The world beheld the historic Paris Agreement (PA) during the UN Climate Talks last year. So far this is the first legally binding agreement which brought the world under one roof, to universally achieve the goal of limiting global temperatures well below 2°C through mitigating greenhouse gas emissions, adaptation and finance. With the latest ratification from big emitters accountable for 56.75% of global emissions, the PA has just become the fastest multilateral agreement to enter into force. Whilst it is officially confirmed that the world will work in unison towards a cleaner environment, Bangladesh has raised many eyebrows, because of the coal-fired Rampal power plant.
Rampal power plant is a joint venture project by the Indian state owned National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) and Bangladesh state owned Power Development Board (PDB), named Bangladesh India Friendship Power Company (BIFPC). BIFPC signed the agreement with India’s state-owned Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited on February 2016 to construct the 1,320 megawatt coal-fired power plant with financing from India’s EXIM Bank, the same year when the two South Asian countries ratified PA to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.
Environment and ecology experts raised concerns on the harmful climatic impacts of the Rampal power station which will bring, due to its localization in the Bagerhat district of Bangladesh, with a distance of only 14 km from the Sundarbans, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A 350.org article claims, even in India, the environmental law prohibits any thermal power plant to be set up within 25 km from any ecologically sensitive area. Thus by, planning to build the Rampal power station so close to the Sundarbans we have already violated the Ramsar Convention, the only global environmental treaty that includes preservation of wetlands.
On the other hand, the energy advisor to the Prime Minister of Bangladesh stated that the plant will have no adverse effect on the Sundarbans as the emission of greenhouse gas will be kept at a minimum level. It was further affirmed that the government will import high quality coal, build a 275 meter high chimney and employ cutting edge technology to preserve the environment of the Sundarbans. While it is true that Bangladesh has prolonged power crisis, it cannot be a reason good enough to build a coal-fired plant near the world’s largest mangrove forest.
This compels our minds to undermine the credibility of the proposed solutions suggested by the government. Are such methods actually appropriate to curb the carbon emission from Rampal power plant?
In a research published by Energy & Power shows that the coal-fired power plant will produce approximately 3.16 million kg carbon for every 24 hours of operation. Mangroves can store more carbon compared to any other type of forest lands. According to International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) coastal surroundings store up to 50 times more carbon in their soils by area than tropical forests, and ten more than temperate forests too.
Even if we are importing coal to lessen emission to some extent, environment and ecology experts assert that the Sundarbans and surrounding areas will still be at higher risk of pollution. According to them, during the coal shipments, huge amount of coal dust, sulphur, fly ash and other toxic chemicals are dispersed into the environment, thereby putting the Sundarbans and surrounding areas, at grave risk.
The third measure to construct a higher chimney to reduce pollution is not feasible, as height is one of the major factors that proliferate air pollution to a larger area. Consequently, causing an interstate air pollution once the power plant starts running. Thus, leading the mangrove forest towards destruction.
It is observed by many environmental economists that Rampal power plant will also affect the economic condition of the people living in nearby villages. Majority of the people living in this region are either honey collectors or fishermen and depend on the Sundarbans and the nearby Poshur River for livelihood.
Therefore, a fossil fuel based Rampal power plant to solve the problem of power generation is a curse rather than a blessing . It is only obvious that we rule out the fossil fuel dominance and invest in clean power plant very soon. Otherwise, we will stay as laggards in reducing greenhouse gases emission, regardless of being one of the first countries to ratify the PA to limit global temperatures.
Shaila Mahmud is a development professional in Bangladesh working in the field of Climate Change.