UNESCO to Bangladesh: Cancel Rampal coal plant, or Sundarbans could be added to List of World Heritage in Danger in 2017

Press release from National Committee for Saving the Sundarbans (NCSS)

Dhaka, Bangladesh, 18 October 2016 – Today, the monitoring mission of the World Heritage Committee, conducted by UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), recommended that the Rampal coal plant project be “cancelled and relocated to a more suitable location where it would not impact negatively” on the Sundarbans Reserved Forest and the Sundarbans World Heritage site. The mission concluded that should Rampal or other risky development proceed, UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee should consider adding the Sundarbans to its List of World Heritage in Danger at its annual session in 2017. [1]

The recommendation was based on the mission’s findings that there is a high likelihood of air and water pollution of the Sundarbans, the world’s largest mangrove forest and a designated World Heritage site, due to the Rampal plant’s location and the failure of the project’s promoters to provision adequate methods to minimise impacts. The report also flagged risks of increased shipping and dredging in the immediate vicinity of the World Heritage site due to the Rampal plant, the plant’s additional removal of freshwater from an increasingly saline environment, and the promoters’ inadequate environmental assessment of how effects on the Sundarbans would be mitigated.

The report noted that the Rampal plant “is not applying the best available technology or the highest international standards for preventing damage commensurate with its location in the near vicinity of a globally unique World Heritage property.”

The report also noted that:

  •  “[a]ny flooding, spills or leakages from the waste ash ponds are a major risk factor and could cause serious and long-term harm to the [values] of the property.”
  • “Mercury contamination is of particular concern and current projected control mechanisms and technology are insufficient to prevent contamination and are not consistent with international practice and standards.”
  • “…[air] pollutants could easily reach the property—located 65 km from the plant—with negative impacts on its [outstanding universal values]…. the project site is located in the country’s “wind risk zone” which is prone to cyclones and storm surges, thereby exacerbating the risks for air and water pollution to the property.”

In February 2016, the National Committee for Saving the Sundarbans (NCSS), a coalition of 53 grassroots organisations from across Bangladesh, petitioned UNESCO and the IUCN to urge Bangladesh to stop all activities associated with the Rampal and other coal fired power plants around the Sundarbans until the global bodies had the opportunity to fully evaluate potential threats to the Sundarbans World Heritage site, and consider adding the property to UNESCO’s List of World Heritage in Danger.

Advocate Sultana Kamal, convener of NCSS, said: “The National Committee for Saving the Sundarbans is heartened that the monitoring mission has firmly agreed with scientists and concerned citizens raising the alarm that the Rampal plant absolutely would damage the Sundarbans. The highly experienced monitoring mission independently reached this conclusion based on objective evidence, despite not being allowed to meet with any critics of the plants while they were in Bangladesh.”

“We thank the mission and support its factually accurate report and recommendations. It adds to a growing body of independent expert analyses showing the many ways the Rampal coal plant’s inadequate pollution controls and inappropriate site location will harm the Sundarbans.”

“We call on the Bangladeshi government to quickly adopt the UNESCO recommendations without delay and reassure Bangladeshis and the citizens of the world that it will live up to its duty to protect and preserve the Sundarbans World Heritage site for future generations.”

“Our government must take immediate action to publicly cancel the Rampal plant and associated river dredging, and pursue exclusively clean energy for all Bangladeshis that safeguards our water, air, fisheries, forests, wildlife, and our health. Clean energy technologies are now less expensive than coal-fired power.”

“It is quite soothing that the government has declared it will cancel the second phase plant at Rampal and adjacent Orion power plant.  Such a decision justifies scientists’ and activists’ concerns over such projects near the forest. The reasons for the government abandoning the second phase are adequate for shutting down the first phase of the Rampal plant as well.”

“We also make a direct call on the Indian government to stop its aggressive and damaging attempt to finance, build and profit from a second class coal plant that does not have state of the art pollution control technology in a location that will harm the Sundarbans and the people of Bangladesh. India has a duty under the World Heritage Convention to avoid harming the World Heritage site of another country. It also has a moral obligation not to construct facilities that will harm the air, water and people of another country. India must treat Bangladesh and the Sundarbans with greater respect.”

“Should neither the Bangladesh nor Indian government change course and cancel Rampal as recommended by experts and UNESCO, we call on our fellow citizens of the world to join us and target any bank or institutional investors with stocks or bonds in the Indian Exim Bank, NTPC or BHEL to divest financial support in these entities immediately.”

For more information, contact:

Advocate Sultana Kamal, Convener, NCSS, Phone: +88 01745056983

Dr. Mohd. Abdul Matin, Member Secretary, NCSS, Phone: +88 01819223343

Notes for editors:

1. Published today, the ‘Report of the joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN Reactive Monitoring mission to the Sundarbans World Heritage site (Bangladesh), 22-28 March 2016’ is available at: http://whc.unesco.org/document/148097

2. The 1320 MW Rampal plant is being built as a joint venture by the Governments of India and Bangladesh on 742 hectares of land located approximately 14 km from the boundary of the Sundarbans Reserve Forest (SRF), 4 km from the boundary of the Ecologically Critical Area (buffer zone of the SRF), and about 65 km from the closest boundary of the World Heritage site.  Financing pending from India Exim is in excess of US$1.7bn.

Further background information is available at the website of the National Committee for Saving the Sundarbans, and a recently published summary of Rampal impacts produced by international experts.