Carbon emission scenario: Following the right path for climate mitigation in Bangladesh

Originally posted in The Business Standard on 27 January 2022
By Md Mahfuzul Haque

Overall, the planned coal power plants will emit more than 100 million tonnes of CO2 by 2030 and increase Bangladesh’s coal-based power generation capacity by 63 times

Increased emission, mostly carbon dioxide (CO2) is the main contributor to rising global temperature.

Burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and gas are the sources of emissions. Energy, industry, transport, agriculture and forest degradation are the major sectors that contribute to increased emissions. After the industrial revolution, human-caused greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, mostly carbon dioxide (CO2), accelerated global warming and climate change.

The global CO2 emission from various sectors in 2021 was 34 gigatons, and about 60% of the emission comes from 10 countries. Among those, China emits 24% followed by USA 12%, India 6.8%, Russia 4.1%, Indonesia 3.5%, Brazil 2.9%, Japan 2.4%, Iran 1.7%, Germany 1.6% and Canada 1.6%. The rest of the 100 countries, including the 46 less developed countries, contribute less than 3%. In terms of the source, the energy sector emits nearly three-quarters of global CO2 emissions, followed by agriculture. Within the energy sector, the largest emitting sector is electricity and heat generation, followed by transportation and manufacturing. However, land use, land-use change, and forestry (LULUCF) is both a source and sink of CO2 and has a key role in achieving net-zero emissions – a target that the global community wants to achieve by 2050.

As the Covid-19 pandemic hit early 2020 with lockdowns worldwide, global CO2 emissions declined by 5.8%. Such a lockdown contributed to reducing almost 2 Gigaton of CO2. It is the largest ever decline, and the amount is close to five times greater than the 2009 decline that followed the global financial crisis. During the pandemic, CO2 emissions also fell further as demand for oil and coal declined on one hand and there was a global rise in renewable energy supply on the other. Despite such a decline, global energy-related CO2 emissions remained 32 Gt. And the concentration of CO2 reached its highest-ever average annual concentration of 412.5 parts per million (PPM)- which is the measurement of the daily global concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere. The current concentration is around 50% higher than the pre-industrial level of 275 and 285 ppm. With the gradual reopening of business in 2021, global CO2 emission rebound by nearly 5% in approaching the 2018-2019 peak, as revealed in the Global Energy Review 2021. Besides, the concentration jumped to 417 PPM in 2022, indicating a further temperature rise.

The climate conference in Glasgow (COP-26) was supposed to call for a ‘phase out’ of coal and reduce the use of other fossil fuels. However, it stopped short of calling ‘phase out’ and replaced the word with ‘Phase Down’ after opposition from India and other big consumers of coal. Besides, a further rise of 4.9% global CO2 emission is projected in 2022 as the industrialised countries plan to increase the extraction and use of fossil fuels, including a 110% increase of coal by 2030. Overall, the plan to increase coal production is the highest at 240%, followed by oil at 56% and gas at 61%.

The G20 countries are also planning to invest an additional $300 billion in the fossil fuel sector. Such investment will increase the burning of fossil fuels and CO2 emissions and jeopardise the implementation of the historic Paris Agreement. Increased forest fire, flood, cyclone, and drought in developed countries already indicates that they are not immune to climate catastrophe and increasingly susceptible to frequent climate-induced extreme events. Therefore, they must do more to contain CO2 emissions, including technology transfer and providing the $100 billion climate finance by 2020 that they pledged to provide twelve years ago at a United Nations climate summit in Copenhagen. They also need to decarbonise their economy by stopping investment in the fossil fuel sectors.

Picture: MumitM/TBS

Bangladesh, the most vulnerable country to climate change, also has its responsibility to keep emissions down for the well-being of its citizens. Notably, more than 70% of the population of Bangladesh is exposed to floods, droughts, and cyclones. Citizens will be more susceptible to climate-induced disasters if Bangladesh,alongside the global community, cannot play its part in reducing emissions. Therefore, Bangladesh needs to take note of its trend of carbon emission at the critical juncture of its industrialisation and economic development.

