Blog: Reflections on the 33rd EBRD Annual Meeting and Business Forum

In May 2024, Crude Accountability participated in the EBRD Annual Meeting, a crucial venue for civil society organizations to voice their concerns regarding the impacts of EBRD investments. Yulia Genin, a part of the Crude Accountability team, shares her reflections on the meeting.

By Yulia Genin, Crude Accountability Research Assistant

The 33rd Annual Meeting and Business Forum of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, a platform in which business and bank representatives meet to forge alliances, also provides a forum for civil society organizations (CSOs) to voice their concerns about the impacts of EBRD investments on communities and the environment. This crucial event, held in Yerevan, Armenia, in May 2024, was noteworthy for its inclusion of civil society and engagement on its environmental and social policies. This is appropriate, as the motto for this year’s meeting was “delivering impact together.”

The mandate of the EBRD is to work with transition economies, and, according to Article 1, it should work with countries that have or are transitioning to market economies and respect the principles of multiparty democracy and pluralism. To receive financing from the bank, project implementers must comply with the institution’s Environmental and Social Policy (ESP), promote transparency and good governance as stated in the Access to Information Policy (AIP), and promote collaboration through the Civil Society Capacity Enhancement Framework. 

Prior to the AGM, we anticipated that the Bank would fortify the connection between CSOs and public and private actors in its countries of operation. We looked forward to a dialogue with CSOs and the Bank on various issues such as human rights, democracy, economic inclusion, gender, environmental and social concerns, transparency, good governance, and business development. These expectations, deeply rooted in our reading of the Bank’s statements and publications, formed the basis of our observations and interactions at the meeting.  

How We Engaged

One of Crude’s goals at the EBRD AGM was to raise concerns over the Bank’s renewable energy projects in Azerbaijan, which supply energy to the country’s fossil fuel industry, thereby increasing the country’s export capacity. 

We asked the Bank’s management how this support of the growth of the fossil fuel sector in Azerbaijan met the Bank’s climate commitments. The intervention surprised the Bank’s sustainable infrastructure team. The participants in the room instantly heard the Bank’s representative respond that he could not believe that EBRD was being criticized for its renewable energy projects. 

Following that, management denied the existence of a contradiction between the Bank’s recently increased climate commitments and the fact that renewable energy projects financed by the Bank are increasing Azerbaijan’s fossil fuel export capacity, thereby shifting emissions to other countries at an increased rate.

Crude Accountability presented our ideas about improving the Environmental and Social Policy, to include ensuring due diligence on all stages of the renewable projects, transboundary impact assessment of renewable energy projects, and requiring governments to institute meaningful democratic reforms as a condition of the Bank’s investments, among other suggestions. 

We also suggested EBRD investments should be improved by requiring transparency of loans provided through financial intermediaries (FIs). At present, about 30% of EBRD’s commitments channel through FIs, and there is no requirement that FIs report on compliance with  the Bank’s environmental and social safeguards in those projects. 

Because the EBRD is reviewing its Azerbaijan country strategy this year, we advocated for revisiting the institution’s investment policies in Azerbaijan by re-examining the country’s compliance with Article 1 of the EBRD Charter. Crude Accountability proposed a solution to reconsider Azerbaijan’s country strategy by including specific requirements to perform meaningful democratic reforms by the government or reconsider investment in the country altogether, given the dire human rights and transparency record in Azerbaijan.  

Reactions to the Process

The logistics of the AGM could have been more favorable for honest, in-depth discussions. An hour-long meeting each with the president and the board of directors, allowed only 4-5 CSOs to raise their concerns. The responses from the Bank were mostly generic, denying, or justifying.

Particularly disappointing were the President’s responses to our concerns about the non-existent civic space in Azerbaijan, the Bank’s defective project due diligence in the country, and allowing weaker social and environmental standards when channeling the Bank’s obligations through FIs in all EBRD’s countries of operation. We only received the unsatisfying response that the Bank thoroughly considers investments in countries like Azerbaijan and that the Bank complies with social and environmental rules in its assets. 

One of the most notable interactions occurred during the consultation on EBRD’s ESP and AIP as the Bank’s staff acknowledged loopholes in the bank’s regulations. They were receptive to our concerns and expressed a need for more rigorous due diligence in renewable energy projects and enhanced regulation of bank resources channeled through FIs when the Bank’s social and environmental standards are fully delegated to FIs. 

After Crude’s interventions, the Bank’s staff thanked us for our honest and brave contribution. This gesture leaves us hopeful that our proposed solutions will be reviewed during the Bank’s ordinary business. 

Some bank staff were eager to communicate and build a bridge with CSOs, which was evident as a spark, but more determination is needed to achieve the Bank’s goals in its interaction with CSOs. Given that ESP, AIP, and relationships between the Bank and CSOs have been positively evolving, there is a good chance that we will deliver impact together.

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