POST TIME: 7 November, 2019 00:00 00 AM
Bangladesh heads for coal catastrophe: Report
Stands 6th in coal-based power production
Staff Reporter, Dhaka

Bangladesh heads for coal catastrophe: Report

Massive coal-based power expansion in Bangladesh is set to propel it into the ranks of the world’s worst polluters, says a new report released yesterday. The expansion not only threatens global climate targets, but also promises to further aggravate catastrophic environmental insecurity in a country, where floods, cyclones, droughts, and pollution have already taken thousands of lives, the report observes.

The report, “Choked by Coal: the Carbon Catastrophe in Bangladesh”, published by Market Forces and 350.org, was released at a programme held at Dhaka Reporters Unity (DRU). It was co-published by the Bangladesh Paribesh Andolan (BAPA), Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB), and Waterkeepers Bangladesh.

It terms foreign-led finance as the driving force behind plans for 29 coal-fired power stations—an expansion that has seen Bangladesh leap, within just three years, from 12th to 6th place in terms of global coal power under development. “If built, these plants would increase the country’s existing coal-power capacity 63-fold, from 525MW today to 33,200MW,” says the report.

Environmentalists in Bangladesh are outraged at this prospect. “Building polluting and outdated coal-fired power stations at a time when the rest of the world is switching to renewable is a colossal act of self-sabotage,” said a member of the Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (BAPA).

“UNICEF has already linked climate change to devastating floods, cyclones, and other environmental disasters threatening the lives and future of more than 19 million children in Bangladesh. The proposed coal expansion will see this country being led further down a devastating path,” said BAPA general secretary Dr Abdul Matin

As of August 2019, Bangladesh’s installed power capacity was 19,000 MW, only three per cent of which is coal-fired. Over 90 per cent of the country’s population currently benefits from electricity coverage.

Chinese banks and companies are leading the dirty energy drive, funding over half the projects. UK- and Japan-based companies are involved in three proposed coal projects each, despite transitioning to cleaner energy within their own borders. The UK, for instance, plans to phase out coal power by 2025, states the report.

Tonny Nowshin of 350.org said: “While many nations across the globe increasingly realise the importance of phasing out fossil fuels, coal companies supported by major financial institutions want to lock Bangladesh into a dirty, dangerous, and expensive fossil fuel infrastructure.”

She also said Bangladesh was already one of the countries most affected by climate change and should not become the dumping ground for coal due to vested corporate and political interests.

“The long-term cost of this obsolete technology will pile up for decades. A strong people’s movement has already proposed an alternative plan to generate 55 per cent of electricity from renewable energy sources by 2041, which is a crucial tool to a transition towards a sustainable, fair, and accessible new energy system,” she added.

According to the report, a clean and sustainable energy future is possible for Bangladesh. Only 10 per cent of the proposed coal plants have progressed to the construction phase, while the remaining projects have merely been announced or are in preliminary, pre-construction stages.

The report identifies that the potential for up to 53 GW of solar power capacity exists in the country, which could replace the planned coal power projects as a lower-cost alternative for electricity generation.

“Bangladesh is a fast-growing country that needs power. However, it does not have to come at the expense of the lives and livelihoods of millions,” said a member of Waterkeepers Bangladesh.

“Across the border and in many countries around the world, renewable energy is already cheaper than coal. Bangladesh has already demonstrated commendable use of solar energy for domestic and other small-scale consumption. It has the opportunity at this critical juncture to follow the same path. But to do so, it’s imperative for foreign investors to clean up their dirty money,” he also said.