The Asian Development Bank says it will spend $1 billion to promote clean energy projects in Asia. Environmentalists say it is imperative for Asia to reduce its reliance on coal-based power plants, which pollute the atmosphere, and may contribute to climate change.

The Asian Development Bank's decision to invest $1 billion dollars in cleaner energy projects comes amid wide concern over Asia's steadily deteriorating environment.

A big part of the problem is the high use of coal, which fuels economic growth across the continent's expanding economies. Coal provides nearly two-thirds of China's, and half of India's energy. Coal-fired power plants also feed the energy needs of such smaller countries as Pakistan, Thailand and the Philippines.

But coal pollutes the atmosphere with toxic particles and greenhouse gases, possibly contributing to global climate change. A recent World Bank report says the rapidly expanding economies of China and India have helped drive production of greenhouse gases to a new high over the last decade.

For this reason, the environmental group, Greenpeace, is urging the Asian Development Bank, or ADB, to stop supporting what it calls "dirty coal." The bank has funded a number of coal-based projects in Asia, including Thailand's state-run Mae Moh power plant.

Tara Buakamsri of Greenpeace cites the Mae Moh facility as a prime example of how coal-fired power plants adversely affect poor communities near them.

"A lot of people have been suffering from severe, chronic, long-term respiratory disease, resulting from toxic pollution from the burning coal from the power station," said Buakamsri.

Other environmentalists say the time has come for Asia to pay more attention to cleaner energy sources, such as small hydroelectric plants, solar and wind power, which currently contribute only a tiny percentage of the energy consumed in the region.

Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the Geneva-based Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, says clean energy is critical for Asia, because the region's huge population makes it especially vulnerable to the effects of rising global temperatures.

"By the end of this century, the increase in temperature would be a further 1.4 degrees to 5.8 degrees centigrade," he noted. I"f it is anywhere in that range, this will cause all kinds of impacts, most of which are undesirable. On water resources, for instance, the impact could have serious implications for agriculture, and just ordinary demand for water by human beings."

The Asian Development Bank says the billion-dollar fund will be used to identify and fund projects that ensure growth, while helping to slow climate change.