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An open letter to Al Gore from Annisul Huq

  • Published at 06:18 pm April 3rd, 2017
  • Last updated at 10:15 pm April 3rd, 2017
An open letter to Al Gore from Annisul Huq

Dear Mr Gore,

I am the elected mayor of Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. I decided to write to you after having watched the plenary session titled “Leading the Fight Against Climate Change” at Davos where our Honorable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and you were both present in a panel moderated by Thomas Friedman.

While you questioned our prime minister, I sensed that you may not be fully aware of the facts of the Rampal Project and hence repeatedly expressed your reservations by drawing attention to “dirty” coal-fired power plants more than once.

Let me reiterate a few of the highlights about Bangladesh which our prime minister, thrice elected by a nation of 160 million, also stated in the dialogue. Under her visionary leadership, Bangladesh has emerged as a role model for socioeconomic development, an accolade she received from many quarters, including no less than a Nobel laureate in economics, Prof Amartya Sen.

Steady economic growth of over 6% for almost a decade in the face of recession and financial meltdown in the West and remarkable improvements in all the human indicators have made Bangladesh one of the front-runners in meeting the MDGs. Steady decline in the incidence of poverty, and rapid increase in per capita GDP from $550 to $1,500 (2009 to 2016) are some of the distinguishing features of the story of Bangladesh.

And we owe it to the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Though amply explained by our prime minister, you might not have listened to her with attention and, as such, I want to take it on my shoulders and tell you that the whole of Bangladesh believes in the global cause of preserving the environment as much as you do. Some of the initiatives are mentioned below.

Way back in 2009, Bangladesh formed its own Climate Change Trust Fund under the initiative of our current prime minister. The government of Bangladesh has created the Infrastructure Development Company Limited (IDCOL) to promote green energy which has developed an innovative sustainable model for providing Solar Home Systems (SHS) to underprivileged people of remote and off grid areas in an affordable manner.

Also, while your perception centres around “dirty coal,” please note that we have resorted to underground mining in only one coal mine in northern Bangladesh at Barapukaria, keeping environmental considerations in mind, in spite of having a huge coal reserve of high GCV value.

Bangladesh has kept the carbon footprint of Bangladesh minimal -- 0.4MT per capita per annum while the same for OECD countries is 20MT, 50 times more than that of Bangladesh.

On the issue of energy, one needs to clarify that, while the OECD countries’ per capita electricity consumption is at 10,000kWh, Bangladesh’s per capita generation stands at a mere 470kWh (although access has increased from 47% in 2009 to around 80% now by sharing the meagre power equitably). Our goal is to provide electricity to all by 2021 when per capita consumption is estimated to reach 1,000kWh, still one-tenth of the developed countries’ consumption.

So, in order for Bangladesh to reach its potentials for economic growth and social development, it needs to optimise its own resources through a proven and cost-effective coal-based power plant

In its development journey, the country now targets to provide electricity to all by 2021. For this, it needs generation capacity at 24,000 MW. Also, to achieve the SDG goal, it needs 39,000MW by 2030.

Bangladesh is, however, facing serious limitations today in trying to expand power generation. With the indigenous reserve of natural gas depleting, Bangladesh is strapped with using expensive options of producing energy through usage of imported oil for a quick rental power plan as a short-term solution.

On top of this, the lack of exploitable hydro-resources, the high cost of development and requirement of high skill and technology of nuclear power means that coal is the only option for power generation in the long run. We are exploring our best to harness the renewable energy potentials -- though we have limited options -- mostly within solar.

Your reference to SHS also needs clarification. The SHS was initiated by the government of Bangladesh through IDCOL as an innovative solution to provide power to remote and off grid areas while the national grid is expanded to cater to the industrial and commercial needs to support our agricultural and industrial growth.

We now cover around 4.5 million households with SHS, the largest in the world, and continue finding niche areas to expand its coverage although the opportunities are getting more limited and challenging. Among the 35 partner organisations of IDCOL, Grameen Shakti is just one. You seem to be holding this achievement of the government against its current strategy, unaware of its limitations.

So, in order for Bangladesh to reach its potentials for economic growth and social development, it needs to optimise its own resources through a proven and cost-effective coal-based power plant. While the average coal usage of the world stands at 41%, Bangladesh has so far been generating only 2.5% of its electricity through coal.

While the biggest emitters of carbon happen to be the developed world, quite ironically, Bangladesh, with a coal-based power plant project in Rampal, has come under fire from a celebrity like you, oblivious of the dire straits that we are in.

We are receiving criticisms from some quarters relating to the plant, which are not substantiated with facts. Opposing views are expressed only in the manner of regular rhetoric without any constructive argument.

