Removing Roadblocks to The Growth of Clean Energy The Only Way Forward For Pakistan's Environmental Security

Terming the use of clean energy as the only way in removing roadblocks and looking forward for ensuring an environmentally secured future for Pakistan, it was stressed that roadblocks in the way of wider use of clean energy should be addressed timely since it is not only the most efficient, feasible, reliable and safest mean of energy generation but simultaneously will contribute to reducing reliance on imported fuels and harnessing the immense indigenous renewable energy resources available in   Pakistan. In parallel, Pakistan is already 5th most vulnerable country to climate change and could not afford to continue the existing trajectory. In this regard, the excessive rains in many parts of the country including Karachi were only a recent highlight of the alarming threats posed to the country—emphasizing the urgent need for action to address the issue on a priority basis.

Removing Roadblocks to The Growth of Clean Energy The Only Way Forward For Pakistan's Environmental Security

The Global Climate Risk Index has placed Pakistan on the fifth spot on the list of countries most vulnerable to climate change in its annual report for 2020. The use of fossil fuels which includes coal, gas, and fuel oil, on the other hand, is detrimental to the country’s environmental future. It is thus imperative for the country to move to renewable energy sooner rather than later, wherein a failure in doing so will further aggravate the existing food, water, and energy security-related threats.

These concerns were raised in the first yearly meeting of IPS’ Steering Committee on Energy, Water, and Climate Change, which was organized by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) Islamabad for reviewing the outgoing year’s progress as well as planned projects for the forthcoming year 2020-21. The meeting was chaired by Mirza Hamid Hasan, former secretary, Water, and Power, and addressed by Ashfaq Mahmood, former secretary, Water and Power, Syed Akhtar Ali, former member energy, Planning Commission of Pakistan and author of many books on energy, Ameena Sohail, Sr IPS associate and energy lawyer, Khalid Rahman, executive president IPS, Naufil Shahrukh, GM-Operations IPS, and the Institute’s energy and water program’s team members Naila Saleh, Sarah, and Wali Farooqi. 

It was pointed out in the meeting that the reason for not benefitting from this immense renewable clean energy potential in Pakistan lies in flexibility constraints and lack of commitment on behalf of relevant authorities, who neither had technical expertise nor the intent to make this shift. Further, it is more convenient for the grid operators to manage the grid dominated by baseload power plants regardless of its detrimental impacts on the environment, and hence they intend to continue the business as usual.

It was also pointed by energy experts that the on-ground steps currently taken by the government were not only contradictory to the targets set in the 2019 policy for ‘Alternative and Renewable Energy’, but also poorly contrasted to the global and regional renewable energy advancement.  For instance, the coal power plants installed in Sahiwal and Hub, and the other two being installed in Tharparkar and Gwadar were a direct contradiction of the mentioned policy. The speakers said that an argument is made frequently that when Pakistan has such huge reservoirs of coal at its disposal, why should it not be utilizing it to generate energy. The contrasting reality however remains that Pakistan’s reliance on coal-fired power plants remains skewed toward imported fuels and coal, the cost of which is nearly at par with IPPs and has significantly contributed to the swelling of circular debt—now reaching trillions from billions.

The speakers also ruled that there was no planning or proper data existent to address the circular debt issue. The regulators in the country were not playing their due role properly and many concerned departments were even reluctant to share the data with each other. The result of all this is that the claiming creditors demand unjustifiable bills, which are then accepted by the government without any analysis or forensic audit.

The speakers also highlighted that the generation capacity in the country has already surpassed the country’s needs—outpacing the transmission resulting in unserved energy and idled generation capacity. The state institutions like NTDC, according to the speakers, did not have enough research resources indigenously to assess the generation or distribution capacity of the country. It did on the other hand outsource the task to another institution in 2018 and that study has been completed recently, the work, however, took so long in its completion that the indicators and scenario used in preparing that report have become outdated at this time.

The experts stressed that the issues faced by Pakistan in moving towards renewable resources were not new as similar issues and obstacles were faced earlier by European countries as well. They however were finally able to identify best practices after making many mistakes and overcoming their hindrances. The need for Pakistan now, they maintained, was to learn from those experiences and best practices instead of trying to reinvent the wheel.

The participants were notified in the end that It was in line with these notions that IPS has already started seeking collaboration with renowned institutions like Agora Energiewende based in Germany. These potential collaborations—build on a combination of established expertise in the renewable clean energy transition and with building partnerships with other think tanks working in emerging economies—will aid in mobilizing and enabling an environment for the sustainable energy transition in the context of Pakistan.