Dhaka: Bangladesh has cancelled plans to build 10 coal-fired power plants, a government official said on Monday, amid rising costs for the fuel and increasing calls from activists to base more of the nation's power on renewable energy.
About 8% of the country's current electrical power comes from coal, but until last year the nation had plans to significantly increase that percentage by building at least 18 coal-fired plants.
Ten of those plants - which were not yet under construction - have now been cancelled, said Mohammad Hossain, head of Power Cell, a technical arm of the energy ministry. Others remain in construction or planning.
"There is a concern globally about coal and we have to adhere to that," he said. "The government is committed to reduce carbon emissions."
When Bangladesh in 2010 produced an energy masterplan, "coal was cheap and the best option after gas", Hossain said. But dramatically falling prices for solar power and somewhat cheaper natural gas have changed the picture, he added.
"Considering all this, we thought we needed to be more renewable," he said.
Currently, more than half of Bangladesh's electricity comes from natural gas, though some power plants also run on heavy fuel oil and diesel.
About 3.5% of the country's power comes from renewable energy, a percentage the nation plans to boost to 40% by 2041.
To make some of that shift, the country plans to begin importing hydropower from neighbouring Nepal and Bhutan, Hossain said.
The move to scrap the coal plants won't impact Bangladesh's current or future ability to produce enough energy, he added.
Climate change activists say building more coal power plants is incompatible with achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement to limit planetary heating - and could put the low-lying nation at increasing risk from serious climate impacts.
Under the 2015 Paris accord, about 200 countries agreed to slash emissions to keep global temperature increases "well below" 2 degrees Celsius.
But the planet has already warmed more than 1.2 degrees Celsius, and is on track for at least 3.5C of warming as emissions continue to rise around the globe, scientists say.
Bangladesh's emissions are minimal compared to the developed world, but activists say that building new coal plants would prevent the country from meeting climate targets it set under the Paris Agreement.
The nation is often included on lists of the countries most at risk from the impacts of rising global temperatures, from more extreme storms to floods and rising sea levels.
Climate activists lauded the move and urged the Bangladeshi government to add mainly renewables to its future energy mix.
With the 10 coal plants eliminated from the country's plans, "the government will have to think about renewable sources of energy as an alternative," said Syeda Rizwana Hasan, chief executive of the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association.
She and other activists noted that increasing difficulty winning financing, insurance and other backing for new coal plants, as financial institutions come under pressure from climate activists, may have played a role in the decision.
"This is a positive decision...(which) has made it clear that getting funds for coal-based power plants internationally has become difficult," she said.