At the just concluded COP26, conference of parties as it is rarely referred to, Bangladesh joined hands with 99 other countries in cutting carbon emissions and thereby saving the planet from heating up 1.5 degrees over the pre-industrial age temperature.
It pledged to cut carbon emissions by almost 90 million tonnes or 22% of carbon dioxide by 2030. But this ambition is pitted against the fact that Bangladesh has targeted 41,000 megawatts (MW) of electricity production from the present 24,000MW by that same time period. And most of it would come by burning fossil fuels – coal, natural gas, Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) and oil; only a part of it will come from the emission-free nuclear sources and regional power imports.
That means unless Bangladesh can source significant hydropower from its neighbours, or miraculously build a couple of new nuclear power plants or dramatically increase forest area – it would be impossible for Bangladesh to achieve its carbon emission goals laid bare in Glasgow last week.
More than 55% of Bangladesh's emission comes from burning energy in the power sector, transport, industry, commercial enterprises, agriculture, brick kilns etc, according to Bangladesh's Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) that Environment Minister Shahab Uddin presented at the COP26 conference in Glasgow last week. Agriculture and livestock that emit methane is responsible for 27% of emission, followed by solid human waste (14%), and the remaining by cement and fertiliser industries and a trace amount by forests.
If Bangladesh does not do anything, then the country's emissions would go up to 409 million tonnes. This is where Bangladesh wants to play a responsible part by cutting emissions from all of these sectors.
Host of multi-sectoral challenges
This well-intentioned ambitious goal needs rewriting multi-sector policy papers urgently. Then there will be a host of challenges to address each area: huge investment, getting new technology and being able to build the infrastructure to welcome a greener future.
By 2030, the government sees 4,000MW of solar power capacity – half of which would be connected to the grid. This is very challenging as generating 1MW of solar power needs three acres of land. This goal is still only a small part of the total energy package.
In recent times, the government has dropped 10 planned coal power projects. It is a good move for the future environment. But by 2030, there will be more than a dozen coal power projects in Matarbari, Payra, Rampal, Banshkhali and other places – totalling around 12,000MW capacity.
LNG or natural gas would fire most other new power projects.
While coal is the dirtiest of all energy resources, the other fossil fuel options are also not very clean. If coal emission scores 10, natural gas or LNG emission would score 6.
The Rooppur nuclear power project would add 2,400MW from 2024 onwards. Since building a nuclear power project requires 10 to 15 years to complete, it would be futile to expect that the government with its best intentions can add another plant before 2040.
The world now looks at nuclear power as the large-scale alternative to fossil fuel power generation. This is why China, the world's biggest emitter, has chalked out a plan to build 150 nuclear reactors by 2035.
The other option open to Bangladesh is tapping hydropower potentials of Nepal, Bhutan and India – which has been in talks for decades now. The challenge here is the political will of all these nations and huge investment.
Then if Bangladesh can access affordable green hydrogen – one of the cleanest forms of energy in the world that is still in the nascent stage or if there is a major breakthrough in solar power technology that uses little land to generate power – we can be lucky.
Shift to electric transport needs billions in investment
Other than power, the major carbon emitter in the world is transportation. The environment ministry envisages that by 2030, this sector will see a major shift as there would be 10,000 hybrid and electric vehicles along with the introduction of broad gauge and electric locomotives, introducing good quality fuel and Euro III and IV engines, completing all highways with four lanes, withdrawal of 86,000 unfit vehicles from the roads and introducing lithium-ion battery in all motorcycles and cars.
To replace conventional vehicles with electric ones, the country would need billions of dollars of investment for building the support infrastructure. This will be a big challenge. The existing vehicles would not be eliminated overnight. Experts around the world say electric vehicles would not replace petroleum vehicles before 2035.
We can deal better with brick kilns by replacing the fossil fuel burning ones with compressed hollow blocks. The government already has a policy to drop all conventional bricks from its projects by 2024 and this could be totally achievable for the nation.
To cut emissions from industry, commercial, households and agriculture, the government would push stakeholders to replace energy-inefficient equipment through six Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) projects; distribute six million improved cookstoves etc.
In agriculture, the environment ministry plans to use technology to reduce methane emission from rice fields, fertiliser and manure management.
In reducing emissions from human waste, the ministry plans to build a waste-to-energy plant in Dhaka, build an incineration plant in the city, and develop a regional integrated landfill and resource recovery facility in the city.
The ministry wants to increase forest coverage to 24% by 2030 from its present 22.37%. Whether this would be possible is something to see.
In the end, the environment ministry's plans are something to appreciate – because we all want to cut emissions for a better future. But this plan needs not only a strong political decision and big investment but the participation of all stakeholders and good luck as well.