Matarbari coal power plants: Sembcorp is threatening communities and climate in Bangladesh

23 October 2020

Sembcorp, a Singaporean energy company, is trying to build two new coal power stations in Bangladesh totalling 1,400 MW, fuelling extreme weather and climate change.

Locals on remote Matarbari Island on the southeastern coast of Bangladesh are still dealing with the devastation of super cyclone Amphan, which has displaced over two million people. But these communities are also contending with a massive build-out of coal power which threatens their lives and livelihoods, and will worsen the extreme weather conditions caused by climate change.

The Sembcorp projects, known as Matarbari Kohelia (Phase 1 and 2), and the two other  projects, 1,200 MW each, proposed for Matarbari Island:

  • have displaced local communities, destroyed livelihoods, and violated workers’ rights,
  • would worsen air pollution, killing thousands of people over the lifetime of the projects,
  • would increase climate impacts on an already vulnerable Bangladesh, releasing millions of tonnes of CO2 throughout the plants’ operational lifetimes, and
  • Highlight inconsistencies in Sembcorp’s climate policy 

Given these health, human rights and climate impacts, Sembcorp needs to stop pushing the Matarbari Kohelia projects immediately.

Take action

Tell Sembcorp to stop pursuing coal power in Matarbari

The Dirty Three

Matarbari Kohelia Phase 1 and 2 (1400 MW)

The 700 MW Matarbari Kohelia (Phase 1), is a joint venture between CPGCBL and Singapore’s Sembcorp Industries. This plant is also backed by Japan’s SMBC, playing a lead role as financial advisor. A second phase with additional 700 MW capacity is also proposed.

Matarbari: image by Tanweer Morshed / CC BY-SA (

Matarbari Phase 1 (1200MW)

The first phase of the Matarbari coal-power plant, costing a colossal US$4.51 billion, is jointly being developed by Bangladesh state owned Coal Power Generation Company Bangladesh Limited (CPGCBL), Sumitomo Corporation, IHI Corporation and Toshiba, with SMBC acting as financial advisor. JICA has already provided US$1.48 billion to build the power plant and adjacent coal import infrastructure in the form of an official development assistance loan to Bangladesh. JICA intends to provide an additional US$1.33 billion to complete the project. Nippon Export and Investment Insurrance (NEXI) is providing export credit insurance coverage for this project.

Matarbari Phase 2 (1200 MW)

The Bangladesh government has reportedly requested further JICA loan assistance to build a second plant at Matarbari, as Phase 1 is “suggested to be economically nonviable, being the only plant to rely on the planned coal port infrastructure.” JICA has appointed Tokyo Electric Power Services Co Ltd (TEPSCO)  to conduct a ‘Preparatory Survey’ on Matarbari (Phase 2).

NGOs from 18 countries around the world have urged Japan to stop funding Matarbari Phase 2.

Given that these projects are on a very small island and proximate to one another, the cumulative impacts of these three projects will be felt by the communities on the island.

Devastating health and human rights impacts

Lost lives, homes and livelihoods

According to local news reports, the construction of Matarbari Phase 1 blocked watergates and natural drainage systems designed to drain flooding caused by monsoons and cyclone-induced storms, “resulting in water logging after heavy rainfall, causing immense suffering for locals”. In 2018, 22 out of 31 villages were waterlogged and inundated, and local communities reported “five incidents of death by drowning, of which all were children.” Seven school children were also severely injured by a boat sinking incident during their commute from school.

Children are forced to commute to school on small boats because of water logging due to the construction of Matarbari Phase 1. Note the lack of safety gear or life jackets. Photo Credit: CLEAN (Coastal Livelihood and Environmental Action Network) Bangladesh

The land acquisition process for Matarbari Phase 1, which commenced in 2013, has resulted in the loss of people’s homes and livelihoods. The process has been met with resentment because the community was not properly consulted and, to date, not adequately compensated. Displaced families have not been relocated to new housing facilities promised by the project proponents, forcing some to migrate and resettle elsewhere.

