20 April, 2017

To: UNESCO World Heritage Committee

Appeal: Protect Sundarbans from coal-fired power plants

We are writing to express our deep concern regarding the proposed construction of the Rampal and Orion coal power-plant projects in Bangladesh, located only 12-14 km away from the Sundarbans. As you know, the Sundarbans is a World Heritage Site and the largest remaining mangrove forest in the world, covering a total area of 10,000 km2. It has extremely high species diversity, which is of critical importance for the conservation of endangered species globally. It is also home to more than 4 million people, who depend on the mangrove forests as their main source of food and income.

The Sundarbans celebrates its 20th anniversary as a World Heritage Site this year1, but the planned coal power projects cast a dark shadow over this celebration. The UNESCO has already recommended the immediate cancellation of the Rampal power plant project1, though there is no sign that the implementation of the projects has been halted. We therefore urge you to inscribe the Sundarbans on the List of World Heritage Sites in Danger at the 41st session of the World Heritage Committee convening this July2. Further, we endorse the recommendations outlined by the Bangladesh civil society coalition in its petition to the UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee in February 2016 and urge the Committee to follow them.3 These recommendations were also reaffirmed by the National Committee for Saving the Sundarbans (NCSS) in a letter to the World Heritage Committee in March 2017.4

Social and gender impacts

The planned coal power plants threaten the health and livelihoods of millions of people. The Sundarbans is a critical source of subsistence foods, medicines and building materials for local communities; as well as commercially valuable products of biodiversity, such as honey and fish; and ecotourism, that support many local livelihoods.5 Local people rely on agriculture and fishing for their survival and meager income. The proposed power plants will negatively affect soil and water as well as the area of arable land available, consequently diminishing the livelihood prospects of local community members. If constructed, the power plants will also gravely impact people’s health, with wind carrying ash to the forest and to inhabited areas, resulting in acid rain, breathing difficulties, health issues for mothers and babies, etc. Many people have already been displaced as a result of land being purchased for the project, and it is likely that many more will be compelled to migrate or give up their homes in response to the detrimental effects of the projects. Women are particularly at risk, as displacement is linked to increases in gender violence, including falling victim to trafficking and prostitution.

Ecological impacts and pollution

Considering the short distance separating the planned power plants and the Sundarbans, the coal power plants are directly endangering the biodiversity of the mangrove forest. In that regard, we strongly endorse the UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre’s and IUCN’s findings regarding the four key main impacts related to the coal power plant’s construction: pollution from coal ash by air, pollution from wastewater and waste ash, increased shipping and dredging, and the cumulative impact of industrial and related infrastructure.6 These are legitimate fears: national and international business groups with vested interests have been invited to obtain land in the area adjacent to the forest in order to set up commercial projects in and around the Sundarbans. In addition, the Rampal and Orion power plants will be dependent on imported coal from Indonesia, Australia and South Africa,7 and negotiations with India are underway.8 Coal mining in itself is a very destructive activity which causes habitat destruction, high levels of pollution, work-related social and health problems and significant contributions to climate change.9 Imported coal will need to be shipped approximately 35 kilometers along the Pasur River, which flows through the Sundarbans, and which will therefore need to be dredged.10 Not only are the environmental impacts of increased pollution from shipping coal cause for concern, the risks of environmental disasters are also heightened. During the last three years, three coal-carrying vessels sank in the Sundarbans. In December 2014, an oil tanker capsized, and the spilled oil spread to far corners of the forest with the flow of the Shela River. Plants and wildlife were seriously affected.11 There is no doubt that the proposed Rampal and Orion power plants will have serious and irreversible impact on the ecology of the Sundarbans.

Climate change

The Sundarbans serves as a major repository (sink) of carbon dioxide, one of the main greenhouse gases responsible for climate change, making it a critical contributor to stabilising the global climate. The burning of fossil fuels, such as coal, increases emissions of carbon dioxide which exacerbates global warming and climate change. Temperatures are already increasing world-wide; 2016 is the warmest year on record, surpassing 2015 and other hot years.12,13 Climate change impacts, including rising sea levels and increased flooding, droughts, heat waves, storms and wildfires, will be acutely felt globally. Due to Bangladesh’s low-lying location, it is already one of the most climate vulnerable nations in the world.14 Further, the Sundarbans acts as a barrier against frequent cyclones, storms and other natural disasters15; the plant’s operation will further exacerbate millions of coastal people’ vulnerability to natural disasters.

The Government of India established the National Adaptation Fund on Climate Change (NAFCC) in 2015 to meet the cost of adaptation to climate change.16 Rather than build a climate-damaging coal-fired power plant, India should help Bangladesh developing renewable sources of energy, both respecting the environment and benefiting all inhabitants of the Sundarbans. The freshwater flow into the Sundarbans has already been substantially reduced due to both legal and illegal human activities, resulting in increases in siltation and salinity, which threaten to upset the overall balance and functioning of the ecosystem and its species.10

Peoples’ resistance

The Sundarbans is a fragile ecosystem, but a more sustainable balance between socio-economic development and conservation can still be achieved if the right choices are made. On the 26th of November 2016 a protest was organised in Dhaka, Bangladesh, which attracted about 15,000 people. On the Global Day of Protest on the 7th of January 2017, over 4,000 people gathered in Dhaka, New Delhi, Melbourne, London and in other cities around the world to show support for the survival and preservation of the Sundarbans. On the 26th of January, at an 8-hour long hartal held to save the Sundarbans, police used teargas and water cannons against peaceful protesters and journalists, injuring approximately 100 people and arresting 5. Such unjust violence against these peaceful protests is a pattern that has unfortunately developed throughout the last several years. This is not acceptable and an indicator of an ailing democracy.

