No relief for the poor

The government’s apathy towards those residing in localities near LNG terminal and gas plant sites is appalling

No relief for the poor


he poor suffer helplessly as the greed of investors and the ignorance/ apathy of rulers adds to their load of crushing problems. The emission and leakage of methane, a colourless, odourless, highly combustible greenhouse gas, in areas surrounding ports and plants handling or using fossil gas, has been upsetting the ecosystem, increasing the incidence of diseases and accelerating the adverse impact of climate change on livelihoods.

No response to questions regarding the government’s stance on the merits of opting fossil gas at a current juncture when the market is volatile, was readily available. The government’s apathy towards the people residing in localities near LNG terminal and gas plant sites is appalling.

Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, a former prime minister and power minister, has publicly taken the responsibility of initiating and sealing initial LPG deals and mobilising the private sector to set up LPG terminals. He was brief and direct in his response. Talking over the phone, he insisted that the adverse impact of fossil gas on communities and the environment was negligible. “Benefits by far outweigh losses, if any. The net impact of gas use is positive in Pakistan. In the absence of sufficient availability of sustainable energy, mills and households use electricity and burners sourced from fossil oil/ coal. The environmental footprints of oil and coal are more pronounced than gas”.

He did not see Pakistan backtracking on its global commitments on climate change. “We are treading the path that leads towards global goals of sustainable energy. If we continue our journey, by 2030, over half of the country’s energy needs will be met by environment-friendly wind and solar power”.

Commenting on the pledge to cut back on carbon emission levels he said: “Pakistan is one of the most environment-friendly states. She contributes barely 0.8 percent to the global carbon footprint but is found to be among the 10 most climate-stressed nations. So those responsible for the 99.2 percent pollution of the globe carry the blame and should be obligated to help nations under stress to deal with the costly fallouts of climate change. This fact doesn’t give us a licence to disregard our own responsibility. We are keen to actualise our promises on climate change.”

Dr Shamshad Akhtar, the former governor of State Bank, is currently the chairperson of the Sui Southern Gas Company. Her position on the issue is close to Khaqan Abbasi’s. “It would be best for Pakistan to shift to a renewable energy mix. Our dependence on other sources of energy will continue though, given the rising energy demand. Pakistan is highly climate vulnerable but its contribution to emissions is low.”

The landmark Paris Agreement of December 2015, ratified now by 195 states, adopted a common cause: to combat climate change, accelerate efforts and intensify investments for a sustainable carbon-free future. The pact reaffirmed the goal to limit the global temperature increase to below two degrees Celsius while pursuing efforts to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees. Among other pledges, signatories agreed to enhance understanding, action and support for corrective measures for the loss and damage associated with adverse effects of climate change.

Eight years later, however, fossil gas in Pakistan is considered safe and environment-friendly. Besides the interest groups, it continues to be the preferred option of urban households and industry for comparative price advantage. The lack of attention by policymakers and scarce media coverage depicting its adverse impact on human lives, particularly in the vicinity of excavation and terminal sites, helped in creating and perpetuating this false perception. Besides, the intervals between cycles of crises in Pakistan have been too short for the leadership to plan long-term and bust the myth surrounding fossil gas.

The fact that two provinces that produce gas and have built liquified petroleum gas terminals are at the bottom of the UN human development index should be treated as evidence, sufficient to initiate a policy rethink on gasification at the cost of encouraging alternative energy options.

“Sindh contributes 56 percent oil and 55 percent of Pakistan’s daily gas production. Despite these significant resource endowments, Sindh’s rural and semi-urban areas that lie close to oil and gas fields are underdeveloped, and the villages and settlements are afflicted with poverty and deprived of civic facilities. According to a 2021 UN report, Sindh has the highest prevalence of food insecurity, malnutrition and poverty,” states The Knowledge Forum Report, Natural gas infrastructure and local communities in Sindh, a case of three settlements in Sanghar district.

Several other entities and civil society groups are chipping in to improve the public understanding of climate change and how they can help protect the planet and sensitise policy/ opinion makers and the corporate sector to the adverse impact of climate change on lives and livelihoods. The Knowledge Forum, a social firm, also advocates a fact-based scientific approach to the issue. “Besides theoretical work we are engaged with the affected communities for a deeper insight. This helps to establish, based on evidence, how the promotion of gas as a viable energy source hurts more than it helps,” says Zeenia Shaukat, Director of TKF.

Some senior business executives were requested to share their views on the issue. Privately, they admit that fossil gas plants entail heavy social and environmental costs but, on the record, they defend their companies. Gas companies sidetrack the issue of adverse externalities of gas by boasting about their social work projects in their reports.

For many legislators, the negative impacts on lives and livelihoods were news. Higher-ups in the energy and related ministries did not believe the issue merited attention.

Fizza Naz Qureshi, associated with the Indus Consortium, complained of the inaccessibility of relevant officials to civic forums dissecting the climate change agenda in Pakistan. “Sometimes it is hard to believe these are the very people who speak eloquently at global forums and project themselves as rights champions. When back home, they are arrogant and consumed by their own agendas,” she said recalling her interaction with government officials in Sharm el Sheikh at the 27th UN Climate Change Conference COP27 (Conference of Parties) in November last year.

In the absence of sufficient pressure on the government to honour its commitment made on global forums to respect human dignity and safety, and the ecological balance for a better future, it is likely to flip-flop on key issues, including the energy policy.

The writer is a Karachi-based senior journalist, currently freelancing for various newspapers

No relief for the poor