulnerable to those impacts,” he said.

While much of the Asia-Pacific region is extremely vulnerable to climate change, it is also a huge driver of the phenomenon.

The region contributes more than half of global carbon dioxide emissions, with a heavy reliance on coal as a source of energy, according to the ADB.

To try to reach net zero targets, many Asia-Pacific nations require huge investment to convert to clean energy alternatives.

One way that the ADB is tackling this issue is through a program targeting coal-burning power plants, a major contributor to emissions.

“With private sector partners and sovereign funding, we’re refinancing coal-fired power plants in order to be able to close them down early,” Evans said. The ADB’s “energy transition mechanism” uses private and public capital to refinance investments in coal-fired power, allowing power purchase agreements to be shortened and plants to be closed as much as a decade earlier than planned. The financing is also used to fund clean energy projects to generate the power that would have come from the coal plant.

The project looks to replace these plants with clean energy alternatives, ensuring that power is generated more sustainably.

A coal-burning power plant in Indonesia’s West Java is set to become the first to be retired early under the initiative.

“The communities that are impacted will have support, allowing people to find new jobs or to get social welfare,” Evans said.


Aging population in Asia

During the Tbilisi summit, the ADB will also launch a major report on aging population, which also affects member countries’ economies.

According to the bank, 1 in 4 people in the Asia-Pacific region will be over 60 by 2050, close to 1.3 billion people.

“The speed of aging is very quick in Asia, because of the rapid progress in the social development that has taken place in the region,” said Aiko Kikkawa, a senior economist for the ADB’s Aging Well in Asia report.

Researchers have investigated the implications of this demographic transition, with Kikkawa finding that the Asia-Pacific region is currently “unprepared” for aging populations.

“Large numbers of older people do report a substantial disease burden, lack of access to decent jobs or essential services, such as health and long-term care, and even lack of access to pension coverage,” Kikkawa told VOA.

The ADB has pledged to help to improve the lives of older people across the Asia-Pacific region, by supporting the rollout of universal health coverage and providing infrastructure for ‘age-friendly cities’ that are more accessible for older people.

Poverty to be addressed

While much of the focus in Tbilisi will be on climate change and aging populations, the ADB’s core edict remains to eradicate extreme poverty in its many developing country members.

That task has become even more challenging in an environment of high inflation and growing government debt.

However, Chung, the former U.S. director of the ADB, told VOA he believes that this goal should be at the center of discussions in the Georgian capital.

“The ADB should focus on its core mission of alleviating poverty and creating paths for economic growth in the developing member countries.

“While climate risk is important, I think given the state of uncertainty, it is important to provide support to create economic conditions for growth,” he told VOA.

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