Syeda Sheirbano Akhtar
Pakistan is among the top 10 most vulnerable countries to be affected by climate change, says the Global Climate Risk Index report. A similar view is propagated by British professor Anatol Lieven, who has worked extensively on Pakistan’s political and social dynamics among other things. He believes that it is not the political turmoil or fundamentalism which can consume Pakistan but Climate Change. The fact that the country is vulnerable needs little corroboration by reports and foreign experts. Any person familiar with the region can clearly see the increasing frequency of flash floods, rising temperatures, falling yields and depleting water reserves. Pakistan now stands on the list of water scarce countries, with per capita water availability as low as 900 cubic meters. The telling circumstances speak for gross negligence on part of the policy makers and the society.
Faced with this existential crisis in the form of climate change, the country has still gone ahead with the implementation of several fossil fuel projects to meet its energy requirements. The crisis had been fermenting for years as the governments had not undertaken any major energy project since the 1990s. Efforts to push through some major hydro projects were also foiled by provincial disagreements in the dictatorial regime of General Musharraf. The consequence was that the country witnessed acute energy shortages staring in the face. At its peak, the shortfall reached as high as 6000 MW. In the subsequent years. Some makeshift arrangements were made to meet the rising energy demands, unfortunately many of these never saw light of the day.
With the China Pakistan Economic Corridor in the offing, the previous government seized the opportunity and stretched the already vast umbrella project to cover energy and safety requirements. Most of the energy projects were categorized as ‘early harvest’ and they have to be completed before the end of 2018. These projects would add 17000MW of electricity to the National Grid, with a hefty 11000 accounting for fossil fuel projects, primarily coal-based. This addition to Pakistan’s energy sector would further disturb the already unclean energy mix of the country; previously 65% of the energy needs of the country were met by fossil fuels. The problem doesn’t stop here only, policy makers have given a go-ahead to a number of other fossil fuel projects also. Engro Thar-coal power project, Hub-co power plant and LNG based plant in Jhang are some of the prominent ones. The use of indigenous coal found in Thar dessert for electricity generation can prove to be even more fatal for the environment. Due to the relatively large sulfur content found in Thar coal, it is not only less efficient but also way more deleterious for the surroundings.
These energy projects also have a bearing on the country’s foreign exchange and in turn the economic health. With exports dwindling for the past 5 years, the imports have continued a steady upward trajectory. The trade deficit has touched almost $30billion with petroleum products and coal imports accounting for a large chunk. In order to ensure economic stability also, the country needs to move towards renewable sources of energy.
The CPEC fossil-fuel-based early harvest projects are in the final stages. Now, it is practically impossible for the country to roll back these projects funded by a foreign country. The country still accounts for less than 1% of the global hydrocarbon emissions, but this does not mean that it can move unbridled to an even saturated carbon-based production. Pakistan alone cannot help ease the climate pressure it is faced with. It is a monster which knows no territorial boundaries. The country might very well be bearing the brunt of carbon emissions of other nations, due to its geographical locality. But if it does not cut down its own carbon emissions and set an example, it would be hardly convincing for countries with higher carbon emissions contribution to cut theirs down in order to mitigate the effects of climate change for the region.