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Monday June 17, 2024

Study charts course for cleaner air, sustainable climate future in Pakistan

By Our Correspondent
January 21, 2024

Pakistan stands at a critical juncture, grappling with the dual challenges of urban air pollution and climate change. It’s a nation where nearly 100% of the population lives in areas where PM2.5 concentrations exceed recommended limits, and its greenhouse gas emissions intensity outstrips neighbouring South Asian countries.

Steam rises from the cooling towers of the power station on November 28, 2023. — AFP
Steam rises from the cooling towers of the power station on November 28, 2023. — AFP

 It’s clear that action is imperative, and a pioneering study has illuminated a path forward. Led by a dedicated team comprising Kaleem Anwar Mir from the Global Change Impact Studies Centre (GCISC), Ministry of Climate Change and Environmental Coordination (MOCC&EC), Pakistan; Pallav Purohit from Pollution Management Group, Energy, Climate, and Environment (ECE) Programme, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), Austria; Sylvain Cail from Global Energy Forecasting Department, Enerdata, France, and Seungdo Kim from Research Centre for Climate Change and Energy, Department of Environmental Sciences and Biotechnology, Hallym University, Republic of Korea, the study delves into the co-benefits of air pollution control and climate change mitigation strategies in Pakistan. Utilising sophisticated models and extensive data, the study paints a compelling picture of the potential gains that can be achieved through integrated policies.

Pakistan’s urban centres grapple with some of the world’s most severe air pollution, taking a toll on public health and the economy. As the world’s second-most polluted country in 2020, urgent action is required to safeguard the health and well-being of its citizens.

While Pakistan accounts for less than 1% of global greenhouse gas emissions, its emissions intensity, the total emissions relative to GDP, is alarmingly high among its South Asian counterparts. The nation has set ambitious targets to reduce emissions, emphasising the need for a transition to cleaner energy sources. Recognising that both air pollutants and greenhouse gases often stem from the same sources, adopting an integrated approach promises significant co-benefits. By tackling both challenges concurrently, Pakistan can reap substantial gains in terms of air quality, public health, and economic savings.

The study leverages two powerful models—the EnerNEO Pakistan model and the GAINS model—to assess the impact of various scenarios. The EnerNEO model offers insight into future economic activity and energy use, providing a critical foundation for policy analysis. This enables the study to project how various energy and climate policies might shape Pakistan’s future.

Coupled with the EnerNEO model, the GAINS model becomes a formidable tool in this study. By representing Pakistan in four sub-regions and incorporating data from various sectors, it provides a comprehensive view of emission estimates and atmospheric PM2.5 concentration fields. This integration allows for a nuanced understanding of the interplay between air pollution control and climate change mitigation.

The study underlines that current air pollution control measures are insufficient to meet Pakistan’s air quality standards. However, the implementation of sustainable development strategies holds immense promise. These strategies could potentially reduce PM2.5-related mortalities by 24% by 2050, providing a clear roadmap towards a healthier future.

The economic and demographic landscape of Pakistan is poised for significant transformation, guided by projections derived from the EnerNEO Pakistan model. These forecasts, endorsed by the Pakistani government, paint a vivid picture of the nation’s trajectory. Anticipating an annual population growth of 2.02% until 2030, followed by a marginally slower rate of 1.22% thereafter, Pakistan is on track to experience a 72% surge in population by 2050 compared to 2015 figures. This demographic surge underscores the pressing need for sustainable development strategies to accommodate and uplift an expanding populace. Simultaneously, the per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is projected to increase by approximately 2% annually. This consistent growth trajectory is set to culminate in a nearly fourfold rise in total GDP by 2050, a testament to Pakistan’s economic resilience and potential.

To propel this growth, the model envisions a substantial shift in energy consumption patterns. This includes an augmentation in coal utilisation for power generation, aligned with an overarching objective to ensure affordable and accessible electricity. This shift is anticipated to drive a three-fold surge in primary energy demand from 2015 to 2050. Within this energy landscape, biomass usage is anticipated to remain relatively stable as it continues to serve as a cost-effective energy source for rural households. Conversely, coal consumption is slated to undergo a remarkable 18-fold surge, while renewable energies such as wind, solar, and hydropower are expected to witness a six-fold increase. Nuclear energy, with its potential for sustainable power generation, is projected to experience a fivefold rise. Additionally, the utilisation of oil and gas is anticipated to surge by factors of 1.9 and 2.6, respectively.

The notable rise in coal’s prominence within the primary energy supply is emblematic of the model’s business-as-Usual (BAU) scenario. This scenario serves as a benchmark, capturing the prevailing trends observed in recent years. Despite the evolving international policy context surrounding fossil fuels, particularly coal, Pakistan’s reliance on coal remains robust. This underscores the imperative for comprehensive and forward-looking energy policies. As the global discourse increasingly emphasises sustainable and cleaner energy sources, Pakistan must navigate this dynamic landscape. Balancing economic growth, energy accessibility, and environmental sustainability will be paramount.

According to the study’s findings, “Embedding advanced control technologies within sustainable development policies could be a game-changer. Not only could this approach save on emission control costs (approximately 0.32% of GDP) by 2050, but it could also halve greenhouse gas emissions, contributing significantly to SDG 13 on climate action.” This study transcends scientific analysis and ventures into the realm of policy relevance. By showcasing how air pollution control can be a stepping stone towards climate mitigation, it offers a practical approach that aligns with the nation’s resources and priorities. Consolidating law enforcement and economic stimulus will be vital in Pakistan’s journey towards cleaner air and a more sustainable climate future. This study serves as a clarion call for integrated approaches to pollution control, demonstrating that the benefits are not only environmental and health-related but also economic.

In a world where climate action is paramount, Pakistan is poised to lead the charge towards a brighter, cleaner, and more sustainable future. The time for action is now, and this study provides a roadmap for transformative change.

-Dr. Zaeem Bin Babar (An assistant professor at the Institute of Energy and Environmental Engineering, University of the Punjab, Lahore. He has more than 5 years of industrial, academic, and research experience. His research areas include air pollution monitoring and control, sustainable construction materials, solid waste to resources, and water and wastewater treatment. He is the author of more than 30 international journal publications, conference papers, and book chapters).

Mr. Mashhood Urfi (An SDG counsellor and climate justice activist. He is a senior academic and research student at the Institute of Energy and Environmental Engineering, University of the Punjab, Lahore).