“We didn’t want to commit what we cannot deliver”, were the comments by Zahid Hamid, Federal Minister for Climate Change, at a media training workshop organised by Heinrich Boll Stiftung in Islamabad. When asked why Pakistan submitted such a poorly framed Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) and whether the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project was the reason behind it, he affirmed, “Off course, CPEC is destined to change the fate of our country and we don’t want that to be compromised in any case. Therefore, coal-fired power plants will be installed to meet the energy demands of the country, but a sustainable course will be adopted, as lessons should be learnt from Beijing and Delhi who are suffering from the impacts of coal-fired power plants in the form of smog and other environmental issues.”
Since China will lay off its outdated coal-fired power plants, as per the Paris Climate Agreement, it is feared that the old technology might be transferred to Pakistan. However, Zahid Hamid hoped to have a better coal technology from China which will be less harmful for the environment.
However other experts do not share Zahid’s opinion. Malik Amin Aslam is one of them. Amin is the Global Vice-President, International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Chair KP’s Green Growth Initiative, and he cautioned the government that going for Environmentally Friendly Coal-Fired Power Plants won’t be a practical solution.
“After the COP21 agreement, the vision is clear to invest in renewable energy but the government’s initiative to install coal-fired power plants in order to deal with energy crisis does not make any sense, neither ecologically nor economically. Pakistan is a country bestowed with all sorts of renewable resources – wind, hydro and solar and yet we choose to take the most polluted pathway to growth,” said Amin.
Malik Amin further said, “While there is economic logic in utilising our indigenous coal for power generation, there is absolutely no conceivable logic in using outdated coal technologies based on imported coal and then transporting this ‘black cancer’ thousands of miles upcountry to generate power. This ill-conceived strategy may serve the interests of those involved and may even provide some temporary relief to the energy crisis but will most certainly create an environmental disaster of epic proportions for Pakistan and put us on a pathway to unsustainable development.”
It is important to mention that at the COP21, people criticised Nawaz Sharif for failing to highlight Pakistan’s climate vulnerability case in front of the world community. But according to Zahid Hamid, Nawaz Sharif did highlight Pakistan’s climate vulnerability factor and the energy aspect. However, a look at Nawaz Sharif’s statement available on Ministry of Climate Change website, contradicts the minister’s statement.
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The climate change minister also responded to the criticism by climate experts for failing to submit well-framed INDCs by telling that the ministry has formed a group of experts to determine the situation.
Pakistan’s high vulnerability to climate change is further highlighted by German Watch, a German think-tank, which launched its annual Global Climate Risk Index 2016 report at COP21, ranking Pakistan number five in the list of top ten countries most affected by climate change. This year’s report showed that Pakistan lost more than $2 billion due to extreme weather events.
Dr Ghulam Rasool, Director General Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD), also confirmed Pakistan’s high vulnerability to climate change. “Pakistan is the most vulnerable country regarding climate change because it has been suffering from increased frequency of tropical cyclones along the coast of Sindh and Balochistan, recurring floods coexisting with drought and heavy downpours in the form of cloud bursts.”
Dr Ghulam Rasool also warned that now weather is becoming unpredictable, which is why Pakistan’s vulnerability is increasing with every passing day. “Monsoons are getting erratic in its spacial and temporal distribution and it occurs in lumps, bringing lots of water in short span of time. This water later runs downstream uncontrolled causing devastation on its way in Punjab and Sindh,” he said.
According to Ali Tauqeer Sheikh, CEO Leadership for Environment and Development (LEAD) Pakistan and Director Asia Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN), “Sustainable development which is in fact de-carbonised development, will need to be decoupled from fossil fuel consumption. Renewable energies such as solar are becoming very competitive now-a-days in international market.”
Ali Tauqeer stressed to invest in renewable energy sources and discourage coal which is the dirtiest fossil fuel on earth. “Today China has emerged as the world’s largest solar energy producer and user. Instead of installing coal-fired power plants, Pakistan has an opportunity to become a leading partner in renewable energy and China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) instead of transporting coal can serve as China-Pakistan Clean Energy Corridor.”
The voices unheard
From the third pole: Ishaq Khan, 60, living in Damas Valley of Ghizer District of Gilgit-Baltistan, is one of those suffering from harsh climatic impacts. The super floods of 2010 washed away his entire village. Somehow, he managed to rebuild his house, but he could not retrieve his orchard buried under tons of silt. The lingering fear of flash floods during summers keeps him awake most of the nights.
“There is a constant danger of flash floods in our area. We are stuck here as we don’t have any money and land left for resettlement. Almost everyone in our neighbourhood has moved to Islamabad, Gilgit and other areas for resettlement to earn a better livelihood. Where should we go?” asked Ishaq.
“Every year I used to grow 20 mounds of almonds, and also walnuts and grapes in my orchard which is now buried deep under boulders and rocks. When floods came I suffered from paralysis due to which I am unable to undertake manual work. I don’t know how I’ll be able to earn a living.”
From the coast: Saleem Dablo, 35, lives in Keti Bandar, a coastal town in the Thatta district of Sindh province. Saleem spent his entire life in Keti Bandar fishing but over the past few years he is witnessing a sharp decline in fish catch and on the other hand an increase in the intensity of extreme weather events.
While highlighting his problems, Saleem said, “Our fish catch has reduced substantially and it is getting increasingly difficult to make both ends meet. Not just that, the sea has intruded inland due to reduced freshwater flow mainly due to fragmentation of Indus River by dams and barrages.” Saleem reported that around 20-25 years ago, Arabian Sea was 35 km away from Keti Bandar, but now due to sea intrusion it is only 10 km away.
Saleem also recalls how four, five years back, there used to be cold in January but now he notices a gradual rise in temperatures in the same month.
“Reduced freshwater flow downstream Indus has affected mangroves forest cover in the area, which has not only reduced the population of crabs and shrimps, but also led to an increase in the intensity of storms and cyclones, as mangroves serve as a defense shield against extreme weather events.”
When asked how much population has migrated from Keti Bandar to other areas due to extreme weather events, Saleem said in dismay, “Half of Keti Bandar’s population has migrated to other areas in search of better livelihoods. We don’t know how to stop rising seas.”
Climate change in Pakistan has increased the average annual temperature by 0.12C and the annual rise in sea level by 1.1 mm causing unpredictable rainfalls, sea intrusion, lesser agricultural output and extreme flooding.
When asked about climate-induced migration in the northern and coastal areas of Pakistan, Ali Tauqeer Sheikh said, “Pakistan is probably the only country that is experiencing internal migration due to sea intrusion, as well as migration induced by floods and droughts, as well as changing trends in the availability of groundwater.”
Since freak weather events are a major issue for Pakistan, people look at the Pakistan Meteorological Department as a source of early and accurate information. According to Dr Ghulam Rasool, the MET department can definitely enhance adaptation in the most climate vulnerable areas by increasing the density of monitoring network and filling the data gaps in 40 missing districts where Met Stations are not installed. State of the art technology should be adopted by installing effective early warning systems for floods, droughts, heat waves, tropical cyclones and storm surges.
Today Pakistan is grappling with climate change, albeit its contribution to the phenomena remains negligible. Venturing into coal-based power generation will not help Pakistan’s cause in the long run.