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Fossil fuels lock South Asian nations in crises

Jul 2, 2023

| Emran Hossain, from Kathmandu

Green campaigners and researchers in a regional energy colloquium in Nepal on Wednesday said that South Asian countries, including Bangladesh, kept aggressively increasing fossil fuel dependence, pushing environments and economies to the brink of collapse.

Over the past decade, South Asian countries showed very little interest in exploring their renewable energy potential and rather undertook transitions based on dollar-draining imported fossil fuels, they said. The power sectors of Bangladesh and Pakistan are overburdened with overcapacity and high capacity charges, while India is still planning to expand its coal mining to keep generating power from its massive coal fleet, they revealed at the event titled South Asian Energy Colloquium.

Nepal’s coal and petroleum product dependences increased by 8 times and 2 times, respectively, since 2009–10, while Sri Lanka also substantially increased its dependence on these two fossil fuels even amidst its economic crisis. ‘We don’t know where we are moving,’ said Hemantha Withanage, chair, Friends of the Earth, an international environmental network, while making his presentation at the three-day colloquium being held in Kathmandu.

While civil society space shrank in almost all South Asian countries, he said, the governments kept promoting ambitious fossil fuel projects, ignoring the environmental and economic consequences of their choices. A fourth of Pakistan’s annual energy import bill is generated by petroleum product imports, which are about $17 billion at the moment, said Ubaid ur Rehman Zia, senior research associate, Sustainable Development Policy Institute, a think-tank in Pakistan.

Industries’ dependence on coal is also increasing in Pakistan while high overcapacity and capacity charges keep draining the country’s economic strength, he said, adding that Pakistan can use a maximum 13,000MW against its installed generation capacity of 28,000MW. Bidhya Sharma Subedi, project officer, Prakriti Resources Centre, a non-government organisation in Nepal, said that fossil fuel imports cost the country $3.83 billion in the past financial year as the landlocked nation moved from its traditional source of energy – biomass – to petroleum products.

Sri Lanka is also over-dependent on fossil fuel, spending 25 percent of its import expenditure on the import of environmentally harmful fuel, said Harshani Abayawardhana, environmental officer, Centre for Environmental Justice, a non-government organisation in the island nation. Sri Lanka is also planning to invest $26 billion in fossil fuels by 2030. On the other hand, India, the second-highest coal importer in the world, produced 777.31 million tonnes of coal in 2022, said Rajani Santosh of Growthwatch, a voluntary research and advocacy organisation based in India. The Indian government has set a target of producing 1 billion tonnes of coal in 2024, she said. Despite risking economies and the environment, Hasan Mehedi, chief executive, Coastal Livelihood and Environmental Action Network (CLEAN), a non-government organisation based in Khulna, said that South Asian countries, accounting for 25 per cent of world’s population and 29 per cent of world’s poor, constituted an area where energy consumption was the lowest.

Bangladesh is in the grip of a prolonged dollar crisis, partly triggered by fossil fuel imports, and is currently experiencing frequent power cuts, with load-shedding often crossing 2,000MW even during monsoon, when rain can bring spells of low power demand. Bangladesh’s current installed power generation capacity is over 24,000MW but the country cannot even produce 12,000MW without interruption. South Asian countries have substantial renewable energy potentials that are mostly unexplored or not properly used. China, Japan, and South Korea remain major fossil fuel investors in the region.

On the first day of the colloquium, Rayyan Hassan, Executive Director, NGO Forum on ADB, Vidya Dinker, coordinator, Growthwatch, an Indian non-government organisation; and Sunil Dahiya of the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air, among others, spoke. The colloquium is being jointly organised by the Centre for Environmental Justice, Clean and Growthwatch.

News Link: Fossil fuels lock South Asian nations in crises

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