Bangladesh is listed as the seventh most at-risk country on the planet to be impacted by climate change. The country, 80% of which is low-lying lands that are vulnerable to floods, is increasingly getting hit by extreme weather events. In 2020, torrential rains submerged a quarter of the country.
As one commentator put it, "While the entire country is exposed to climate stresses, Bangladesh's densely populated coastal region along the Bay of Bengal is a vulnerability front line where people are constantly exposed to rising sea levels, flooding, erosion, tropical cyclones, storm surge, salt-water intrusion and varying rainfall patterns."
As the world faces the massive challenge of halving emissions in the next 10 years to keep global warming within the Paris Agreement's 1.5˚C limit and avoid the worst of the climate risk, countries like Bangladesh will need international support to decarbonise their economies.
Bangladesh has a lot of work to do. It has large gas reserves, so it follows that its energy system is highly dependent on fossil fuels, with 55% of its energy coming from domestic gas. And gas, like all fossil fuels, must be reduced to zero by 2040 if the world is to stop global warming.
Until Covid-19 hit, Bangladesh was planning to build 29 new coal-fired power stations, but the economic impact of the pandemic, coupled with rising costs of imported coal and lower energy demand, has led the country to re-think its plans. This year it has scrapped many of those plans for new coal plants.
However, this planned capacity expansion is now taking place through natural gas, and Bangladesh is aiming to triple its LNG imports in 2021 from 2020 levels. In a 1.5˚C world, these planned gas assets are set to become stranded, meaning they will be abandoned before reaching their full life cycle. For a Paris-aligned future, Bangladesh needs to scrap the gas plans or prepare for costly wind-down procedures.
Bangladesh's latest Paris Agreement pledge - its updated 'nationally determined contribution' or NDC - simply reiterated its previously-stated targets of an unconditional reduction of 5% of greenhouse gas emissions below business as usual by 2030, and a conditional target of 15% below BAU. The NDC covers the power, transport and industry sectors, sectors that are projected to represent 69% of total emissions by 2030.
The agriculture sector contributes around 28% of the total emissions of Bangladesh where the main component of gas is methane, a potent greenhouse gas that is more harmful than carbon dioxide at warming the planet in the short term. This sector also needs the careful attention of the policy-makers. Recently methane emissions from landfills in Bangladesh are also drawing attention.
These targets are insufficient for protecting the Bangladeshi people against the worst effects of climate change. Under our recently-launched NDC 1.5 pathways tool, a 1.5˚C compatible pathway would require Bangladesh to reduce emissions around 8% to 24% below 2011 levels by 2030 - with international support. By 2050, those emissions would need to be reduced by 56% to 74%.
Bangladesh's share of fossil fuels in primary energy would need to fall from its 2017 level of around 80% to 20%-55% by 2050. This will need to include decreasing its share of natural gas, oil (mostly in the transport sector) and coal.
Renewable energy is starting to take hold in Bangladesh. The Bangladesh government has recently announced a target of 40% of power generation to come from renewable energy sources by 2041, up from the current levels of 3%. It aims to add two GW of renewable energy to reach an installed capacity of 2.5 GW by 2021, and 3.8 GW by 2041.
Bangladesh has one of the largest off-grid solar power programmes in the world. A decentralised and climate-resilient power system, through mini and micro-grids, will be able to reduce the negative impacts of extreme weather events on the energy infrastructure of Bangladesh.
To achieve this, Bangladesh will need to strengthen its renewable energy targets to replace the current plan for fossil capacity additions. The phasing out of fossil fuel subsidies, combined with the fact that new solar PV is now significantly cheaper to build than new coal, are potential opportunities for the country to capitalise on the decarbonisation of its power sector.
Bangladesh chairs the 'Climate Vulnerable Forum', (CVF) a group of the world's most climate change-threatened countries on the planet, who have swung strongly behind the need for the world to limit warming to 1.5˚C.
With COP26 on the horizon, those countries need stronger climate action now and increased financial support to help decarbonise their economies and adapt to the impacts already being felt.
Nandini Das is a climate and energy economist at Climate Analytics. She can be reached at [email protected]
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.