Villagers who were evicted due to the construction of the Matarbari Kohelia coal plant. Photo Credit: Sharif Jamil.

The communities have also lost traditional livelihoods in salt cultivation and shrimp farming, leaving 20,000 people without the means to make a living.

Choked by coal

Bangladesh’s air quality is already amongst the worst in the world, with IQAir ranking Bangladesh as having the worst average air quality in 2019. 

According to a 2020 Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) report, pollution from Matarbari (Phase 1 and 2) and Kohelia (Phase 1 and 2) is projected to result in over 10,000 premature deaths over the projects’ operational years. Building new coal plants at Matarbari would add to Bangladesh’s air pollution-related death toll, which totalled over 120,000 in 2017.

Projected ambient PM2.5 levels contributions from proposed coal power plants in Chattogram,
including Matarbari (Phase 1 and 2) and Kohelia (Phase 1 and 2), among others.
Source: Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA)

What’s more, despite the proposed and under-construction coal power plants being pursued by Japanese companies, they would not be acceptable in Japan due to their rates of air pollution. According to research by Greenpeace Southeast Asia and Greenpeace Japan, Matarbari Phase 1 would not meet the pollution standards applied to new plants constructed in Japan.

Forced to work during the COVID crisis: While the entire world is fighting the coronavirus pandemic and taking strict measures for public health, the 3,000 labourers at the Matarbari construction site were forced to work despite strict government orders to stop. In April 2020, the workers went on strike demanding their right to safe health. When probed by reporters, a CPGCBL spokesperson denied any grievances by workers and stated that work will continue.
On 13 July 2020, unsafe working practices resulted in the death and serious injury of several workers at the Matarbari coal project site. Civil society organisations have condemned the accident.

Threats to climate

“Coal power plants in coastal areas will worsen climate risk.”

Professor Anu Muhammad, Jahangirnagar University, Bangladesh.

Plans to build these three coal power plants are completely out of line with the Paris Agreement goal of keeping global warming to 1.5°C. If built, the proposed coal plants at Matarbari backed by Japanese financial institutions would emit millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide throughout the plants’ operational lifetimes.

Bangladesh is extremely vulnerable to climate change. The coastal areas of Bangladesh are highly prone to floods, cyclones and storm surges, as seen by the destruction caused by super cyclone Amphan. Even in a scenario where global warming is limited to 2°C by 2050, 42 million people living on coastal Bangladesh would be at risk of flooding at least once a year. Under the same scenario, all of Matarbari Island is projected to be inundated by coastal flooding.

Damaged embankments and roads inundated due to water logging on Matarbari Island.
Photo Credit: CLEAN (Coastal Livelihood and Environmental Action Network) Bangladesh

Inconsistent climate policy

Sembcorp’s Climate Change Strategy entails “restricting investments in coal-fired power plants” and “set emissions targets to be aligned with a 2 ̊C scenario”. This commitment is contradicted by the company remaining “open to opportunities to invest in supercritical and ultra-supercritical coal-fired power plants in countries that are eligible for International Development Association financing.” These projects would still be inconsistent with the Paris Agreement’s climate goals for limiting global warming to 2°C.

As stated by the International Energy Agency’s Executive Director, to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement, “we have no room to build anything that emits CO2”.

The people of Bangladesh deserve a sustainable future where coal is out of the picture and renewable energy drives the country’s progress.

We urge Sembcorp to suspend plans to build coal-fired power and utilise the capital to deploy clean, renewable energy projects.

You can help make a difference. Use the form on this page to tell Sembcorp that it must suspend plans to build Matarbari Kohelia Phase 1 and 2 .


