Bangladesh balances energy needs with climate and conservation

RAMPAL, Bangladesh (AP) — Fish, rice, mangroves and the lush wetlands of the delta where the massive Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers flow into the Bay of Bengal.

It’s not luxury. But for the farmers and fishermen who live near the largest mangrove forest in the world, it’s more than enough. Now the environment is in danger.

A power station will start burning coal near the Sundarbans this year as part of Bangladesh’s plan to meet its energy needs and improve its standard of living, officials said. Home to 168 million people, Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. Once the power station starts operating at full capacity, it will produce 1,320 megawatts of electricity, which is as much as Bangladesh’s largest coal-fired power station currently generates.

The developing world needs its people to live better. But economic growth fueled by fossil fuels can create environmental problems and make life worse.

Popularly called the Rampal Coal Power Plant, the Maitree Super Thermal Power Project will burn some 4.7 million tonnes of coal per year, emitting around 15 million tonnes of carbon dioxide and other planet-warming gases. In addition, some 12,000 tons of coal will be shipped across the Sundarbans every day, raising fears of water pollution.

Low-lying Bangladesh is already hit by tropical cyclones and rising seas and millions of people are at risk of being displaced by floods and other extreme weather events. Just two weeks ago, 24 people died, 20,000 people were abandoned, 10,000 people lost their homes and 15,000 acres of crops were destroyed by Tropical Cyclone Sitrang.

“If this goes wrong, we will have to sell our properties and migrate,” said farmer Luftar Rahman.

Top scientists say there can’t be new fossil fuel projects if the world limits warming to the 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) temperature target set in the Paris Agreement. Despite being one of the lowest emitting countries in the world, Bangladesh has pledged to reduce its global emissions by 22% by 2030. The construction of this coal-fired power plant risks hampering the country’s efforts to reduce its emissions.

But in October, around 80% of the country suffered a seven-hour blackout following the collapse of the country’s power grid. These prolonged blackouts and power cuts, sometimes up to 10 hours a day, affect businesses, including the garment industry, which accounts for 80% of exports. Bangladesh is the world’s second largest clothing exporter, after China.

“We are desperately waiting to start producing electricity in Rampal. This plant will definitely help alleviate our energy problems,” said Tawfiq-e-Elahi Chowdhury, Energy Advisor to the Prime Minister of Bangladesh.

Bangladesh wants poor countries to receive funds to help them adapt to the devastating effects of a warmer world. Until May this year, Bangladesh chaired the Climate Vulnerable Forum, a partnership of countries highly vulnerable to global warming. With much of its land at or just below sea level, the country has already suffered heavy flooding and erratic rainfall. A World Bank report estimated that Bangladesh could suffer $570 million in damage annually from extreme weather events linked to climate change.

In June, Bangladesh stopped operating diesel power plants due to rising fuel prices. Bangladesh has two active coal-fired power plants, and some experts say another is not needed.

“We need to invest in electricity transmission and distribution systems. It would be much more beneficial for the country right now,” said Khondaker Golam Moazzem of the Dhaka-based economic think tank Center for Policy Dialogue.

The country also has cleaner resources at home.

“Bangladesh has huge potential for natural gas. Exploration and production of onshore and offshore gas resources can be a better option than coal,” said Dhaka-based economist and environmental activist Anu Mohammad.

And renewable energy is already powering millions of Bangladeshi homes.

“Bangladesh actually has one of the fastest growing solar home systems,” said Saleemul Huq, director of the Dhaka-based International Center for Climate Change and Development. “Another option is offshore wind power. With the latest technology available, it is conceivable that wind power produced in the Bay of Bengal could meet the needs of not only Bangladesh but also parts of neighboring India as well. than from Myanmar.

The Rampal coal mine will be funded by the governments of Bangladesh and India. The Sundarbans were chosen because of the availability of water and navigation facilities, officials said. The coal for the plant will also come from India.

The Sundarbans, “beautiful forest” in Bengali, evolved over millennia from the mighty rivers of the Indian subcontinent. The Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna discharge rich sediments which they collect over thousands of kilometers from the Himalayas to the Indian Ocean.

“Mangrove forests are a natural barrier to the adverse effects of climate change and if they are affected, then the 10 million people who live in this coastal delta region will also suffer,” said Mohammad, a Dhaka-based economist and environmental activist. . . “There are many alternatives to electricity generation. But there is no alternative to Sundarbans.

Mangrove forests are more efficient than terrestrial forests at sucking carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

“In my grandfather’s time, all the rice we needed was harvested from our land. There was enough rice and fish for everyone,” said Abul Kalam, 60, who has lived his whole life in the Sundarbans. “If this power station is built, there will be no more fish in our region. How can we grow crops when they dump toxic sewage here? »


Climate data reporter Camille Fassett in Seattle contributed to this report.


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