Bangladesh’s rush to coal could increase emissions by 160 percent.
In October, a global risks analysis company, Maplecroft, named Bangladesh the world’s most vulnerable nation to climate change by 2050. The designation came as little surprise, since Bangladesh’s government and experts have been warning for years of climatic impacts, including rising sea levels, extreme weather, and millions of refugees. However, despite these very public warnings, in recent years the same government has made a sudden turn toward coal power—the most carbon intensive fuel source—with a master plan of installing 15,000 megawatts (MW) of coal energy by 2030, which could potentially increase the country’s current carbon dioxide emissions by 160 percent.
“Bangladesh is now capable of generating 10,213MW electricity,” Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina recently said at a ceremony where she laid foundation stones for seven new coal plants. “By December, this will rise to 10,289MW. By January, an additional 770MW power will be added to the national grid.”
The government is moving rapidly to bring more power to an energy-starved nation where over half the population doesn’t have access to electricity. But the decision to move to coal power—and not other alternatives—has sparked criticism in a nation where 17 percent of its landmass could vanish underwater as the oceans rise, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), not to mention higher storm surges and more severe tropical storms.
“Bangladesh is facing climate change related disasters (Cyclones Aila and Sidr etc.) regularly,” environment scientist, Abdullah Harun Chowdhury with Khulna University, told mongabay.com.
Already, one of the proposed coal plants, the Rampal power plant, has led to strong opposition in Bangladesh, including a five-day long march that attracted some 20,000 people, according to organizers. Critics say the Rampal project puts the Sundarbans—the world’s largest mangrove forest—at risk. But it’s not just Rampal: the Bangladesh government is currently planning around a dozen new coal plants across the country.
Houses decimated by Cyclone Sidr. The cyclone which hit in 2007 left at least 3,447 dead (though aid groups said as many as 10,000) and caused $1.7 billion in damage. Photo by: Christopher Lange with the U.S. Navy.
According to engineer and activist with Southeast Asia Renewable Energy People’s Assembly (SEAREPA), Mowdud Rahman, the government’s decision to move toward coal “came as an utter surprise to all.”
In 2010, the government released the Power System Master Plan, which for the first time put forward the goal of generating 50 percent of Bangladesh’s energy via coal power by 2030. Such a transition would be extreme: in 2010 coal power made up less than 1 percent of Bangladesh’s total energy output. But in less than 20 years the master plan reads that coal should be “the primary energy supply.”
“We have no effective policy to adopt technological improvement and efficiency enhancement [in energy production] rather we see only increasing dependency on coal,” Rahman says of the report, adding “[we are] not seeing any development in renewable energy sector or exploring gas reserve.”
A standard 500 megawatt coal plant emits about 3.3 million tonnes of carbon annually (depending on the type of coal burned), according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. Therefore, building 15,000 megawatts of coal power plants could lead to an additional 100 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere every year, more than doubling the country’s current emissions of 61 million tonnes (2011 data).
However, Bangladesh’s master plan says it will mitigate these emissions by around 12 percent using “Ultra Super Critical (USC) technology as a part of the Clean Coal Technology.” In addition, even if the coal plants are built Bangladesh’s per capita emissions would still be significantly below many rich countries’.
In the report, the Bangladeshi government pledged to feed nearly 60 percent of this new coal energy with domestic coal sources. Currently, Bangladesh has only a single coal mine capable of producing around 1 million tonnes a year, but to hit their target the government would need to mine over 33 million tonnes annually within less than 20 years. This would require opening up vast new mines across Bangladesh, an issue that has resulted in large-scale protests in the past. In 2006, three were killed and hundreds injured when police opened fire on protesters against a proposed coal mine in Phulbari run by UK company, Global Coal Management (GCM).
Bangladesh’s rush to coal seems little-known abroad; in fact the country is consistently lauded as a leader in climate change action and adaptation in the world media. An image that is helped by strong government rhetoric on climate change and on-the-ground innovation: according to the UN World Bank, Bangladesh is the world’s fastest growing market for home solar panels.
Family of Tajuddin Ahmed. Ahmed was forcibly removed from his land in order to build the Rampal coal plant. Photo by: Nusrat Islam Khan.
