Dr Tanzimuddin Khan, professor of International Relations, University of Dhaka, has long been an advocate of clean energy. Masum Billah of TBS recently confronted him on issues of coal-based power generation and alternatives to such conventional scheme to minimise impact of industries on the ecology.
The rise in the number of cyclonic storm is a direct consequence of the increase in global temperature. It is believed that the frequency of the cyclonic storm has increased three times in the last 100 years. As a result, along with major cyclones, the number of tropical storms has also soared in Bangladesh. In the face of such devastating realities, the significance of the Sundarbans comes to light again as the world's largest mangrove forest once again saved us from a severe cyclone this week.
Additionally, the Sundarbans, which is a mangrove forest, can absorb carbon dioxide many times more than other land-based forests. Considering all the natural blessings that we have along the coastline, the Sundarbans is the most important natural reserve in the country. But the Rampal Power Station, which is being built adjacent to this mangrove forest, is a cause for concern. One must note that the concern for economic development and caring for ecology are now pitted against one another. We need energy for industrialisation, but forests, especially the Sundarbans, too needs our attention – the situation is paradoxical. Sundarbans, if it remains more or less unharmed, will continue to serve us perpetually, whereas Rampal will serve us only for a certain period of time. What is worrisome is that the latter holds the potential to endanger the existence of the Sundarbans.
There is also an ethical dilemma involved in all that transpire. In the global climate and environmental forums, we represent ourselves as climate victims. In fact, Bangladesh serves as the "poster boy" of victimhood as far as the environmental damages is concerned – the damages that are linked with the burning of fossil fuel by the industrialist countries thus provide a basis for our identity as a climate change victim. On the other hand, when it comes to our development goals and projects, they necessitate a robust energy sector. We are also set to enter a phase when our development will also be based on fossil fuel. A mere glimpse at the energy sector master plan 2016 will testify to the fact that we are actually walking the opposite way.
Many in our country allege that since we have not yet attained the degree of industrialisation that we envisage in near future, we don't contribute much carbon dioxide to the environment locally. This assumption will do us no good because when we have this self-contradictory stance on our part in our commitment to fight climate change, our ethical stance is questioned at the international forums in terms of our claim to victimhood on the climate issue.
As a result, our development paradox is tied to ecological aspects, it is also entangled with our ethical stance.
If we look at the United States and China, we witness a gradual change in their environmental policies over the last few years. From Copenhagen Accord to Paris Agreement, China played a leading role in the global attempts to curb the negative effects of climate change. The United States also ratified the agreement when Barack Obama was president.
China, in her environmental governance, has come up with many reforms lately. Beijing is now gearing up to increase their capacity of sources of renewable energy. Keeping in mind a similar target, the US also adopted a clean energy plan a few years ago that aims to reduce pollution from energy industries by 32 per cent by 2030, as well as doubling their capacity of renewable energy.
Recently, Donald Trump scrapped the Paris Agreement in his personal agenda and that of Republican party because both the party and president have business stakes in it. But the climate change has now become a major agenda for the US Democrats as part of their foreign policy based on multilateralism. Donald Trump's 'America First' policy, an offshoot of his foreign policy based on unilateralism, has contributed to his alarming decisions in putting climate sceptic people in charge of environmental protection agencies. As a result, the US promise to combat climate change will largely depend in the next election whether the US people votes for Donald Trump again or side with a climate friendly government.
When the developed world is moving forward with alternative energy sources, we, however, with more coal-based and nuclear power plants, are chipping into a state of risks. It is also in our interest to look at the investing countries at our coal-based power plants like India, Malaysia, Japan and even Britain and others. Many of these countries are getting rid of coal-based energies, but they are playing a role in creating Bangladesh a dumping station of coal.
The government's assurance of the safety measures for such risky projects will ensure the citizens only when the measures taken to protect the security and safety of the citizens are made public. The government needs to make public the type of technology used for nuclear wastage management as well as decommissioning, for the protection of the citizens in 30-mile radius, and the steps that will be taken in terms of emergency etc.
Such adventurism in coal and nuclear power plants without risk assessment may help a government stay in power by dragging influential states through an economic stake as a mechanism of political support mobilisation. But this is putting citizens at risk.
We need to begin thinking of the alternatives. Instead of imitating the western development model indiscriminately, we need make plans taking in to the consideration geographic, demographic and geopolitical aspects of Bangladesh. Environmentally viable energy source is possible in Bangladesh and the committee 'Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports' previously proposed such plans which the government never cared to consider.
After the cyclone Bulbul, one must begin to take stock how the way Sundarbans protected Bangladesh like a caring mother. I hope good sense will prevail.