The country’s development policies and priorities are not aligned with its climate goals
limate change, before all else, is the story of water. It has upended the planet’s hydrological cycle, creating a massive uncertainty surrounding the health of ecosystems, human activities, livelihoods, economic growth, food security, water availability, peace and security.
Most extreme weather events, including heavy downpours, floods, glacier melts, rising sea levels and droughts, the increasing intensity and frequency of which are attributed to global warming are water-related. Unfortunately, Pakistan is vulnerable to all of these climate-related disasters.
Pakistan’s recent super floods that inundated a third of the country’s land mass and inflicted losses amounting to $30.1 billion are widely attributed to climate change. This is likely to figure in as an important case of climate-related disasters to be discussed at the 27th meeting of the Conference of Parties in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.
The major realisation behind global climate change activism is that the world is warming due to the emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases produced by humans, mostly by burning fossil fuels like coal, gas and oil.
The meeting will be discussing mitigation (the reduction in the emissions of greenhouse gases), adaptation to the climate change-induced impacts and providing financial support to developing countries for transitioning away from fossil fuels to renewable energy.
Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, a vice-chairperson of COP27, is scheduled to attend the meeting. He will plead Pakistan’s case for climate financing.
To what extent will this climate financing, if secured, be effective for mitigation, adaptation to climate change, moving away from fossil fuels and reducing climate-related disasters? To answer this question, let’s take a cursory look at Pakistan’s policies, plans and overall development priorities in the energy sector. These have been the main focus in the transition process owing to the consumption of fossil fuels.
Under its Alternative and Renewable Energy (ARE) Policy 2019, Pakistan set a target to ensure 20 percent of its generation capacity is ARE technologies (solar and wind) by 2025, and 30 percent by 2030. Hydro power projects were not covered in this policy.
However, in the Indicative Generation Capacity Enhancement Plan (IGCEP) 2021-30, the share of solar and wind energy in Pakistan’s projected installed generation capacity was substantially less while the share of hydro power rose to 45 percent.
Renewable hydro power is no longer seen as clean energy. The world over, hydro power is under criticism for ravaging the river ecosystem, emission of methane from reservoirs and for upending the lives and livelihoods of communities living both upstream and downstream of dams.
Despite the fact that large dams and other water diversion structures have increased Pakistan’s vulnerability to floods, ravaged Indus delta and induced seawater intrusion, our policy makers’ romance with hydropower does not seem to end. The share of hydropower in Pakistan’s total installed generation capacity (53,315 MW) by 2030 will be 23,035 MW (43.20 percent).
Like hydropower, Thar coal is considered a low cost option and prioritised as indigenous resource for power generation under the IGCEP 2021-30. Across the globe, coal is being phased out owing to its high emissions and contribution to climate change.
In Pakistan, however, Thar coal has assumed a renewed significance for power generation against the backdrop of global spike in energy prices after the Russian war on Ukraine, and the serious financial crisis the country is currently facing.
Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif has recently stated that cheaper power production from Thar coalfields can be a game changer for national development. He has also said that the government will chalk out a policy framework on Thar coal to connect it with the rest of the coal-powered plants in the country, producing 4,000 MW of electricity.
Mining operations and coal based thermal power generation have already been degrading the fragile hydrology of Thar. Water table in villages neighbouring mining sites is fast depleting due to extensive extraction of groundwater for dewatering the coal mines.
The dug-wells in 12 villages around Gorano reservoir—a site for dumping wastewater from coal mines and thermal power plants—are becoming contaminated and unsafe for human consumption due to seepage from the reservoir. Incidents of cattle dying after drinking wastewater released by coal power companies are on the rise. Farmers in the command area of Nara canal are concerned about water shortages caused due to water supply for thermal power plants in Thar coalfield.
Pakistan might secure some climate financing in COP27 that can be helpful in rehabilitation of flood affected communities. But it is not likely to have an effective mechanism to cope with climate change-related disasters until it realises the flaws in its existing policies and development priorities.
The writer is an anthropologist and a development professional