Is Pakistan preparing for a decarbonised world?

For Pakistan “the time to resist international efforts to decarbonised” is up, said Dawar Butt, lead analyst at Equilibrium, an organisation that helps companies become climate-positive quickly.

Is Pakistan preparing for a decarbonised world?

By Zofeen T. Ebrahim

ALTHOUGH the world’s attention is currently focused on the Covid-19 pandemic, climate crisis remains the planet’s greatest challenge.

To strive to limit the global temperature to 1.5°C means halving the CO2 emissions by 2030 and reaching net zero by 2050.

But these pledges have clearly fallen short. In fact, it took a pandemic and the resulting economic shutdown to bring global CO2 emission down by 4-8 per cent.

The only way out of the conundrum is to decarbonised and to do it quickly.

For Pakistan “the time to resist international efforts to decarbonised ” is up, said Dawar Butt, lead analyst at Equilibrium, an organisation that helps companies become climate-positive quickly.

The country’s carbon emissions are projected to increase by about 300pc till 2030

Although the realisation has sunk in among local businesses and even the government and investors, Mr Butt said, it was still at the rudimentary level of talks and not translated into a plan leave alone much action on ground.

“What happens when the world says it is not buying our basmati because in producing it we produced too much greenhouse gases [GHGs] or that our textiles use dirty energy [carbon], or that diesel becomes prohibitively expensive because other countries stop using it and therefore stop buying it but we want to run our 1.2 million tubewells,” asked water specialist Dr Arif Anwar as he painted a doomsday picture where Pakistan can become a misfit in a carbon-free world.

This “wait-and-watch”, said Mr Butt, was coming in the way of Pakistan grabbing opportunities that lay waiting.

From 1994, Pakistan’s carbon emissions increased by 123pc in 2015. These emissions are projected to increase by about 300pc by 2030 and energy (and everything connected) and agriculture sectors account for about 90pc of total emissions.

But Pakistan can reduce up to 20pc of its 2030 GHG emissions with some hand-holding (to the tune of $40 million) by decarbonising transport and agriculture sectors, followed close on the heels by the industries.

However, some parts will remain carbon-intensive, said Dr Anwar, like the manufacturing processes, for which Pakistan will need to offset carbon to get to net-zero.

Shifting to renewables

Although Pakistan’s contribution to the climate crisis is negligible at just 0.8pc, it is imperative it shifts from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources to decarbonised electricity if it wants to meet the Paris Climate pledges, said Dr Imran Khalid, an expert on environmental sustainability and climate governance. “Pakistan can truly show leadership by embarking on a plan to decarbonise its energy sector at its earliest.”

For now 46pc of the country’s total emissions is coming from burning fossil fuels.

To overcome the power shortages, Pakistan was forced to invest heavily in coal under China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), that too at a time when the rest of the world was moving away from the dirty fuel.

“The global community might make coal more expensive to import because those selling coal would need to ensure that a price is paid for the CO2 produced when burning coal,” warned Dr Anwar.

“The economic case for renewable energy is growing, while the viability of building new coal plants, or even maintaining existing ones, is shrinking,” pointed out climate scientist Dr Fahad Saeed, who is working with Climate Analytics, an international think tank.

Luckily for Pakistan, it has huge solar and wind energy potential that could satisfy not just its domestic electricity need, he said, but of almost all the countries in the region’s “many times over”.

Although Pakistan’s new renewable energy policy aims to alter the emission profile of the country to meet 30pc of its energy needs using renewables (primarily solar and wind) and 30pc by hydropower by 2030, its “addiction to coal, like so many other countries” makes it harder to leave the dirty fuel, said Dr Anwar.

But, Dr Saeed pointed out, a shift towards renewables would have multiple benefits including “increased energy security, access for all, avoided air pollution damages and reduced water use, land contamination and environmental degradation”.

With 64pc of Pakistan’s population below the age of 30 of which 29pc is between the ages of 15 and 29 years, Dr Saeed said aligning its “investment in human capital with renewable technologies” would be a smart move.

“Besides being useful domestically, the trained professionals in renewable energy-related disciplines could tap into the global market,” he said.

“Renewable energy is the future; the sooner Pakistan understands that, the quicker it can put in place an effective plan to decarbonise its energy sources,” said Dr Khalid.

The outcomes from the recently held US Climate Summit clearly point towards a future where “availability of renewable technology will advance very rapidly and Pakistan needs to adjust and stay abreast of it”, agreed Dr Saeed.

But Pakistan seems reluctant to let go of coal. Prime Minister Imran Khan plans to explore the possibility of cleaner technologies like coal to liquid (CTL) and coal to gas (CTG) options in a bid to reduce emissions while carrying on with coal, which Dr Saeed said were not only “prohibitively expensive but water and energy-intensive”.

Decarbonising transport

According to Mr Butt, half of the 46pc of emissions coming from the energy sector was from transport, which relies on oil for 92pc of its energy and thus particularly hard to decarbonise.

But without decarbonising transport, addressing global warming would be an exercise in futility.

Transport emits around 23pc CO2 contributing to global warming. It will reach 40pc by 2030 and 60pc by 2050.

According to Mr Butt, the country’s dependence on the private transport has risen sharply in the past decade, specially goods and freight movement in the absence of an efficient rail network.

The second worst-polluted country in terms of air pollution, Pakistan is also the second-most rapidly urbanising country in South Asia. This means the use of transport is bound to increase. Therefore, said Mr Butt, it made good sense if vehicular emissions were stopped on an “emergency footing” giving the time frame between five-10 years.

Decarbonising transport, especially in urban areas, would require a new regulatory framework, making it mandatory for city administrations to achieve CO2 reductions and set a time period for it, said Mr Butt, adding: “Setting goals helps with monitoring, accountability and penalties but would require a strong local government system.”

While it may seem like a gargantuan task now, it will open a plethora of business and job opportunities for Pakistan, he said.

With China and India the largest electric four-wheeler and two-wheeler manufacturers, respectively, he said, Pakistan can have the opportunity to become part of the supply chain and benefit from, say, development of local components.

If Pakistan fails to join the global community in decarbonised, Dr Anwar feared, certain technologies will no longer be available to the country. The big emitters like the US and China are reducing CO2 emissions by changing technology.

“If we do not change our ways, the technology that we continue using will disappear for us along with machines and their components as newer ones come on stream,” he said. “Even if we don’t need to decarbonise, we still have to live in a decarbonised world!”

Originally published at Dawn