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April 22, 2014

World Bank's Tata Mundra conflicts with climate findings

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If we don’t curb greenhouse gas emissions now, we’ll soon be past the point of no return to save the planet.

That’s the conclusion of the newest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). But how does Tata Mundra, a massive coal-burning power plant in India, fit into that equation?

It doesn’t.

For the local people living near Tata Mundra on the Kutch coast of Gujarat, India, this information is crucial. When the World Bank Group’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) poured $900 million into one of the world’s largest coal-burning power plants, they were dooming the local residents to years of air and water pollution.

The Tata corporation attempted to justify these risks under the pretense of increasing cheap energy access for millions of people. However, Tata Mundra’s expenses quickly ballooned, and the Tata corporation requested permission to raise rates, forcing residents to foot the bill. Even if nearby communities could afford to pay for power generated by Tata Mundra they couldn’t actually access the power without costly grid extensions. Now, the residents are suffering from the health effects of coal pollution without reaping any energy access benefits.

Clearly, the Tata Mundra coal-burning power plant is not a viable solution to meet energy demands in India, and the IPCC report also shows it is the wrong choice for curbing global greenhouse gas emissions.

According to the report, the energy supply sector is the biggest climate disruption culprit. In 2010 alone, energy emissions from coal and oil accounted for 35 percent of all global greenhouse gas emissions -- and we can already see the effects.

“The consequences of unchecked climate change for humans and natural ecosystems are already apparent and increasing,” the report concludes. “The most vulnerable systems are already experiencing adverse effects. Past emissions have already put the planet on a track for substantial further changes in climate, and while there are many uncertainties in factors such as the sensitivity of the climate system many scenarios lead to substantial climate impacts, including direct harms to human and ecological well-being that exceed the ability of those systems to adapt fully.”

But the IPCC also indicated that it’s not too late to halt the climate crisis, and the report’s authors have called for a carbon-free electricity supply in the form of clean energy for all. Over the past decade, the cost of clean energy has dropped dramatically and has “achieved a level of technical and economic maturity to enable deployment at a significant scale,” according to the report.

Additionally, the report reveals, “[t]here are often co‐benefits from the use of [renewable energy], such as a reduction of air pollution, local employment opportunities, few severe accidents compared to some other forms of energy supply, as well as improved energy access and security.”

If World Bank President Dr. Jim Yong Kim is serious about improving public health, providing a road out of poverty, and fighting climate disruption, he should direct the World Bank and encourage other international financial institutions -- like ADB -- to invest in the clean energy solutions recommended in the IPCC report. By doing so, the World Bank would support all three of Dr. Kim’s goals for a cleaner, healthier planet rather than defend dirty coal projects like Tata Mundra that will undoubtedly cause irreparable damage to our environment.

--Nicole Ghio, Sierra Club International Climate Program

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