• Monday, Jan 30, 2023
  • Last Update : 09:54 am

HRW: Bangladesh coal plant threatens to destroy the Sundarbans

  • Published at 10:52 am June 20th, 2020
File photo of the ongoing construction work of the coal-fired power plant beside Pashur River at Rampal upazila in Bagerhat Dhaka Tribune

Scientists have repeatedly voiced concerns that Rampal plant could be disastrous for the world’s largest mangrove forest

The Bangladesh government threatens to destroy the Sundarbans by building coal-fired power plants that could subject the mangrove forest, and the nearly 2.5 million people depending on it for their livelihoods, to harmful pollution, says Human Rights Watch. 

And while the mangroves slow climate change by soaking up carbon, coal-fired plants contribute greenhouse gas emissions that fuel global warming, the global rights watchdog said in an article on Thursday.

Referring to Cyclone Amphan, the most powerful to strike in the Bay of Bengal in 20 years, Bangladesh managed to mitigate impact and save lives because of its robust emergency response system with early warnings and mass-evacuations.

But coastal communities were also protected by Bangladesh’s natural storm shield: the Sundarbans. A protected World Heritage site, this mangrove forest holds land together with its roots as the tides rise. 

As climate change increases the intensity of extreme weather events like Amphan, the Sundarbans is at risk when it is needed most.

Of particular concern is the proposed 1,320MW Rampal Thermal Power Plant, just north of the Sundarbans. Scientists and activists have repeatedly voiced concerns that the plant could spell disaster for the world’s largest mangrove forest. 

But the government has fought calls to cancel or relocate the project, using tear gas and rubber bullets against protestors and insisting, contrary to scientific evidence, that the plant will do no harm.

Meanwhile, international efforts to protect the Sundarbans have been stymied. A recommendation by the International Union for Conservation of Nature to add the Sundarbans to the list of World Heritage Sites in Danger was rejected by UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee, which is chaired by China.

The Chinese, Bosnian, and Cuban delegations even passed an amendment erasing mention of the Rampal power plant and two joint Bangladesh-China coal-fired power plants from the decision.

Climate change is a very real, immediate threat to the nearly 165 million people in Bangladesh where a one-metre sea level rise could submerge almost 20% of the country and displace millions. 

Implementing rights-respecting climate policies that are consistent with the best available science is part of the government’s duty to respect, protect, and fulfill human rights.

Bangladesh has been a global leader in climate change adaptation and accordingly should act swiftly to protect the mangroves. If not, it risks making the climate crisis worse while facing even more powerful cyclones without the country’s natural defense system. 

Mentionable, a study released in November last year said Bangladesh will release an additional 115 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) annually in the atmosphere once it completes constructing and starts operating 29 planned and under-construction coal-fired power plants by 2032.

Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (Bapa) General Secretary Abdul Matin said the ashes that the coal burnt at the Rampal power plant will not only affect the Sundarbans, but will eventually spread to Kolkata, India, in 20 to 30 years after it goes into operation.  

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