Bangladesh’s energy vs environment debate

Prothom Alo English | Update:

Energy_ForestBangladesh is currently embroiled in a question whether economic development is more important than protecting the environment, writes Asia Times in a report.

The Hong Kong-based newspaper referred to the coal-fired thermal power plant proposed for construction at the edge of Sundarbans, a forested area that is a UNESCO World Heritage site and a bird and wildlife sanctuary.

The 1,320 megawatt plant - a 50:50 joint venture between India’s state-owned National Thermal Power Corporation and the Bangladesh Power Development Board - is among 25 new fossil-fuel power stations that the Bangladeshi government aims to construct by 2022 to generate 23,692 megawatts of electricity, said the Times report.

The country strives to achieve upper middle-income status by 2021.

“Bangladesh is faced with something of a dilemma when it comes to energy. It must balance growing demand for electricity from a burgeoning population and industrial sector with serious environmental safety anxieties in a nation known to be one of the most climate-vulnerable globally,” the Asia Times said in the report titled “Bangladesh weighs energy needs against environmental anxiety”.

Showing official data, the report mentioned that even though over half (54 per cent of the country’s electricity is currently generated from natural gas, its gas reserves are dwindling fast.

“Building more fossil fuel power stations therefore may only be a short term fix for a nation where over a third of the population lacks access to an unfettered supply of electricity,” the newspaper added.

Professor Anu Muhammad, member-secretary of the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports, - a civic forum - said the country should be more aggressive in bringing renewable energy sources into the mainstream, “to produce equal (amounts) or more electricity”.

He is also perturbed by the way force was used by the government to evict people from the Sundarbans natural wetlands and fertile agricultural lands more than two years before an environmental impact assessment was even undertaken.

Now, despite continued protests by civil rights and political groups and a warning from a UNESCO fact-finding team regarding possible threats to Sundarbans natural biodiversity and its unique mangrove ecosystem, the government has decided to pull the trigger and commence construction by the end of this month, the report mentioned.

Khondkar Abdus Saleque, a renowned energy expert and a former Bangladesh representative on the SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) energy ring coordination committee said candidly: “It is difficult to find such an ideal location in land-constrained Bangladesh.”

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