  1. Global Energy Monitor, “Global Coal Plant Tracker” (July 2020). Subscription source, not publicly available.
  2. European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC), ‘Fossil CO2 and GHG emissions of all world countries – 2019 Report’ (2019).
  3. Adam Vaughn, The Guardian, (13 November 2018) ‘World has no capacity to absorb new fossil fuel plants, warns IEA, online:
  4. Alexander Pfeiffer et al , ‘Committed emissions from existing and planned power plants and asset stranding required to meet the Paris Agreement’ 2018 Environ. Res. Lett. 13 054019 (2018). DOI:
  5. Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon & Waterkeepers Bangladesh, ‘The tourist capital of Bangladesh endangered by plans to build the largest coal power hub in the world’ (November 2019).
  6. Bangladesh Working Group on External Debt (BWGED), ‘Initial Observation of BWGED on Matarbari Coal Power Plant’ (7 August 2018).
  7. Climate Central, ‘Coastal Risk Screening Tool’ (Accessed 10 April 2020).
  8. Climate Central, ‘Flooded Future: Global vulnerability to sea level rise worse than previously understood’ (29 October 2019).
  9. Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA), ‘Air quality, health and toxics impacts of the proposed coal power cluster in Chattogram, Bangladesh’ (September 2020).
  10. Dan Tong et al, ‘Committed emissions from existing energy infrastructure jeopardize 1.5 °C climate target’. Nature volume 572, page s373–377 (2019). DOI: 1364-3.
  11. European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC), ‘Fossil CO2 and GHG emissions of all world countries – 2019 Report’ (2019).
  12. Global Energy Monitor (GEM), ‘Global Coal Plant Tracker – January 2020 dataset’ (not publicly available).
  13. Greenpeace Southeast Asia & and Greenpeace Japan, ‘A Deadly Double Standard: How Japan’s financing of highly polluting overseas coal plants endangers public health’ (20 August 2019).
  14. Health Effects Institute, ‘State of Global Air 2019 – Special Report’ (2019).
  15. International Finance Corporation. ‘Performance Standards on Environmental and Social Sustainability.’ (1 January 2012). 
  16. IJGlobal, ‘Asset Data and Transaction Data’ (accessed 10 May 2020).
  17. IJGlobal, ‘Bangladesh and JICA sign coal-fired loan’ (2 July 2019).
  18. IJGlobal, ‘Kohelia Coal-Fired Power Plant (700MW)’ (accessed 10 May 2020).
  19. Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), ‘IEEFA Update: Bangladesh’s coal expansion plans stir criticism’ (26 June 2019).
  20. IQAir, ‘2019 World Air Quality Report’ (February 2020).
  21. Japan International Cooperation Agency, ‘JICA Climate Change Cooperation Strategy’ (September 2016).
  22. Lifetime CO2 estimates are based on the Global Energy Monitor’s (GEM) Global Coal Plant Tracker (GCPT) July 2019 dataset (not publicly available).
  23. Nippon Investment and Investment Insurance, ‘Environmental Checklist 12: Thermal Power.’ (Accessed 10 June 2020).
  24. Nippon Investment and Investment Insurance, ‘Guidelines on Environmental and Social Considerations in Trade Insurance’ (April 2017). 
  25. Market Forces ‘Choked by Coal: the Carbon Catastrophe in Bangladesh’ (6 November 2019).
  26. Market Forces, ‘Small steps in the race to save our climate’ (17 April 2020).
  27. Prothom Alo, ‘মাতারবাড়ী বিদ্যুৎকেন্দ্র লকডাউনের দাবি, কর্তৃপক্ষ বলছে কাজ চলবে’ (10 April 2020).
  28. Relief Web, ‘Cox’s Bazar: Maheshkhali – Water Logging’ (9 July 2018).
  29. Sembcorp, ‘Sembcorp Climate Change Strategy’ (March 2018).
  30. Sumitomo Corporation, ‘Integrated Report 2019’ (Accessed 18 May 2020).
  31. The Daily Star, ‘Displaced by development’ (1 December 2019).
  32. The Financial Express, ‘Downpour maroons people of Moheshkhali’s Matarbari’ (29 July 2018).