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The First Step in the Long March for Climate Justice

By Payal Parekh

It's been several years since the first communities in Bangladesh started protesting the construction of the Rampal coal-powered plant near the Sundarbans, the world's largest mangrove forest and a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site. The struggle to save the Sundarbans as well as protect the health and livelihoods of the communities in the region continues. This week, seven marches from different parts of the country will reach Dhaka to conclude in a mass gathering and rally at the Martyr's Square to renew their calls for the cancellation of the project.

Opposition to the Rampal coal plant has been expressed not only by the villagers, but even by financiers. In 2015, three French banks and two Norwegian pension funds withdrew their investments from this project. This year, due to pressure from a petition signed by 50,000 people across the world UNESCO has recommended that the Bangladeshi government scrap plans to build the Rampal power plant.

Yet, the government is still intent on building the coal plant, despite having made an admirable commitment to shift to 100 percent renewable energy as soon as possible at the conclusion of the Marrakech climate conference last week.

The kickstart on Thursday to the Long March to Dhaka to stop the Rampal coal plant.350.org

Experts also agree with Bangladesh that renewable energy is what's needed now; a recently published report from Institute for Energy Economics & Financial Analysis Institute points out that fossil fuel subsidies and electricity-sector losses are a growing drag on the country's economic growth. For its authors, the Rampal plant "epitomizes some of the backward thinking among key energy-development powers that be in Bangladesh." Instead the report lays out a plan that is cost-efficient and enhances national energy security by increasing grid efficiency, energy efficiency and increasing solar energy ten-fold.

If Bangladesh is serious about its commitment to go 100 percent renewable, then it will not only shelve the Rampal project, but will back away from current plans to double fossil fuel generation. This will only instill a long-term dependence on the import of fossil fuels, which would lead to more national debt, devaluation of the currency and an increase in inflation, all of which would destabilize the Bangladesh economy.

The potential to become a world-leader in in the transition to clean, renewable energy by redoubling efforts in deploying solar home systems would help eradicate energy poverty and increase the likelihood that sea level rise would be limited in one of the lowest-lying countries of the world.

The easiest first step is to cancel the construction of the Rampal coal-powered plant to demonstrate Bangladesh's commitment to going 100 percent renewable.

Payal Parekh is the global program director at 350.org.

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