The fact that the plant at Rampal will be using proven Ultra-Super-Critical technology, the best in the world, is not known to all. The fact that the World Heritage (UNESCO) boundary (done at the initiative of Prime Minister Hasina) is a minimum 69.6km south of the site of the plant is not being taken into consideration.

The fact that the Sundarbans boundary is a minimum of 14km south of the plant site with the wind flow direction acting as a natural shield (wind flow from March to October: Northward/November to March: Southeastward) is also not being considered.

There is an active Ash Management System. Electro Static Precipitator (ESP) for capturing 99.99% of fly ash Pneumatic Ash Conveying System, 100% Ash utilisation and storing remaining ash (if any) through creating a small ash pond of 25 acres for emergencies.

The concern about emission of sulphur oxide (SOX) is also not valid as the plant will be using a very low sulphur coal, while the sulphur will be absorbed by Flue Gas Desulpharisation (FGD) process.

The plant’s emission of nitrogen oxide will also be controlled by using a LO-NOxBurner and by using an improved burner design. Besides, the stack height will be 270 meters in order to reduce ground level concentration of the pollution, effect of inversion layer, and shoreline fumigation.

Moreover, the project will generate no/limited noise outside the boundary, prevent thermal pollution of river water by adopting a close cycle cooling system, and will also be using covered ships/barges, and environment-friendly trans-shippers. To top it all off, 500,000 trees have been planted, which will contribute towards developing a green belt.

Mr Gore, under the Environment Monitoring Plan (EMP) which was formulated in January 2014, regular monitoring of physical environment, water resources, transportation, land/agriculture, fisheries, ecosystem, and socio-economic environment are all being affected. A sophisticated USEPA regulatory model CALPUFF is used to monitor the air quality during the operation stage. On top of that, the project duly subscribes to WB/IFC standards of Health and Safety Policy and IMO convention for all ships and barges movement.

The government has also appointed Fechner Consulting Engineers, Germany to oversee the project implementation and plans to appoint an external monitoring group of local experts.

Having written all that, it would perhaps be wise to also refer to a few of the existing coal power plants in the world, which have been commissioned near parks, towns, and river banks.

For example, the Jinnah Power plant in Malaysia is located adjacent to a mangrove forest along with another plant in Tanjung being situated adjacent to the National Park; the Zolling Power station in Germany is located right next to AmperNatural 2000; the Pleasants Power Station is located 1km from the Wayne National Forest; the ISOGO power plant is located in the port city of Yokohama; and Rheinhafen Dampfkraft, Hellbronn Hafen, Kraftwek-Moorbug (commissioned in 2015), and Grobkraftwerk Mannheim in Germany are all located in the town and on the river bank.

It is also mentionable that Mae Moh power plant in Thailand is only 20 km from Wiang Kosai National Park; the 1200 MW plant in Vietnam is actually only 6km from Halong Bay, which is a UNESCO world heritage site as well.

We have even installed a coal-based power plant of sub-critical technology which was commissioned way back in 2006. No environmental damage has been reported as yet.

If one were to take an objective look at the Rampal coal-based 2x660MW power plant, it would be easy to reconcile with the fact that the Sundarbans have been receding for years because of human pressure on limited land. The plant offers more growth opportunities for the region and will, instead, reduce dependence of the local people on the Sundarbans for their livelihood.

The answer to sustainable development must be based on fairness and objectivity. Considering the position of Bangladesh as a low emitter of carbon, there should not be any doubt about Rampal being the answer to Bangladesh’s energy needs.

Since the project has also gone through due diligence with the completion of EIA study and the approval process, and since the project complies with all the international pre-requisites, Rampal should not at all be opposed; rather, Rampal should be considered as a mark of sustainable development in Bangladesh with clean coal technology.

In the entire process, you should kindly understand that all Bangladesh is claiming is only its own reasonable carbon space to move on.

Mr Gore, every country faces its own challenges. I appreciate those you too are currently facing. Fortunately, diversity and opposition can only be reasoned with due diligence and substantial rationale. Therefore, my only request to you would be to kindly study the attachment and give us feedback.

All that we pledge relating to setting up the project may be examined and assessed, before which, an outright rejection of the project based on anti-coal rhetoric is perhaps not fair.

Along with our prime minister, let me extend the invitation to visit vibrant Bangladesh and also Rampal power plant.

I am looking forward to hearing back from you.

Warm regards,

Annisul Huq

Mayor, Dhaka North City Corporation.

Annisul Huq is the mayor of Dhaka North City Corporation.