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10/28/16

Pollution: Rich Countries Are Still Pushing Dirty Energy on Poor Ones

Sundarbans. The word means “beautiful forest” in Bengali, and it’s an accurate description of the 540 square miles of lush jungle, meandering waterways, and abundant wildlife straddling the southern end of the Bangladesh-India border. The world’s largest mangrove forest, a swath of dense verdant green bifurcated by thousands of rivers and streams, occupies the mouth of the river system that supports more people than any other on Earth, giving life to millions who inhabit the fertile alluvial lands surrounding it.

Intense population pressure—Bangladesh’s 160 million people make their home in an area slightly smaller than Iowa—has caused the forests to shrink, but they are still vital in feeding this huge population: The Sundarbans Reserve Forest and India’s Sundarbans National Park protect the land that provides three annual harvests of rice from the severe cyclonic storms that strike the region an average of three times a year. An enigmatic sentry, the Bengal tiger, patrols the barrier. The national animal of both Bangladesh and neighboring India can navigate the waterways and disappear amid the otherworldly vegetation; it’s one of the reasons the Sundarbans region was awarded UNESCO World Heritage status. But despite nominal protections, it is—like the forests—endangered.

One reason is that Bangladesh and India plan to build the 1,320-megawatt Rampal coal power plant about 10 miles from the Sundarbans Reserve Forest; activists say part of the project falls within an exclusion zone that bars nearby development.

The plant’s emissions will include 7.9 million tons of carbon dioxide per year and large amounts of mercury. Coal ash from the plant has a “high risk of containing various toxic metals…all of which may cause serious damage to humans and the environment,” according to a report from the International Union for Conservation of Nature, Report on the Mission to the Sundarbans World Heritage Site, Bangladesh, from 22 to 28 March 2016, released last week. “Mercury contamination is of particular concern,” the report states, as “current projected control mechanisms and technology are not sufficient to prevent contamination” of surrounding areas.

The IUCN report is only the latest in a catalog of serious concerns that scientists have brought about the project. All have been summarily dismissed by Bangladesh’s government, which conducted the environmental impact assessment on its own project. The IUCN report notes that the EIA “was conducted with limited stakeholder consultation, uses a process that is inconsistent with globally accepted EIA practices, does not address effects of the plant on the [outstanding universal value] of the [UNESCO World Heritage–listed portions of the forest] and does not seem to reflect key concerns raised by national and international experts and scientists.” The report continues: “Air and water pollution have a high likelihood to irreversibly damage the OUV of the world heritage property. The possible threats arising from the power plant on the OUV of the property are not addressed adequately …and the plant itself is not applying the best available technology or the highest international standards for preventing damage commensurate with its location.” As a result, the IUCN scientists recommend “that the Rampal power plant project is cancelled and relocated to a more suitable location, where it would not impact negatively on the Sundarbans Reserve Forest.”

Read more: Rich Countries Are Still Pushing Dirty Energy on Poor Ones | TakePart

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