The top coal producers in Asia are China, India, and Indonesia. Though these countries are the most vulnerable ones for the last 50 years, a fondness for coal mining still remains strong at a national policy level. And the excuse for it remains: “Coal is cheaper.”
On the other hand, NGO workers and environmental scientists are working to negotiate at different levels with their data collection and research.
First, are the coal-fired power plant projects really “cheap” or not? There is no doubt that coal-fired power plants and mining translate to environmental imbalances, because of the high emissions of carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, lead, cadmium, arsenic, mercury, boron, and more.
These harmful chemicals have a significant impact on our lungs, brain, heart, liver, kidneys, stomach, and intestines.
The water required for a coal-based power plant is about 150 liters per unit of electricity, which is very high compared to the domestic requirement of water in a big city. So, it is true -- coal-fired power plants are really “cheap,” only if the inevitable environmental damage and vulnerable public health issues are being overlooked.
With time, the evidence becomes hard to ignore. The same dangerous “development” policies make way to another poor country in Asia via relocation of the same coal-fired power plant project.
For instance, the ADB proposed $900 million for the Jamshoro power generation station in Pakistan -- where the plants will use imported coal from China. And Gandhi Power Park of Baluchistan also depends on imported coal.
Bangladesh is following the same path on the proposed Rampal and Fulbari coal-fired power plant projects -- where both of these projects will import coal from India and Indonesia.
No one is a saint
The ADB and the Asian energy plan have also been playing different roles here. ADB has invested $3bn on coal projects from 2007 to 2014, as Justin Guay noted in a Huffpost article on Aug 17, 2014.
The tricky part about shifting a coal power plant is that in this approach, coal exporters can reduce the level of national CO2 emission and still buy significant amounts of electricity from their contracted “Third World” countries by paying the least amount of money.
However, all of the stories are not the same. Sri Lanka is an exception. In 2006, India and Sri Lanka jointly proposed 500MW from Sampur Power Station, and the agreement was withdrawn after 10 years of its protest. It should also be stated that China, Japan, India, South Korea, and Taiwan are the top five coal exporting countries of the world.
So, it is true -- coal-fired power plants are really ‘cheap,’ only if the inevitable environmental damage and vulnerable public health issues are being overlooked
The apparition of awareness is always looming because of the lack of local data. This means that most of the NGOs and environment related activist groups still depend on the global databases.
So for instance, in order to raise the awareness of climate change in rural areas in Bangladesh, the example of the endangered polar bear in Antarctica will not help much. Likewise, most people do not feel connected to the danger of raised sea levels caused by climate change and CO2 emissions over the last 20 years.
In 2005, Bangladesh released its first document titled “The National Adaptation Program of Action (NAPA)” and the different development projects were ran by accepting NAPA’s reductionist global data.
However, Khalid Ibrahim, a climate change scientist states that now, it is vividly recognised that NAPA’s action plan is a total failure.
NGOs and development workers often get frustrated because global data is totally unrelated to the everyday life of people for whom the NGOs working for.
Though environmental damage and climate change due to coal-based power projects are global issues with varying effects on different parts of the world, the problem is, from the very first time, there was a real pressure that climate change should be understood only by universalistic-scientific approach.
And this particular approach ensued avoidance of area-wise qualitative data. As a result, most people think that climate change is only a technical issue or can be solved only by higher end technological/solar tools.
But most of the time, climate change mainly depends on resource management, where the idea of “resource” is very culture specific. Resource management also depends on agro-ecological methods of food production, eco-friendliness of food habits, demographic structures, population control, which should also be culturally understood.
Overall, to raise awareness about climate change among the people, different ethnographic data and long-term surveillance should also be incorporated, along with the international policies against CO2 emissions and climate change.
Otherwise, the policies undertaken for these issues will fail to serve their purpose.
Kazi Tafsin is a fellow at Centre for Bangladesh Studies.