Bangladesh is likely to be hit by its own “carbon bomb” once its 30 coal-based power plants go operational altogether by 2031, says a new report.
Besides, the projects will put the country in a “trade deficit” because those will cost Bangladesh an estimated $2 billion or over Tk 170 billion annually to import coal, it says.
The report, titled “Choked by Coal: The Carbon Catastrophe in Bangladesh”, was jointly released by Australia-based Market Force that deals with environmentally sustainable economic issues and US-based 350.org that works to end the use of fossil fuels.
As co-publishers, Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (BAPA), Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) and Waterkeepers Bangladesh (WKB) shared the report with the media at a press conference at Dhaka Reporters Unity yesterday.
Coal plant developers should suspend plans to build coal power projects and utilise the capital to drive rapid deployment of renewable energy, the report recommends.
Speaking to The Daily Star over phone, Waterkeeper Alliance Council Member Sharif Jamil, who attended the press conference, said coal-based power plants are becoming obsolete all over the world and “such projects should not be continued in Bangladesh as well”.
At present, the only operational coal-fired plant in the country is the 525 MW Barapukuria plant in Dinajpur.
Tests found that the coal ash pond of the plant had significantly contaminated water in wells and irrigation water with toxic heavy metals.
The lead levels were 35-395 times higher than the WHO drinking water standards, while chromium was 8,025-18,675 times higher, according to the new report.
The coal ash pond also overflows onto cropland, contaminating food production areas, it says.
On the other hand, if the proposed 29 projects, most of which are located in three “power hubs” on the south coast at Payra, Matarbari and Maheshkhali, are built, the country’s coal power capacity would increase by 63 times, the report mentions.
Once operational, the projects, which are either under construction or at a pre-construction stage at present with the capacity to generate 33,200 megawatts electricity together, will emit 115 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) annually by 2031, it said.
Such a level of CO2 emission would be higher than the upper emissions of 110 MtCO2 per year estimate for the “controversial” Keystone XL oil pipeline between Canada and the US, it added.
The 525 MW Barapukuria is much smaller than the 1,320 MW Payra, 1,200 MW Matarbari and 1,320 MW Rampal coal plants, which are currently under construction.
The Rampal plant continues to face mass protests, demanding a halt to its development as it threatens the World Heritage listed Sundarbans mangrove forest.
Also, 4,600 MtCO2 would be emitted through the operating lifetime of Bangladesh’s proposed coal plants. This is 20 percent greater than the lifetime emissions from all of the currently operating coal plants in Japan, it added.
Furthermore, all of Bangladesh’s coal-based projects are “inconsistent” with the Paris Agreement’s climate goals of “limiting global warming to well below 2 degree Celsius and to pursue efforts to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius,” the report says.
On the other hand, the September 2019 Prices estimated the cost of importing 61 metric tonnes per annum of thermal coal as Bangladesh plans to do by 2041. The estimated cost would be $2 billion annually, it adds.
During the fiscal 2018-19, the country experienced trade deficits of $18 billion and $16 billion respectively, it says, referring to media reports.
The pipeline plants would lock Bangladesh into a huge volume of coal imports for decades. Unless exports increase significantly, coal worth billions purchased from abroad would add to the trade deficits.
Bangladesh has jumped to sixth place from 12th in the last three years in the global ranking of coal power capacity in “active development”, which includes coal plants in pre-construction and construction stages, it further says.
The report recommended that a clean, sustainable energy future is possible for Bangladesh, adding that of the 29 proposed projects, only 10 percent have progressed to construction.
Renewable energy can replace planned coal power projects as a lower cost alternative for electricity generation, it said, adding countries like China, Japan, India and the UK are investing heavily in Bangladesh’s coal power expansion.
Addressing the press conference, TIB Executive Director Dr Iftekharuzzaman said development projects that put people’s lives in danger and cause harm to the environment cannot be accepted.
He said Bangladesh’s requirement to generate more electricity is imperative and also lauded the government’s progress made in power generation over the past decade.
However, this cannot be achieved in a “suicidal” way, he said, adding, “[The government] has developed a kind of addiction to coal-based power projects.”
Bangladesh is unique and so are its largest mangrove forest, the Sundarbans, and world’s longest sea beach in Cox’s Bazar. Those should be protected, Iftekharuzzaman said.