Prospects and problems of promoting low carbon urban development
Dr M Aminul Islam

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The growth of cities in Bangladesh is happening at an unprecedented rate, which, despite the problems, is an opportunity to develop in a sustainable and low carbon pathway. A low-carbon economy is one that produces minimal green-house gas emissions such as carbon dioxide. This kind of development is instrumental in helping cities achieve significant benefits and co-benefits of growth by integrating energy efficient sustainable initiatives and green development principles into city planning.

Rapid urbanisation and population growth is expected to continue in the country, putting pressure on land and resources. Recognising the challenges, the Government of Bangladesh (GOB) has adopted a multi-pronged strategy in the power sector that includes energy conservation, load management, and adopting grid and off-grid electrification. The GOB articulated a Vision and Policy Statement on Power Sector Reforms in 2002, which aims to:

(i)    provide universal access to energy by the year 2020 with improved reliability and quality

(ii)   stabilising the sector’s financial status and increasing its efficiency

(iii)  operating the sector on commercial principles and increasing private sector participation

Low carbon policies

Bangladesh enacted a National Energy Policy in 1996 and established the Sustainable Renewable Energy Development Authority (SREDA) in 2012. SREDA is an autonomous body to lead the government’s efforts in promoting renewable energy and energy efficiency in the country.  Support to form and strengthen SREDA is provided by GIZ and UNDP, and GOB has allocated resources to initiating low carbon initiatives through the agency.

The National Energy Policy and SREDA give special importance to low carbon interventions in policies and plans as well as its mainstreaming. To fully realise the potential of these policies and institutions, awareness campaigns, the gradual implementation of low carbon programs, capacity building, and institutional strengthening are needed.

The Ministry of Power and Mineral Resources, Local Government, Public Works/Housing and Urban Development,  Department of Environment, City Corporations, City/Urban Development Authorities,  Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institute all have the responsibility to implement low carbon urban initiatives and following the National Building Code, Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), Energy Standards, and Energy Performance Index.

Barriers to achieving sustainable low carbon urban development

Despite these advances in policy, there remain challenges which form barriers to sustainable low carbon development in Bangladesh. There is a need for stakeholders involved in this arena to pay attention to the following factors and address these gaps going forward:

(i)    Absence of a regulatory framework and policies for utilisation of public urban open spaces, waste minimisation, energy efficiency in public lighting and buildings.  Urban areas in Bangladesh include structure plan and urban area plan that have to be prepared by the City Corporations and urban development authorities. These plans of the cities need to incorporate cost-effective, low carbon solutions. These changes in the plans must be people-centered and need to be prepared with community participation.

(ii)   Waste-to-energy issue has not received enough attention resulting in landfill areas being overburdened. Space crisis for waste dumping is a critical barrier in city cleaning efforts

(iii)  Inadequate environmental regulations and co-ordination for management of solid waste and other industrial wastes

(iv)  Poor co-ordination between the agencies in-charge of the implementation of the Bangladesh National Building Code (BNBC) and city corporation bylaws for promoting energy efficiency in buildings and public lighting

(v)   No up-scaling of proven interventions such as Integrated Resource Recovery Centres (IRRC) which provide solutions for decentralised waste management for cities in Bangladesh and create opportunity for public-private partnerships

(vi)  No efforts to sensitise city dwellers and raise awareness on greening city development. Without the involvement and co-operation of city dwellers, city corporations cannot achieve the targets set for low-carbon development

(vii) Absence of a common platform for mutual exchange of ideas, best practices and policy discussion on urbanisation and urban development: There is no common forum to share experiences and promote good practices for those working in the urban sector. This is very important to developing a safer, more liveable city as the co-operation among multiple stakeholders leads to better urban sector management and implementation of policies. The Bangladesh Urban Forum established in year 2011, whose mandate is to promote dialogue and action to address urban issues, needs to be empowered and have the representation of key players. Mainstreaming through planning and budgeting processes of city and urban authorities with low carbon and cleaner city agenda is a critical gap.

Exploiting the potential of renewable energy

Renewable energy as one of the low carbon energy sources in the national energy mix is vital to reducing share of green house gasses in. Bangladesh also plans to tap into the renewable energy sector. The government’s Renewable Energy Policy targets meeting 5% of total power demand from renewable energy sources by 2015 and 10% by 2020. The Remote Area Power Supply Systems (RAPSS) guideline of 2007 allows the private sector to participate in the development, operation, and maintenance of electricity generation system and distribution to networks in remote rural areas including isolated islands to achieve universal access by 2020. However, beyond the successful Solar Home Systems (SHS) program, there has been little investment in renewable energy generation since the policy was announced.

The country has resources, experts, suppliers, manufacturers, research organisations, NGOs, and clients to promote, fully adopt low carbon innovations and help diffuse these technologies. However, the country is lacking in the ability to integrate these stakeholders and attract investment through an appropriate institutional framework and financial mechanism. The socio-economic and technical factors in context to Bangladesh need to be taken into consideration for the choice of Renewable Energy Technologies (RETs) and for their implementation processes.  Currently, there is inadequate local technical and engineering capacity to develop, design, implement, operate, and maintain RE-based power generation projects in Bangladesh. There are also no accredited academic and vocational institutes that provide courses in RET applications and engineering, as well as specific courses on RE policy making/formulation, energy economics, policy impact analyses, and environmental and socio-economic impact assessments of RE projects. Supportive policy for private sector engagement and financial mechanism is therefore required to be established to facilitate these stakeholders to channel RETs in Bangladesh. Such renewable energy services need to be decentralised and made affordable for better customer satisfaction and management systems.

The use of renewable in our energy mix has co-benefits not just in mitigating climate change through reducing  dependency on fossil fuels, but also in protecting natural resources, environment, and forests. 

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Dr M Aminul Islam

Dr Aminul Islam is Senior Adviser, Sustainable Development, UNDP in Bangladesh and Co-Chair of the Climate Change, Environment and Disaster Cluster of the Bangladesh Urban Forum.