Unless Pakistan Adopts Clean Energy, 2050 Holds A Grim Future

Posted by Sadia Sheikh in Environment, GlobeScope
August 5, 2017

Year: 2050, Pakistan

The year 2050. We used to hear about the dangers of climate change and global warming. We were cautioned by some of our own that climate change is for real. It would happen unless the right measures were taken immediately. Unless plans were made and priorities set to tackle climate change and mitigate its causes, it would drastically affect the future. And show up, it did. Climate change is real today. And for once, everyone agrees.

Today was the third week of experiencing extreme temperatures in Karachi in the month of December. What used to be the start of winter in Pakistan is now a tough weather onslaught, with temperatures soaring above 4o-degree Celsius. People have died from sun strokes and dehydration. Water reserves are running low. The city municipal administration supplies water only twice a week now.

The Cape Town Water Crisis. Source: YouTube

The Tharparkar and Baluchistan regions in Pakistan are experiencing severe drought amid a scarcity of water. The Pakistan armed forces and rescue agencies have evacuated the people from the area after deciding that those working for relief missions were themselves falling victim to severe weather conditions. Some agreed to leave. Others vowed to stay in the region they had lived in their entire lives, with their ancestors and children. They couldn’t be forced to leave.

Millions have been displaced along the coastal belt of Sindh due to rising sea levels, amid losses of lives, livestock and property. What was once an agrarian economy gets only 10% contribution to the GDP from agriculture because of frequent floods; down from a staggering 53% contribution to the GDP from the agriculture sector during the years 1949 to 1950.

Year: 2017, Pakistan

News article clippings. Sources: Thompson Reuters Foundation, Dawn News

Mining has begun in Thar’s 9,600km coal fields. Coal, at present, contributes 0.1% to the total energy generation in Pakistan, according to the Pakistan Business Council. However, with recent ambitious energy projects involving coal powered stations, this could rise to 24% by 2020, says Tahir Abbas, an analyst associated with Karachi-based brokerage, Arif Habib Ltd. According to Muhammad Younus Dagha quoted in Gulf news report , secretary of Pakistan’s Ministry of Water and Power, the Thar region could produce enough coal to generate 12 gigawatts of electricity within 10 years. This is sufficient to resolve Pakistan’s energy issues which have been crumpling the economy. According to a Dawn News article, the average shortage of energy in the country stands at 4,000 MW. At peak times, this figure reaches up to 7,000 MW.

The energy crisis in the country is real. However, meeting this energy shortfall through coal is a slow poison. Coal is the dirtiest possible means of energy generation that exists. It’s a short-term solution to Pakistan’s energy woes. The energy crisis might be resolved, but we will be inviting greater perils our way.

According to U.S. Energy Information Administration statistics, burning coal releases the highest amount of carbon dioxide in the air, among all other fuels.

Pounds of CO2 emitted per million British thermal units (Btu) of energy for various fuels:

Coal (anthracite) 228.6
Coal (bituminous) 205.7
Coal (lignite) 215.4
Coal (subbituminous) 214.3
Diesel fuel and heating oil 161.3
Gasoline (without ethanol) 157.2
Propane 139.0
Natural gas 117.0

Table Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration.

In addition, when burnt, it is responsible for releasing the following emissions, according to another U.S Energy Information Administration study:

  • Sulfur dioxide (SO2), which contributes to acid rain and respiratory illnesses
  • Nitrogen oxides (NOx), which contribute to smog and respiratory illnesses
  • Particulates, which contribute to smog, haze, and respiratory illnesses and lung disease
  • Carbon dioxide (CO2), which is the primary greenhouse gas produced from the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas)
  • Mercury and other heavy metals, which have been linked to both neurological and developmental damage in humans and other animals
  • Fly ash and bottom ash, which are residues created when coal is burned at power plants.

According to a report in Lead Pakistan, a climate change thinktank and research organization based in Islamabad, Pakistan, the country is already among the worst affected by climate change. Floods and drought have already severely impacted many lives and delivered a major blow to the economy. According to leading economist Ishrat Hussain, quoted in Thompson Reuters Foundation news, the economy of Pakistan grew at a rate of 2.9% per annum during the last five years, against the projected rate of 6.5 % if flooding had not disrupted the country, causing human and economic losses.

Then why is Pakistan investing in coal powered energy plants when it’s one of the principal causes of climate change and global warming? Are we not being ignorant to the perils it will bring to us?

With an abundance of sunlight in the country, Pakistan needs a Clean Energy Revolution. A sustainable means of energy generation that can solve all the energy woes of the country, without damaging the environment. According to an Express Tribune news article, the country has the solar energy potential of generating 2.9 million MW of electricity, which is 725 times the energy shortage it faces today. Besides solar, Pakistan can tap into other alternative energy generation sources which are clean and sustainable, and can easily solve Pakistan’s energy crisis. The Pakistan Alternate Energy Board (AEDB), in an interview, puts the wind power generation potential at 340,000 MW (85 times the energy shortfall), and an Express Tribune report states the hydroelectric power potential to be 100,000 MW (25 times the energy shortfall). This is more than sufficient to meet Pakistan’s total peak energy demand of 21,000 MW, according to Dawn News.

Unless we act upon it today, climate change will be our next big terror. With abundant resources of renewable, clean energy, Pakistan’s decision of tapping coal reserves to meet the energy shortage is a decision made without due diligence. Unless climate change mitigation policies are enforced, and we start paying heed to the threat of global warming, soon we will have none to blame, but our own selves. It is a matter of securing our futures and protecting the generations to come. If we continue on the present thread, and climate change impacts us for the worse, it will be too late to rectify our actions.

A version of this article was previously published on the author’s blog.