Bangladesh balances energy needs with climate, conservation

RAMPAL, Bangladesh (AP) — Fish, rice, mangrove trees and the lush wetlands of the delta where the mighty Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers empty into the Bay of Bengal.

It’s not a luxury. But for the farmers and fishermen who live next to the world’s largest mangrove forest, it’s more than enough. Now, the environment is at risk.

A power plant will start burning coal near the Sundarbans this year as part of Bangladesh’s plan to meet its energy needs and improve living standards, officials say. With 168 million people, Bangladesh is one of the most populous countries in the world. Once the power plant is operating at full capacity, it will generate 1,320 megawatts of electricity, the same as Bangladesh’s largest coal-fired power plant now.

The developing world needs its people to live better. However, economic development based on fossil fuels can create environmental problems and make lives worse.

The Maitree Super Thermal Power Project, popularly called the Rampal Coal Power Plant, will burn about 4.7 million tonnes of coal annually, emitting about 15 million tonnes of carbon dioxide and other planet-warming gases. Additionally, around 12,000 tonnes of coal will be shipped by boat through the Sundarbans every day, raising fears of water pollution.

Low-lying Bangladesh has already been hit by tropical cyclones and rising seas, and millions are at risk of being displaced by floods and other extreme weather. Just two weeks ago, 24 people died, 20,000 people lost their homes, 10,000 people lost their homes and 15,000 hectares of crops were destroyed by Tropical Cyclone Sitrang.

“If it turns out to be bad, we will have to sell our properties and migrate,” said farmer Luftar Rahman.

Top scientists say there can be no new fossil fuel projects if the world is to limit warming to the 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) temperature target set in the Paris Agreement. Despite being among the world’s lowest-emitting countries, Bangladesh has committed to reducing its total emissions by 22% by 2030. The construction of this carbon-emitting power plant is likely to hinder the nation’s efforts to reduce its emissions.

But in October, about 80% of the country suffered a seven-hour blackout as a result of the country’s power grid collapsing. Such blackouts and long blackouts, sometimes up to 10 hours a day, affect businesses, including the garment industry, which accounts for 80% of exports. Bangladesh is the second largest garment exporter in the world, after China.

“We are desperately waiting to start generating power at Rampal. This plant will definitely help ease our energy woes,” said Tawfiq-e-Elahi Chowdhury, energy adviser to the Prime Minister of Bangladesh.

Bangladesh wants poor nations to receive funds to help adapt to the damaging effects of a warmer world. Until May this year, Bangladesh was the chair of the Climate Vulnerable Forum, a partnership of countries highly vulnerable to warming. With much of its land at or slightly below sea level, the country has already experienced heavy flooding and erratic rainfall. A World Bank report estimated that Bangladesh could suffer $570 million in damage annually from climate change-related extreme weather events.

In June, Bangladesh stopped operating diesel power plants due to rising fuel prices. Bangladesh has two active coal-fired plants, and some experts say it doesn’t need any more.

“We need to invest in electricity transmission and distribution systems. That would be much more beneficial for the country at this time,” said Khondaker Golam Moazzem of the Dhaka-based economic think tank Center for Policy Dialogue.

The country also has cleaner resources within it.

“Bangladesh has huge potential for natural gas. Onshore and offshore exploration and production of natural gas resources may be a better option compared to coal,” said Dhaka-based economist and environmental activist Anu Mohammad.

And renewable energy already powers millions of homes in Bangladesh.

“Bangladesh actually has one of the fastest growing solar home systems,” said Saleemul Huq, director of the Dhaka-based International Center for Climate Change and Development. “Another option is offshore wind power. With the latest technologies available, it is conceivable that the wind power generated in the Bay of Bengal can meet the needs not only of Bangladesh but also of the neighboring areas of India as well as Myanmar.”

The Rampal coal mine will be financed by the governments of Bangladesh and India. The Sundarbans was chosen because of the water and navigation facilities available, officials said. The coal for the power plant will also come from India.

The Sundarbans, “beautiful forest” in Bengali, evolved over millennia from the mighty rivers of the Indian subcontinent. The Ganga, Brahmaputra and Meghna dump rich sediments they collect thousands of miles from the Himalayas into the Indian Ocean.

“Mangrove forests are a natural barrier to the negative effects of climate change and if they are affected, then the 10 million people living in this coastal delta region will also suffer,” said Mohammad, an economist and environmental activist from Dhaka. . “There are many alternatives in electricity production. But there is no alternative to the Sundarbans.”

Mangrove forests are more efficient than terrestrial forests in absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

“In my grandfather’s time, all the rice we needed was collected from our land. There was enough rice and fish for everyone,” said 60-year-old Abul Kalam, who has lived in the Sundarbans all his life. “If this power plant comes up, there will be no fish in our area. How can we grow crops when they dump toxic sewage here?’

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Climate data reporter Camille Fassett in Seattle contributed to this report.

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Follow AP’s climate and environment coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/climate-and-environment

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The Associated Press’s climate and environmental coverage receives support from several private foundations. See more about AP’s climate initiative here. AP is solely responsible for all content.

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