Human Rights Watch has blamed Bangladesh for threatening to destroy the life-saving forests of the Sundarbans by building coal-fired power plants near the world's largest mangrove forest.
The livelihoods of nearly 2.5 million people depending on the forest will be affected by harmful pollution, the HRW said it in a statement.
HRW South Asia Director Meenakshi Ganguly, in a statement issued on Thursday, said Cyclone Amphan, the most powerful to strike in the Bay of Bengal in 20 years, made landfall on the India-Bangladesh coast last month.
It ripped off roofs, washed away homes, and flooded farms, but crucially, Bangladesh was able to mitigate impact and save lives because of its robust emergency response system with early warnings and mass-evacuations, Meenakshi Ganguly said.
Coastal communities were also protected by Bangladesh's natural storm shield: the Sundarbans. A protected World Heritage site, this mangrove forest holds land together with its roots as the tides rise, she said in the statement.
"As climate change increases the intensity of extreme weather events like Amphan, the Sundarbans are at risk when they're needed most," said Meenakshi Ganguly.
"And while the mangroves slow climate change by soaking up carbon, coal-fired plants contribute greenhouse gas emissions that fuel global warming," according to the HRW South Asia Director
Implementing rights-respecting climate policies that are consistent with the best available science is part of the government's duty to respect, protect, and fulfill human rights, HRW said.
"Bangladesh has been a global leader in climate change adaptation and accordingly should act swiftly to protect the mangroves. If not, it risks making the climate crisis worse while facing even more powerful cyclones without the country's natural defense system."
Climate change is a very real, immediate threat to the nearly165 million people in Bangladesh where a one-meter sea level rise could submerge almost 20 percent of the country and displace millions, it said.
Scientists and activists from different platforms have repeatedly voiced concerns that the plant could spell disaster for the forest but the government has fought calls to cancel or relocate the project, it said in the statement.
Meanwhile, international efforts to protect the Sundarbans have been stymied. A recommendation by the International Union for Conservation of Nature to add the Sundarbans to the list of World Heritage Sites in Danger was rejected by UNESCO's World Heritage Committee, which is chaired by China.
The Chinese, Bosnian, and Cuban delegations even passed an amendment erasing mention of the Rampal power plant and two joint Bangladesh-China coal-fired power plants from the decision, the statement says.