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UNESCO recommends halt to Bangladesh coal plant

Posted Oct. 19, 2016 / Posted by: Kate Colwell

Pressure mounts on U.S. government to reject financing

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) released a seminal report recommending that development of the Orion Khulna coal plant in Bangladesh -- which the Export-Import Bank of the United States (U.S. Ex-Im Bank) is reportedly considering financing -- should be halted due to concerns about the negative impacts the project poses to the World Heritage Sundarbans forest. The Sundarbans, the world’s largest mangrove forest, spans the border of India and Bangladesh and is home to upwards of six million people and endangered species like the Bengal tiger and Irrawaddy dolphin.

"UNESCO’s recommendation that all development of the Orion Khulna coal project be halted due to the tremendous threat it poses to the precious Sundarbans should provide the final nail in the coffin to any possible U.S. government financing. The Export-Import Bank of the United States has absolutely no business supporting such a pollution-spewing monstrosity, and must pull out of the project immediately," said Jenny Bock, economic justice campaigner at Friends of the Earth U.S. 

The report makes recommendations on two coal plants: the Orion Khulna plant was proposed to be built beside the massive Rampal coal plant, both of which are expected  to be built near the Sundarbans. Even stronger than the report’s conclusions about Orion Khulna, UNESCO recommended the cancellation of Rampal. The development of the coal plants has sparked widespread protests, as well as crackdowns, in Bangladesh.

Possible U.S. Ex-Im Bank financing of the Orion Khulna coal project comes on the heels of several high profile initiatives by the Obama administration to fight climate change.

“Any U.S. government financing of coal plants would greatly undermine President Obama's climate legacy, including his commitment under the Climate Action Plan to restrict financing coal plants overseas. It is ridiculous, and indeed entirely counter-productive, that U.S. Ex-Im Bank is even considering financing a project like this in 2016,” Bock continued.

Background: The UNESCO monitoring mission report represents the conclusion of a fact-finding mission that UNESCO World Heritage Committee officials conducted in March to investigate the impacts of the Rampal coal plant and other coal-powered plants on the Sundarbans, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997.

In its report, UNESCO specifically recommended that the government of Bangladesh “halts all development of the site of the Orion Power Plant in Khulna, and any similar proposed development, until an independent, comprehensive and scientifically sound EIA has been conducted and provided to the World Heritage Centre and IUCN for their review and evaluation.” UNESCO went on to call for the project to be cancelled and relocated if the impacts of the project on the Sundarbans could not be adequately addressed: “If impacts on the OUV [Outstanding Universal Value] of the property or its immediate surroundings cannot be addressed in a scientifically sound manner, it is recommended that the projects be cancelled and relocated to more suitable locations." UNESCO also expressed grave concerns about the Rampal coal plant and recommended that “the Rampal power plant project is cancelled and relocated to a more suitable location where it would not impact negatively on the Sundarbans.”

For more information on the history and stakes around the Orion Khulna coal plant, see Friends of the Earth's guest post on Ecowatch.

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Expert contact: Jenny Bock, Friends of the Earth U.S., (202) 222-0754, jbock@foe.org

Communications contact: Kate Colwell, (202) 222-0744, kcolwell@foe.org

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