Next steps

We, the undersigned, have sent appeal letters to the Presidents, Prime Ministers and several Ministers of Bangladesh and India, to immediately take whatever steps are necessary to halt the coal-fired power plant projects and other commercial projects in the Sundarbans and its surroundings, and to increase investments in renewable solar and wind power. We also ask the governments to uphold the right to assemble and protect the safety of people that exercise this right, including the right to protest against government-approved development projects. We are now asking you, representatives of the UNESCO, to help us in our fight to protect and conserve this extremely ecologically valuable zone.

The world cannot afford to lose the Sundarbans.

With grave concern,

Amanda Tas,

Protect the Forest


Email: amanda.tas@skyddaskogen.se

Mobile: +46 (0)73-5860099

Wally Menne,


South Africa

Email: plantnet@iafrica.com

Mobile: +27 (0) 82 4442083

Kate Lappin,

Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD)


Email: apwld@apwld.org

Mobile: +66 93-051-8861

This letter is supported by the following NGOs:

Abibiman Foundation, Ghana

AMIHAN National Federation of Peasant Women, Philippines

Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD), Asia Pacific

BankTrack, International

Biofuelwatch, UK/USA

Botswana Climate Change Network, Botswana

Friends of the Earth, Bosnia and Herzegovina

CHAUKATH voluntary network of feminists, Nepal

Climate Action Network, International

Climate Litigation Network, Transnational

Conservatree, USA

Cordillera Women’s Education Action Research Center (CWEARC), Philippines

Cultures of Resistance Network Foundation

EcoNexus, UK

Ecoropa, Germany

Feminist League, Kazakhstan

Forum Environment and Development, Germany

Forum for Nature Protection NGO, Nepal

Foundation for GAIA, International

Fragile Planet Earth, South Africa

Friends of the Earth US, USA

Friends of the Siberian Forests, Russia

Friends of the Tamar Valley, UK

Nature and Youth, Sweden

GenderCC – Women for Climate Justice e.V., International

Genethics Foundation, Netherlands

Global Environment Centre, Malaysia

Global Forest Coalition, International

Green IT. Uruguay

Greenpeace Russia

Grupo Para o Desenvolvimento da Mulher e Rapariga, Mozambique

IBON International

ICLEI Local Governments for Sustainability – Africa, South Africa

Institute for Planetary Synthesis, Switzerland

Janabhivyakti, India

Japan Tiger and Elephant Fund, Japan

Japan Tropical Forest Action Network (JATAN), Japan

Friends of the Earth, Sweden

Klimataktion Stockholm, Sweden

Korea Federation for Environmental Movements, Korea

Michael Underwood Agroforestry Associates Africa, South Africa

Mom Loves Taiwan Association, Taiwan

National Indigenous Women Forum, Nepal

NCA-Afghanistan, Afghanistan

New Wind Association, Finland

Next Big Thing Movement, Inc, USA

Oil Change International

Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), USA

Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (EMPOWER), Malaysia

Planetary Association for Clean Energy (PACE), Canada

Protect the Forest, Sweden

PUSH Sweden

Quercus- National Association for Nature Conservation, Portugal

Rainbow Eco-Farm and Training Center NPO, South Africa

Re-nourish, USA

Rettet den Regenwald, Germany

Rewild, South Africa

Rutale Development Association, Africa

Students for a Just and Stable Future, USA

SustainUS, USA

Swedish Society for Nature Conservation, Sweden

Tanzania Youth Coalition, Tanzania

TFINS, India

Thanal, India

The Endangered Wildlife Trust, South Africa

Timberwatch Coalition, South Africa

WECF Women Engage for a Common Future, International

Wildlife Impact, USA

Women’s Environment & Development Organization (WEDO), International

World Heritage International, Netherlands

YouthNet for Climate Justice, Bangladesh


1 UNESCO (2016-10-18).World Heritage Centre and IUCN call for relocation of Rampal power plant, a serious threat to the Sundarbans;


2 UNESCO (2017). 41st Session of the World Heritage Committee;


3 Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon, National Committee for Saving the Sundarbans, Nijera Kori & Waterkeepers Bangladesh (2016). Petition to the UNESCO’s World

Heritage Committee concerning imminent threats posed by the proposed Rampal and Orion coal-fired power plants;


4 National Committee for Saving the Sundarbans (2017). To the UNESCO World Heritage Committee;


5 Basit, M. A. (1995).Non-wood forest products from the mangrove forests of Bangladesh. FAO; http://www.fao.org/docrep/x5336e/x5336e0o.htm

6 IUCN & World Heritage Centre (2016).Report on the mission to the Sundarbans world heritage site, Bangladesh, from 22 to 28 March 2016;


7 Bangladesh Awami League (2016). Rampal power plant will not harm the Sundarbans: HPM Sheikh Hasina;


8 Aitken, G. (11-08-2016). Rampal coal plant: Indian coal dream fast becoming a nightmare for Bangladesh. The Ecologist;


National Geographic Society (visited 2017). Coal; http://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/coal/

10 IUCN & World Heritage Centre (2016). Report on the mission to the Sundarbans world heritage site, Bangladesh, from 22 to 28 March 2016;


11 Daily Star (13-01-2017). Coal vessel sinks near Sundarbans, all rescued;


12 Science Daily (2017).2016 Edges 1998 as Warmest Year on Record; https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/01/170104130257.htm

13 NASA (2016).2016 Climate Trends Continue to Break Records;


14 The Guardian (20-01-2017).Bangladesh struggles to turn the tide on climate change as sea levels rise;


15 IUCN & World Heritage Centre (2016).Report on the mission to the Sundarbans world heritage site, Bangladesh, from 22 to 28 March 2016;


16 National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (2015).National Adaption Fund on Climate Change (NAFCC);