President Xi Jinping announced at the United Nations General Assembly on September 21, 2021, that China will end financing of all overseas coal projects. China’s announcement that it plans to end overseas coal funding will be a game-changer when it is followed by a clear timeline including a total phase-out of projects already planned and underway in countries like Bangladesh.

While this announcement is welcome, it must be followed by a clear timeline of a total phase-out of projects already planned. Furthermore, this commitment should include a cease of cash flow from private funders, who are some of the main backers of coal projects in Bangladesh. Along with this commitment, China should use this opportunity to further invest in clean, renewable energy projects in Bangladesh that will strengthen local ownership of land and water and protect the rights and livelihoods of affected communities.

Sohanur Rahman, Founder of YouthNet for Climate Justice in Bangladesh, also welcomes this statement from President Xi Jinping.

“China-backed coal plant projects in Bangladesh have violated the human rights of the local people and have manipulated pollution data, as in the case of the Banshkhali coal plant. Young people in Bangladesh have been asking the government to pass a Green New Deal and take steps towards a just transition to renewable energy. China should invest in renewable energy in Bangladesh and support a ‘just transition’ process.”

China’s investment in pipeline coal projects in Bangladesh

China-backed coal projects are widespread across Bangladesh. The majority of engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) contracts to develop proposed coal plants in Bangladesh are with Chinese state-owned companies and their subsidiaries. Entities domiciled in China represent the majority of the proposed coal power capacity – 18,000 MW are China-financed.

China’s involvement in coal-fired power plant development has far-reaching impacts on Bangladesh. Thousands of farmers and fishermen have been displaced due to forced land acquisition for the building of coal power plants without compensation for the loss of their homes and livelihoods, and those opposing the continuation of fossil fuel development are met with widespread rights violations. 

Five coal power plant workers were shot dead for protesting unpaid wages and workers’ rights at the construction site of the Banshkhali coal plant, also known as the Chittagong or Chattogram power station, financed by the Chinese-owned Shandong Electric Power Construction Corporation III (SEPCOIII) and Bangladesh-based S. Alam group. This is the second time the S. Alam group has been linked to the killing of workers since 2016 when six workers were killed protesting the construction of a plant. Another 1320 MW coal plant being built at Payra is currently threatening two Hilsa fish sanctuaries which alone produce around 10,000 metric tonnes of Hilsa, annually. 

Until we see a clear timeline, our campaign to stop China’s financing of dirty fossil fuels like coal won’t stop either. We will keep a hawk’s eye and remind China to follow up on its no coal declaration. 

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