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Activists demand stop to Japan-funded coal plant in climate-vulnerable Bangladesh

Japanese trading house Sumitomo Corp,
along with Toshiba and IHI Corporation, is building the Matarbari power plant
in Moheshkhali near the southeastern coastal town of Cox’s Bazar, funded by the
Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

Climate campaigners said the project
contradicts Japan’s commitment, made with other wealthy G7 nations last May, to
end funding for “unabated” coal power overseas by the end of 2021.

Coal is considered unabated when it is
burned for power or heat without using technology to capture the resulting
emissions, a system not yet widely used in power generation.

The power plant under construction at
Cox’s Bazar, along the world’s longest beach, puts the lives and livelihoods of
locals at risk and will add to broader climate woes, activists said.

Bangladeshi officials said all possible
measures were being taken to reduce the negative consequences of the
fossil-fuel power plant.

Kentaro Yamamoto, an activist with
student movement Fridays for Future Japan, said international support for such
energy infrastructure was being offered to Asian countries as “development
assistance” but was “destroying the environment”.

Launching a campaign to demand that
Sumitomo and JICA stop work on the project, activists and environmental
scientists from the region said Japan should stop investing in dirty energy, in
order to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius in line with
internationally agreed climate goals.

“This project is hurting the people
of Bangladesh and this planet. About 20,000 people will lose land, homes and
jobs, flooding will get worse and about 14,000 people could lose their lives
due to the toxic waste,” Yamamoto told an online event.

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The Bangladesh power plant is at odds
with global efforts to curb climate change, and Sumitomo’s own commitment to
become carbon neutral, activists said.

“Achieving net-zero targets by 2050
does not mean burning coal until the last minute. It is far too late to
construct new coal power plants now,” said Roger Smith, Japan project
manager at Mighty Earth, an advocacy organisation.

A spokesman for Sumitomo, which began
building Matarbari in 2017, said it was fulfilling its contract, adding the
project was not at odds with the firm’s own net-zero emissions goal as it would
be operated by the Bangladesh government and retired before mid-century.

GROWING ENERGY NEEDS

About 8% of Bangladesh’s electricity
supply comes from coal.

Last year it cancelled 10 out of 18
coal-fired plants it had planned to set up, amid rising costs for the polluting
fuel and growing calls from activists to source more of the nation’s power from
renewable energy sources.

Mohammad Hossain, head of Power Cell, a
technical arm of the Bangladesh energy ministry, said the government had not
received a petition from climate activists to stop the Matarbari project.

“We have already cancelled power
plants with an intention to cut down emissions but this is an ongoing project
and there is no question to cancel it,” he told the Thomson Reuters
Foundation.

The state-run plant – which is expected
to be operational by 2024 – would use new technologies to limit emissions,
minimise water intake and reduce fly ash to avoid environmental harm, he added.

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“Our country is growing fast – its
energy demand is growing. This project has been taken up looking at the demands
of 2030,” Hossain said.

Activists said funding fossil fuel use
put economic concerns ahead of people’s safety in a country whose low elevation,
high population density and weak infrastructure make it highly vulnerable to
climate change.

“We have the capacity to transition
to renewable energy and (we) need the support of Japan to make this transition
but not for a coal power plant that is aimed at their profit,” said
Farzana Faruk Jhumu of the Bangladesh arm of Fridays for Future.

JICA did not immediately respond to a
request for comment.

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