But Chowdhury says the current administration in Bangladesh is practicing a “double standard” by “[collecting] money from developed countries” due to climate change impacts, while at the same time building a whole series of new coal-fired plants.
“At present worldwide people are trying to reduce the coal use for power generation and they are trying to introduce the renewable sources,” he notes. “If you visit the last report of the Indian electricity generation —you will see that coal based production is decreasing.”
Ashish Fernandes, an expert on coal with Greenpeace India, says that Bangladesh’s neighbor, India, should serve as a teaching example.
“India is already suffering from its irrational coal boom of the last seven years, with higher electricity prices, displacement of people, loss of forests and massive health impacts. Bangladesh is uniquely positioned to avoid the mistakes india is making and leapfrog to the renewable energies of tomorrow, instead of pinning its hopes on a fuel source that belongs in the 19th Century.”
Bangladesh sits within the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) bloc of nations at the ongoing 19th annual Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Warsaw, Poland. In general these are countries that face the worst immediate impacts from climate change, even as they bear the least historical responsibility for our warming planet; but the LDCs are also the driving force behind pressuring wealthy nations to increase emissions cuts and supply more funding.
Cyclone Aila at peak strength. The cyclone hit in 2009, impacting around 3 million people. Photo by: NASA.
Farah Kabir, Bangladesh’s director with ActionAid International, told reporters at Warsaw last week, “We are in a piece of land which is smaller than Denmark, with a population of 160 million, trying to cope with this extreme weather, trying to cope with the effect of emissions for which we are not responsible.”
But Rahman says that fact doesn’t mean Bangladesh should get a free pass to pursue high-carbon energy sources in an age when every emissions cut counts.
“[The] liberty to impeach rich country only for carbon pollution has long gone,” he told mongabay.com. “[The] blame game must stop
now and [Bangladesh has] to do [its] individual part to bring significant change for its own existence.”
In 2010, nations worldwide pledged to keep global temperatures from rising above 2 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels. Currently, experts say progress toward this goal is moving too slowly and with too little ambition, threatening the world with catastrophic climate change.
“Climate change and its effect is not prediction anymore; in the context of Bangladesh it is the reality,” Rahman says. “Salinity intrusion in southern part of Bangladesh [has become] severe. We have been experiencing [worsening] cyclones and storms in recent years than before. Drought and flood [has become] a common phenomenon here.”
In the past few years, more and more developing countries are finding themselves among the world’s biggest carbon polluters. According to a report released last month, 11 of the world’s top 25 carbon polluters in 2012 were developing countries, these included number one—China—and number four—India—both largely due to their dependence on coal. Bangladesh wasn’t in the top 25, but that could change if the government makes good on its rush to coal.
Aerial view of the long march, a five-day protest against Rampal coal plant that attracted tens-of-thousands. Photo by: Nusrat Islam Khan.
Bangladesh plans massive coal plant in world’s biggest mangrove forest
(11/11/2013) On October 22nd Bangladeshi and Indian officials were supposed to hold a ceremony laying the foundation stone for the Rampal power plant, a massive new coal-fired plant that will sit on the edge of the Sundarbans, the world’s largest mangrove forest. However, the governments suddenly cancelled the ceremony, instead announcing that the project had already been inaugurated in early October by the countries’ heads of state via a less-ornate Skype call. While the governments say the change was made because of busy schedules, activists contend the sudden scuttling of the ceremony was more likely due to rising pressure against the coal plant, including a five-day march in September that attracted thousands.
Is Australia becoming the new Canada in terms of climate inaction?
(11/14/2013) For many concerned about climate change, Australia has suddenly become the new Canada. With the election of Tony Abbott as Prime Minister in September, the land down under has taken a sudden U-turn on climate policy, including pushing to end its fledgling carbon emissions program which was only implemented in 2012 and cutting funding for renewable energy. These move come at a time when Australia has just undergone its warmest 12 months on record and suffered from record bushfires.
Richest countries spent $74 billion on fossil fuel subsidies in 2011, eclipsing climate finance by seven times
(11/13/2013) In 2011, the top 11 richest carbon emitters spent an estimated $74 billion on fossil fuel subsidies, or seven times the amount spent on fast-track climate financing to developing nations, according to a recent report by the Overseas Development Institute. Worldwide, nations spent over half a trillion dollars on fossil fuel subsidies in 2011 according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).
