Coal reliance to increase climate threat for Bangladesh

Thomson Reuters Foundation . Dhaka | Update:

Labourers unload coal from a cargo ship in Gabtoli on the outskirts of Dhaka on 6 November 2019. Photo: AFPA Bangladeshi plan to burn more coal for power will worsen global warming in a nation already battered by climate crises from floods to cyclones, according to a report out on Wednesday.

About 3 per cent of the country’s power comes from coal, but plans to build 29 coal-based power plants in the next two decades will increase this to 35 per cent, according to government data, in what the report called a clear threat to the environment.

“We are passed the point where any new coal power station could be considered compatible with the Paris climate goals,” said Julien Vincent, executive director of Australian-based environment group Market Forces, which published the report with an international climate movement called 350.org.

Labourers unload coal from a cargo ship in Gabtoli on the outskirts of Dhaka on 6 November 2019. Photo: AFP“There is simply no way to square coal expansion with commitments to limit global warming to 1.5°C.”

Under the Paris accord, 200 countries agreed on a binding global compact to slash greenhouse gases and keep global temperature increases “well below” 2 degrees Celsius.

Nearly one in three children in Bangladesh are at risk from climate change-linked disasters, the United Nations says.

Floods this year have killed at least 60 people and displaced nearly 800,000 in low-lying Bangladesh, which is vulnerable to the impacts of rising global temperatures, including more extreme weather and rising sea levels.

In 2016, the country said it would expand its coal sector to meet rising needs but the report said there was still time to pull back as most of the plants were just plans on paper.

It said developed countries that are abandoning coal were moving into nations with less stringent environmental standards.

Labourers unload coal from a cargo ship in Gabtoli on the outskirts of Dhaka on 6 November 2019. Photo: AFPEnergy demand in Bangladesh has increased at an average of 10 per cent per year in the past decade and the country has a target to meet 10 per cent of its power demand from renewable energy by 2021. Its main source of energy is natural gas but reserves are dwindling.

Coal provides about 40 per cent of the world’s electricity and is an industry that must die by 2050 if climate pledges are to be met, according to the Powering Past Coal Alliance.

The report said companies from China, Britain, Japan and India - which invested in a number of the proposed projects - were interested in “squeezing a final dollar out of the dying coal industry” whatever its impact.

“UK and Japan-based companies are involved in three proposed coal projects each, despite transitioning to cleaner energy within their own borders. The UK, for instance, plans to phase out coal power by 2025,” said the report.

A labourer looks on as he unloads coal from a cargo ship in Gabtoli on the outskirts of Dhaka on 6 November 2019. Photo: AFPAhmed Kaikaus, a senior civil servant from the Ministry of Power, Energy and Mineral Resources, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that Bangladesh had no choice but to burn coal.

“Bangladesh’s economy is growing fast and it needs energy. That’s the bottom line. We don’t have the ‘hydro’ option like other countries and our gas is depleting,” said Kaikaus.

The report said Bangladesh had the potential to generate solar energy, but Kaikaus said a shortage of space for solar panels would hinder widescale solar projects.

Labourers unload coal from a cargo ship in Gabtoli on the outskirts of Dhaka on 6 November 2019. Photo: AFP

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