Despite Tokyo’s commitment to help phase out fossil fuels, Bangladesh is currently building the Matarbari coal plant: a power complex set to be completed by 2024 thanks to low-interest loans from the Japan International Cooperation Agency.
And JICA, a government body, has been considering funding an expansion to the 10-year-old project, known as Matarbari Phase 2 — despite, earlier this year, saying it would work with Bangladesh “to promote a low- or zero-carbon transformation” of its energy economy, reports a special feature by Benjamin Parkin on Financial Times.
The debate around the Matarbari plant embodies the tensions in Japan’s fossil-fuel policies, writes Benjamin. And the country’s financing of coal power in developing countries such as Bangladesh risks falling out of step with moves to promote renewable energy at home and abroad.
Japan has long invested in Bangladeshi infrastructure, a partnership that stems back nearly as far as the South Asian nation’s independence 50 years ago.
But JICA’s support for the Matarbari units has faced severe censure. “Japan has no right to invest in coal in other countries — they have a responsibility to ensure zero emissions,” argues Hasan Mehedi, an activist with the Bangladesh Working Group on External Debt, which opposes the project. Japan is “making money…transferring pollution to other countries so that they can phase themselves clean,” Mehedi says according to the Financial Times report.
While there is some ambiguity about official Japanese policy — there is still no clear ban on coal projects overseas — the government made its strongest commitment yet at last month’s G7 summit in the UK: agreeing to halt all new direct government support for unabated coal power generation abroad by the end of 2021 (that is, plants that do not capture the carbon dioxide they produce).
That has left a few pipeline projects, including Matarbari Phase 2, in a no man’s land. They now run against official policy, but commitments were made. JICA says that preparatory surveys are continuing.