July 3, 2019

Coal-friendly countries trying to hijack the World Heritage Committee

Baku: As coal is increasingly blacklisted by politicians and financial actors, some governments continue to deny the evidence and support its development.

A declaration submitted to the 21 Member States of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, the experts of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) highlighted the risks of the Rampal and Lamu coal-fired power plant projects for biodiversity and local architectural heritage.

Several members of the Committee are seeking to delete any mention of the dangers of coal in the final declaration that will be discussed tomorrow in Baku, during the 43rd meeting of WHC.

China, supported by Bosnia and Cuba, is seeking to remove all cautionary considerations regarding the impact of coal-fired power plants under construction in Bangladesh, in the Sundarbans region, Rampal as well as Taltoli and Kelapara along the Payra river. The amendments suggested by these three countries completely takes away any mention of the Rampal Power Plant and proposed to refer only to “future” industrial projects. There wouldn’t be any review before 2021 if these amendments are accepted. Beijing also wants to prevent the inclusion of the Sundarbans on the list of “endangered” sites, and proposes to simply delete the paragraph proposed by IUCN international experts.

“As part of its Belt and Road Initiative, China is ready to invest more than 7 billions in total in the development of new coal capacities in Bangladesh, over the next few years. Clearly, any international condemnation of coal development in sensitive ecosystems would undermine this plan.” comments Dr. Mohd. Abdul Matin, Member Secretary of the National Committee to Save Sundarbans, in Dhaka. 

In the case of the Lamu coal-fired plant – backed by Chinese funds, Burkina Faso is leading the fight, apparently in consultation with the Kenyan government, and is trying to remove any reference to the risks that the plant would entail for the Old city of Lamu, as well as for the neighboring ecosystems and communities. 

“Last week, a Nairobi court had canceled the plant’s license, ruling that the environmental impact study produced by the developer does not comply with the domestic legal requirements. The Kenyan government, through Burkina Faso (which sits on the Committee), is now trying to prevent UNESCO from requesting a valid and convincing impact study. This is outrageous, and not only a violation of Kenyan international commitments by law, but also an indication that the government may not respect the recent court decision” said Mohammad Athman, resident of Lamu. 

The draft declaration was also calling on Kenya to abandon the development of the Lamu power station, and considers to put the old city of Lamu on the list of  “heritage in danger” next year in case Kenya doesn’t comply with these demands. Burkina Faso is also requesting such references be removed from the text.

The Lamu project is a potential 1,050 MW coal-fired thermal power station in Kenya that will be built alongside Lamu Town, a 14th-century fishing village.  Considered the cradle of Swahili Islamic culture, Lamu is a UNESCO Heritage site that retains much of its multicultural heritage, a rich tapestry of African, Arab, and Indian traditions. The Lamu Archipelago’s unique biodiversity has also, for the most part, been left untouched, preserving its sense of paradise for tourists and locals. 

In Bangladesh, the government construction works on the  Rampal coal-fired power plant are moving forward. The Rampal project is a 1320 Megawatt coal power station in the Sundarbans forest — a UNESCO heritage site and home to the endangered Royal Bengal tiger and Gangetic river dolphins. Sundarbans is the world’s largest mangrove forest, running through India and Bangladesh. It forms a crucial natural defense against cyclones but now the Rampal coal power station threatens its existence.

Despite calls by the UN Secretary-General to give up coal development, and a world summit in New York City in September 2019 to push this, countries that are part of the UN system and are bound by international law are still striving to save this polluting and destructive source of energy.

The vote is expected tomorrow afternoon, from 5.30pm on, Baku time. 


Baku :  Tonny Nowshin, [email protected] /+4917647153807

Global: [email protected] / +44 756466 5669