India recently said it would put new coal-fired power plant projects on hold for the next five years. Elsewhere, old coal plants are slowly being retired and new projects are being scrapped, they said Global Energy Monitorwhich monitors the construction of coal-fired power plants.

The big outlier is China, which is building more coal-fired power plants than the rest of the world combined.

The 1,320-megawatt coal-fired project at Rampal has additionally been called into question because it is less than 10 miles upstream from the gateway to the world’s largest mangrove forest, the Sundarbans. AND UNESCO World Heritage Site, is home to the Bengal tiger, rare river dolphins and several species of mangroves. Environmentalists say the coal-fired power plant could harm the air and water in the area.

β€œIt’s a good thing he’s sitting idle. It does not emit deadly gas,” said Sultana Kamal, a veteran environmentalist from Dhaka, during one of the recent shutdowns. “On the other hand, it’s a huge waste of public money. It just goes to show how poorly planned the whole thing was.”

Sail north along the Pashur River from the dense, dark tangle of the Sundarbans forest, first passing women waist-deep in water hauling nets to scoop up young shrimp to sell to shrimp farms inland. The villages are surrounded by mud that can crumble when there is a high tide or a storm.

It is also a busy industrial artery. On the banks of the river there are cement factories and onion tanks for storing imported gas. The port city of Mongla is dotted with factories sewing fast fashion for export.

Then there’s the 900-foot chimney of a coal-fired power plant, tipped with a bright red light.

Plant managers say they have taken measures against environmental risks. Coal is to be transported in covered barges to prevent the dispersion of coal dust. Gypsum, a byproduct of burning coal, is to be sold to cement plants. Ash ponds are to be covered. “We understand that this is a very sensitive area,” said general manager Bappaditya Sarkar.

The country’s introduction of coal reflects its diplomatic strategy. Maitree is a joint project with India’s state-owned National Thermal Power Corporation. A second coal-fired project has begun sending electricity to Bangladesh from a coal-fired power plant in India operated by Indian conglomerate Adani. China helped with two coal-fired power plants, in Barisal and Payra. Japan finances another, under construction in Matarbari.

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