Philippines’ delegate calls out climate change deniers after Haiyan
(11/12/2013) Yesterday, the Filipino delegate to the ongoing climate summit, Naderev ‘Yeb’ Saño, dared climate change deniers to take a hard look at what’s happening not just in the Philippines, but the whole world. Over the weekend, the Philippines was hit by what may have been the largest typhoon to ever make landfall—Typhoon Haiyan. Reports are still coming in days later, but the death toll may rise to over 10,000 with whole cities simply swept away.
Delegate for the Philippines vows to stop eating at climate summit
(11/11/2013) Following the devastation wrought by Typhoon Haiyan—which is arguably the strongest typhoon to ever make landfall—Filipino delegate, Naderev ‘Yeb’ Saño, has vowed to go on a fast at the UN Climate Summit that opened today in Warsaw, Poland. Saño made the vow during a powerful speech in which he said he would fast, ‘until we stop this madness.’
Bay Area pledges to slash greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050
(11/11/2013) While many of the world’s national governments move tepidly (if at all) to combat climate change, cities are showing increasing leadership. The San Francisco Bay Area’s Air District Board signed off last week on a measure to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent within less than 40 years time as based on 1990 levels. The measure follows the same goal as an executive order made by California governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, in 2005.
CO2 concentrations hit new high last year
(11/06/2013) The concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere hit a record high last year, according to a new report by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). While this was not a surprise given still-rising global emissions, the concentration rose significantly more than the average this decade. According to the WMO’s annual greenhouse gas bulletin, CO2 concentrations hit 393.1 parts per million (ppm) in 2012.
Featured video: trailer for James Cameron’s new global warming series
(11/05/2013) Showtime has recently released its first trailer for the network’s new series on the impacts of global warming worldwide, entitled Years of Living Dangerously. The series, which will debut in April 2014, had employed some of America’s most well-regarded politicians, journalists, intellectuals, and actors to tell how climate change is already impacting communities around the world.
Zoos join fossil fuel divestment movement
(11/05/2013) Last month, over a hundred representatives from zoos and aquariums around the world joined climate activism group, 350.org, pledging that their institutions would take action against global warming, including the possibility of divesting from fossil fuel companies. The effort, dubbed Zoos and Aquariums for 350, was launched during the annual meeting of the Conservation Breeding Specialist Group (CBSG).
‘Remarkable year’: could 2012 mark the beginning of a carbon emissions slowdown?
(10/31/2013) Global carbon dioxide emissions hit another new record of 34.5 billion tons last year, according to a new report by the Netherlands Environment Assessment Agency and the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre, but there may be a silver lining. Dubbing 2012 a “remarkable year,” the report found that the rate of carbon emission’s rise slowed considerably even as economic growth continued upward.
Renewable energy revolution will require better management of metals
(10/30/2013) If we are to avoid catastrophic climate change, scientists say global society will need a rapid and aggressive replacement of fossil fuel energy for renewable, such as solar, wind, geo-thermal, and tidal. While experts say a renewable revolution would not only mitigate climate change but also likely invigorate economies and cut life-threatening pollution, such a revolution would not come without challenges. According to a new commentary piece in Nature Geoscience one of the largest challenges of the renewable revolution will be rising demand for metals, both rare and common.
America’s growing inequality helped scuttle the global climate change initiative
(10/28/2013) The link between good economic policy and climate change mitigation is instigated by policies such as the triple-bottom line, carbon limitations, and pro-environmental legislation. However, economic inequality is a little explored piece of the successful fight against climate change. For climate change mitigation and good economic policy to work, economic growth must be broad-based.
Indeed, the inability for the United States to make a coherent and progressive stance on climate change has effectively stymied the global initiative—and is in part due to growing inequality. Due to the nation’s market size and political power, U.S. policy is often a decisive factor for many global issues.
(10/28/2013) China’s largest city and one of the world’s biggest, Shanghai, is set to ban coal burning in just four years, according to a new Clean Air Action Plan. The city-wide ban on coal burning is one effort among many to get Shanghai’s infamous smog under control as well as another sign that China has begun to take its pollution problems more seriously.