Notably, Bangladesh contributes only 0.21% of global CO2 emission but, the scenario has marked a rapid increase in recent years. Historical data suggests that the CO2 emission of Bangladesh has increased from 3.3 million tonnes in 1971 to 108.5 million tonnes in 2020, growing at an average annual rate of 7.52%. The World Bank statistics suggest that the total amount of emission in 2008 was just above 42 thousand Kiloton and the amount doubled in 2018 reaching 82,760 kilotons. The updated Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) of Bangladesh states 169.06 million tonnes of greenhouse gases (GHGs) emission in 2021 and it will be 409.41 million tonnes by 2030, indicating a sharp rise in the coming years. Besides, per capita emissions were 0.05 tonnes in 1971, which also rose from 0.34 in 2010 to 0.51 in 2018 and further reached 0.64 tonnes in 2020. Overall, per capita CO2 emission is growing at an average annual rate of 5.48% as energy consumption in Bangladesh is increasing rapidly.

The energy sector is the largest contributor of CO2in Bangladesh with 93.09 metric tonnes, equivalent to 55.07% of the total emission. Bangladesh also ranked sixth in the world based on the levels of coal power capacity in development. Last year, the government of Bangladesh curbed 10 out of 29 coal power plants, but it failed to announce a complete halt to finance and construction of any new coal-fired power projects. Overall, the planned coal power plants will emit more than 100 million tonnes of CO2 by 2030 and increase Bangladesh’s coal-based power generation capacity by 63 times. In addition, indicating to convert some of the power plants into LNG is also a concern. Considering the entire lifecycle of LNG, scientists identified that emissions from gas are not any lower than emissions from coal. Because gas is composed primarily of methane which is one of the most potent GHG. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports that the impact of methane on global warming is 87 times that of CO2 over 20 years. As such, the proposed plants will, indeed, increase Bangladesh’s CO2 emission and impact local climate, cause anomalies in climatic pattern, and exaggerate climate-related impacts.

Besides, agriculture, livestock, and forestry contribute 27.35%, amounting to 46.24 Mt, cement and fertiliser contribute 3.32%, equivalent to 5.6 Mt, and municipal solid waste and wastewater contribute 14.26%, which is 24.11 Mt of CO2. Agricultural practice in Bangladesh has improved and intensified in recent years. As a result, the country produces up to three rice crops in a single year and produces more CO2. Notably, the agricultural sector of Bangladesh emitted 76.79 million Mt of GHG in 2014-15. The emission is equivalent to burning fossil fuel from 28 million cars for a year. A study suggests that the total emission from agriculture will reach 86.87 Mt of CO2 by 2030 and 100.44 Mt by 2050.

Overall, CO2 emissions intensity/the volume of emission per unit of GDP for Bangladesh is 0.14 tons per 1000 dollar GDP, and it intends to increase with economic development. It means more CO2 emissions in the coming days. Nonetheless, continuing economic growth and producing less pollution per unit of GDP will be challenging but crucial to follow a low carbon and sustainable development path. Bangladesh can keep emission intensity low by accelerating its renewable energy investment. Reducing emissions and smooth green energy transition will be a salable product in the global fora as Bangladesh wants to play a lead role in climate diplomacy. Bangladesh has already played such a role in climate change adaptation and disaster mitigation areas.

For mitigation, Bangladesh has initiated some plans, including formulation of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), and adopted the Road Map and Action Plan for Implementing Bangladesh NDC to reduce CO2 emissions from Transport, Power and Industry sectors. However, it did not provide sufficient attention to reduce emissions from the agriculture and transportation sectors. Protection of the forests- which act as carbon sinks, are also a challenge as degradation continues through constructing factories and industries near ecologically critical areas. Global CO2 emissions will not spontaneously decrease unless countries ensure timely implemented mitigation actions, including stopping coal and fossil fuel financing and enhancing renewable energy investment, transferring technologies, and necessary climate finance. It also needs policy coherence, including renewable energy promotion policy and strategy and time-bound investment to follow a low carbon path. Overall, consistent policies and practises at the global and national levels can only ensure the reduction of CO2 emission and mitigate further rises in temperature to avoid climate-related catastrophe.

Md Mahfuzul Haque is the programme manager (Climate Finance Policy and Integrity), Transparency International Bangladesh