How to solve the 3Es problem

The climate justice, sustainable energy security and the economy demand urgent attention and action

How to solve the 3Es problem


he global anthropogenic climate crisis has become one of the most pressing issues of our time. Its impact is already being felt in many parts of the world and includes an increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, rising sea levels and the loss of biodiversity. At the same time, the issue of energy security is critical, particularly for developing and less developed nations.

The interrelated issues: climate justice, sustainable energy security and the economy demand urgent attention and action.

In his book, The Brief History of Equality, Thomas Piketty argues that climate change is not just an environmental issue but also a deeply political and economic one. He points out that the wealthiest individuals and countries in the world are responsible for the majority of greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming and climate change. Meanwhile, the poorest communities are the most vulnerable to climate injustice through more frequent and severe natural disasters, food and water shortages and displacement from their homes.

Climate justice recognises the unequal distribution of the impacts of climate change. It acknowledges that the people who have contributed the least to the problem — primarily those in developing countries — are the ones who are suffering the most.

Pakistan is a notable example of this anthropogenic climate injustice. Its share in global emissions is less than one percent. However, in terms of climate change, it is facing and will be facing a severe water-dilemma. First, water is disappearing, i.e., no rains, extreme heat waves and droughts. Second, glaciers are melting due to global warming. Lastly, the water is falling from the skies and causing floods.

The Centre for Climate Justice at the University of California, identifies six pillars of climate justice. The first pillar is a just energy transition (JET). It is followed by community resilience and adaptation, natural climate solution, social racial and environmental justice, climate education and engagement, and indigenous climate action.

Energy transition and climate change are intricately linked as the sources and types of energy that we use have a significant impact on the health of the planet. Climate change is driven by an increase in greenhouse gas emissions, primarily through the burning of fossil fuels.

According to United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), in 2020, the energy sector contributed 37 percent (20 GtCO2e) of the CO2 emissions followed by industry 26 percent (14 GtCO2e), agriculture, forestry and other land-use change (AFOLU) 18 percent (9.5 GtCO2e), transportation 14 percent (7.6 GtCO2e) and buildings 5.7 percent (3.1 GtCO2e). These emissions trap heat in the earth’s atmosphere, leading to a rise in global temperatures and a host of environmental impacts like the 3Ws crisis and more frequent and intense weather events even in countries that are not contributing to emissions.

Thus, a global drive towards energy transition is needed. This refers to a shift from fossil fuels to renewable and cleaner energy sources like solar, wind and micro-hydropower. This transition is crucial to mitigating the negative effects of climate change.

However, the energy transition is not without its challenges. One of the main obstacles to it is the upfront cost of transitioning to renewable energy sources. This can be a significant barrier for many individuals and businesses. Additionally, the infrastructure and technology needed to support renewable energy can be complex and expensive.

Overall, the relationship between energy transition and climate change is clear. The choices we make about the types of energy we use have a direct impact on the health of the planet. By transitioning to renewable energy, we can reduce our carbon footprint and mitigate the negative effects of climate change while also creating economic and social benefits.

Piketty argues that addressing climate change requires a global effort to reduce emissions, but also a more equitable distribution of the costs and benefits of this transition. He advocates for policies that would redistribute wealth and income from the richest individuals and countries to the poorest and invest in renewable energy and sustainable development. There is a need to make climate justice and just energy transition an integral part of economic policies.

Investing in renewable energy projects holds the key to Pakistan’s financial troubles but the country’s current economic situation does not allow it the luxury of importing renewable energy-related materials. Due to the financial turmoil, Pakistan is heavily dependent on imported fossil fuels.

As a result, Pakistan is exploring its indigenous resources from Thar coal. While these reserves provide a cheaper alternative, they are not environmentally sustainable and will only serve as a short-term solution to the problem.

In order to break this vicious cycle and to solve this economy-energy-environment (3Es) dilemma, we need to make sustainable energy security and climate justice a part of our economic policy and diplomacy. Pakistan needs to develop a holistic policy roadmap involving long-run economic planning coupled with diplomacy based on climate justice and just energy transition partnerships.

Resulting investments in renewable energy can bring forth a shift in our energy profile from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, and micro hydropower.

This transformation is not easy. It requires significant investment in infrastructure, technology and human capital. It also requires political will and leadership, as well as international cooperation and support. The developed nations must understand and provide financial and technical support to help countries, such as Pakistan in terms of transition towards a sustainable energy future.

Pakistan needs to present this case through strong climate diplomacy and just energy transition partnerships. This support must be based on the principles of climate justice. The following actionable recommendations can be suggested in this context:

First, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has recognised the importance of the intersection of climate justice and energy security. The Paris Agreement, adopted in 2015, calls for efforts to keep the global temperature rise well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

It also recognises the need for a just transition towards low-carbon development and the importance of providing support to developing nations. The UNFCCC has also established the Green Climate Fund (GCF) to help finance climate mitigation and adaptation projects in developing nations. The GCF is based on the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities,” which recognises the different responsibilities and capacities of developed and developing nations in addressing the climate crisis. The GCF aims to mobilise climate financing to support developing nations in their efforts to address climate change.

Second, the recent initiative of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) on the Energy Transition Mechanism (ETM) is an opportunity. It targets the early retirement of coal-fired power plants and provides financing so that coal power plants are replaced with renewable alternatives. This has been implemented in Indonesia where a 660MW coal plant was retired earlier through ETM.

Currently, the ADB is conducting a pre-feasibility study in Pakistan to establish criteria for the early retirement of coal-fired power plants.

The initiative also calls for the exploration of similar initiatives under the China-Pakistan-Economic-Corridor (CPEC), so that the vision of Chinese President Xi that “China would not build new coal-fired power projects abroad” can be achieved.

This will not only reduce Pakistan’s carbon footprint but also give Pakistan a better platform for climate diplomacy.

These suggestions can provide Pakistan with a sustainable solution to its economic, energy and environmental problems.

The writer is associated with the SDPI as an energy consultant. He can be reached at He tweets @Khalidwaleed_

How to solve the 3Es problem