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Forget Paris: Bangladesh Targets Huge Jump In Coal Use

Joseph Allchin, Financial Times

Low-lying and densely populated, Bangladesh is among the countries most at risk from climate change and rising sea levels. Yet this vulnerable south Asian nation has ambitious plans to increase its use of coal — a big contributor to global warming — with the help of international donors.

The aim is to increase coal’s share of electricity output from 2 per cent to 50 per cent by 2030. Like neighbouring India, which will also be severely affected by climate change, Bangladesh says it has little choice but to expand coal-fired power generation to develop its fast-growing economy, even at the expense of its own environment.

This south Asian paradox is most visible at the Rampal project, a 1,320 megawatt coal plant under construction 15km from the Sunderbans swamplands, a Unesco world heritage site on the Ganges delta that is the world’s largest contiguous mangrove forest.

The location for the plant, a joint venture between Bangladesh and India’s state-owned National Thermal Power Corp, was chosen near the coast to access shipments of 5m tonnes of imported coal each year.

Ships will enter the forest — which is rich in wildlife and home to the royal Bengal tiger — and transfer their cargoes to smaller vessels at a dolphin sanctuary inside the park.

Potential western financiers, including French bank BNP Paribas and the Norwegian state pension fund, said they would not lend to the Rampal project because it could contribute to what one called “severe environmental damage”.

Albrecht Conze, then German ambassador to Dhaka, also criticised the project, but Fichtner, a German engineering company, won the bid to become its chief consultant.

While working at home to remove coal from its domestic energy mix, Berlin continues to finance the export of coal technology.

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