Matarbari, Bangladesh · Tokyo, Japan · Washington D.C., United States
A coalition of civil society organizations from Bangladesh, Japan, the United States, and Australia have joined together to oppose this proposed coal-fired power plant, culminating in a global day of action on September 24, 2020.
Click here to send a message to oppose Japan’s dirty coal projects and support a more cost-effective, safer, clean energy future for Bangladesh to key stakeholders including Sumitomo Corporation and the Japan International Cooperation Agency. Send an email by clicking here.
Japan’s Dirty Coal Exports
Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh is one of the world’s longest stretches of sandy beach. Beloved by Bangladeshis and international visitors alike, it is surrounded by a marine reserve and wildlife sanctuaries. Many fisherman and salt farmers call this area home.
However, the area as we know it today could change forever if the Japanese government and Sumitomo Corporation get their way. Despite the urgent need to reduce heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions, Japanese companies continue to export expensive and highly polluting coal technologies to developing countries.
Just beyond the beaches of Cox’s Bazar lies Matarbari Island. Here the Japanese government is providing financing for, and Sumitomo Corporation is currently constructing, a large-scale, 1200-megawatt (MW), coal-fired power plant.
The Matarbari coal power plant will be built to lower pollution standards than a new plant in Japan would have to meet. This new coal plant will cause the region to exceed WHO guidelines for air quality and is projected to cut short the lives of thousands of Bangladeshis over the 30-year life of the plant. Most of these deaths would be avoidable if the plant were simply built to comparable pollution standards as recent plants in Japan.
Pollution standards aren’t the only place we’re seeing hypocrisy at work — while Sumitomo directed its Tokyo-based staff to work from home during COVID-19, its contractors in Bangladesh forced 3,000 laborers to continue constructing the plant in violation of a government lockdown.
Clearly, there is a double-standard when it comes to the lives of Bangladeshis.
It gets worse – Matarbari Phase II
Despite the first Matarbari coal plant being over budget and behind schedule, in June 2020, the Japanese government’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs decided to proceed with a preparatory survey for a second 1200 MW coal plant at Matarbari, (“Matarbari Phase II”) which would presumably double the air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
There is no need for a second coal plant, as Bangladesh already has too much power capacity and its main utility company is drowning in debt. In an open letter, 44 civil society organizations from Bangladesh and other countries sent a letter to the Prime Minister of Japan asking him not to proceed with Phase II. But the Japanese government continues to push ahead.
Climate Disaster in the Making
This low-lying country is vulnerable to flooding exacerbated by climate change, and yet will soon become a significant contributor to rising seas and more powerful tropical cyclones if these power plants are built. Bangladesh chairs a group of countries disproportionately affected by climate change, the Climate Vulnerable Forum. The global race is on to retire coal plants by 2040, leaving no room to build new coal plants such as the Matarbari projects, which once constructed are expected to last for decades.
Clean Energy Alternatives are Ready to Go
Japan and Japanese companies could use their technological expertise to help Bangladesh transition to a clean, renewable energy future. An independent analysis found that solar power would not only be cleaner, but also a far cheaper approach than coal for the country. The levelized electricity cost of solar PV is estimated to be more than 48 percent cheaper per kilowatt-hour than the electricity generated by Matarbari Phase I. Bangladeshi ratepayers should not be saddled with high energy costs when their country has an abundance of solar potential.
“As an Annex 1 country, Japan is required to reduce its own greenhouse gas emissions drastically. However, they are transferring pollution to some of the most vulnerable countries, including Bangladesh. Bangladesh has enough resources to generate 250 GW of electricity from renewable sources. As a technologically advanced country, Japan must stop financing the Matarbari Coal Power Plant and provide additional finance for ensuring 100% renewable energy in Bangladesh,” said Hasan Mehedi, Member Secretary, Bangladesh Working Group on External Debt (BWGED).
Time for Japan and Sumitomo to Change Direction
It is not too late to change. With Matarbari Phase II only in the planning stages, and Prime Minister Suga taking over in Japan, there is an opportunity to recognize the increasing urgency to address the global climate crisis and changing circumstances in Bangladesh which make this plant unnecessary.
Yuki Tanabe, Program Director for Japan Center for a Sustainable Environment and Society (JACSES), said, ”In July 2020, the Government of Japan revised its coal financing policy, which states that ‘in principle, the government will not provide official financial support.’ However, projects that are already in the pipeline, including Matarbari 2, fall within the exceptions. Matarbari 2 is just in the beginning stages of project preparation, which is definitely still reversible.”
“Sumitomo Corporation should announce it will not be involved in the Matarbari Phase II coal plant. In June, the company told shareholders it would achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 and contribute to global emissions reductions, but the reality is Sumitomo is making the problem worse by building new coal plants,” said Mighty Earth’s Japan Project Manager, Roger Smith.
“If we want to meet the climate goals of the Paris agreement, Bangladesh and the global community cannot afford another dirty coal power plant built by Sumitomo. Instead of building the Matarbari coal power project, Sumitomo Corporation should be transitioning its own business away from coal and financing more renewables to help Bangladesh meet their energy needs.” said Meg Fukuzawa, Energy Finance Campaigner at Market Forces.
You can send a message now to oppose Japan’s dirty Matarbari coal projects, and support a clean energy future for Bangladesh. Send an email by clicking here.
Sponsored by Mighty Earth (USA)· Bangladesh Working Group on External Debt (BWGED) (Bangladesh) · Japan Center for a Sustainable Environment and Society (JACSES) (Japan)· MarKet Forces (Australia)