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New Japan-financed Coal Plants Opposed in Bangladesh

Updated: Mar 19, 2022

Image courtesy No Coal Japan

This poster conveys the opposition to the massive new coal plants in Bangladesh.

By Alfred Robert Hogan

Climate activists from Fridays For Future and other nonprofits in Bangladesh, Japan, Australia, and the USA are leading opposition to new coal-fired power plants, to be situated on a low-lying Bangladeshi island on its southeastern coast, in the vast Bay of Bengal. Matarbari Phase 1, now more than three-fifths finished, seems unstoppable. But faced with robust environmental opposition, and increased coal costs, a major Japanese corporation announced on Monday 28 February it was formally ending its plans to help finance and build Phase 2, known as Matarbari 2.

In May 2021, that Sumitomo Corp. had announced it would not partake in new coal-fired power plant projects—except for Matarbari 1, which is under construction in Bangladesh. Since the 2015 UN Paris Climate Agreement, the Japanese government and firms have rushed to finance nine coal plants outside Japan, mostly in Asia, such as the Indramayu coal plant in Indonesia. The activists urge clean-energy alternatives be substituted.

As FFF Bangladesh organizer Sohanur Rahman explained, “Talking against the Matarbari Coal Power Plant Project has been very sensitive and risky. And sometimes we feel it's a life threat to us to talk against this project…But we are not against Japan or the Government of Bangladesh. We are simply fighting for our planet, nature, and people. Bangladesh is waiting for investment. So, if the government can get investment in coal, they will go for coal. If they can get investment in renewable energy, then they will go with renewable energy.”

In June 2021, the Bangladesh government did scotch 10 of the country’s 18 planned coal-fired power plants. But recently, Bangladesh energy ministry official Mohammad Hossain adamantly told the Reuters wire service, “We have already canceled power plants with an intention to cut down emissions, but this is an ongoing project and there is no question to cancel it.”

In mid-March 2022, noted US linguist, progressive philosopher, and multi-book author Noam Chomsky (professor emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology), commented that in view of the latest UN IPCC report, issued two weeks earlier--"the most severe and dire warning yet"--"...[I]mmediately, with no delay, we must begin to sharply reduce our use of fossil fuels, particularly coal, the most dangerous of them. Failure to do so will bring about indescribable catastrophe. In these circumstances, it is criminal to even consider funding new coal plants. I hope and trust the plans to fund new coal plants in Bangladesh will be quickly withdrawn."

And indeed, the remaining eight planned Bangladesh power plants would become one of the world’s largest coal-fired power plant clusters, concentrated within 10 square kilometers, according to the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA), an independent science nonprofit based in Finland. Those plants are to be built on Matarbari Island, located within sight of the famous beautiful sandy beaches at Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh—the world’s longest unbroken sandy beach, stretching for 155 kilometers. In partnership with the Bangladesh national government, the Japanese government’s Japan International Cooperation Agency is now substantially funding (via low-interest 30-to-40-year loans), and Japan’s Sumitomo Corporation trading house and its main co-contractors (Toshiba and IHI Corporation) are already building the huge 1200-megawatt (MW), coal-fired Matarbari 1 power plant complex. Proposed back in September 2011, with environmental approval granted in October 2013, the US $4.8 billion plant began construction in January 2018. Its two units, situated on the 607-hectare site, are now due to open between January 2024 and July 2024. (If all eight plants are built, they would generate produce 8,720 megawatts, MWs, of power.)

In all, some US $20 billion has been aligned and channeled to a mega collection of 68 related projects in the region, overseen by the state-owned Coal Power Generation Company Bangladesh (CPGCBL). Those include potentially as many as eight coal-fired power plants, including the two Matarbari 1 and 2 units, which would each operate for three decades or longer.

Photo credit Market Forces

This Bangladeshi salt farmer’s livelihood is threatened by

the huge coal power plant being built behind him.