THE environmental impact of coal-fired power plants is a globally acknowledged phenomenon to the extent that many developed countries have already began the process to shut down such plants. Many Asian countries including China, Japan and India have phased them out and stopped financing any new plants. But public financing agencies of these countries have moved to countries with poor governance to employ the expertise, technology and coal abandoned in their own countries. A recent Green Peace study terms the Maheskhali Coal Power Plant the deadliest among the 10 power plants that South Korea finances in Bangladesh, Vietnam and Indonesia as it has digressed from its national emissions limit. The study says that the Maheskhali plant would release 820 milligrams per cubic meter of sulphur dioxide whereas the limit is only 65 milligrams per cubic meter in South Korea. The emissions from the Maheskhali plant is 17 times the limit in South Korea. That the government has failed to ensure that the median South Korean emissions limit is applied suggests that Bangladesh is totally unprepared to take up such projects.
Bangladesh’s plan to expand its coal-fired power plants is completely inconsistent with the Paris Agreement that Bangladesh is a signatory to. A United Nations Environment Programme report suggests that this expansion risks Bangladesh being locked into a carbon-intensive development path, which will stop Bangladesh from reaping benefits of cheap, clean renewable energy. Another research conducted by Market Force and 350 predicts that Bangladesh is on course to become a carbon bomb by 2041 with 29 large coal-fired power projects that are under way, running on sponsorship from China, the United Kingdom, India, Singapore, Malaysia and Japan. All the financing countries have made policy decisions on divestment from coal. Many Indian states have stopped approving new coal-fired plants and India has pledged to more than double its non-fossil fuel power generation capacity while it finances the environmentally disastrous coal-fired plant near the Sunderbans in Bangladesh. In 2016, Chinese investors doubled down on their investments in coal power in Bangladesh but pulled the plug on more than a hundred coal power projects within its borders. The allegations that South Korea, India or China export air pollution by financing coal-fired power plants in Bangladesh are not entirely wrong and the government has failed to protect its sovereign interest by opening its border to investments that carry a great heath risk.
Coal is considered the single worst contributor to climate change, responsible for almost a half the world’s carbon emissions. The environmental and health impact of coal-fired power on Bangladesh, already proven vulnerable to climate change, would severely strain the economy. In view of the risk of greater magnitude, the government must reconsider its power policy and stop using coal.
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