By Zarnaab Adil

 

Author’s bio: The writer is a student of Public Policy at the Wagner School at New York University. His interests include cricket, South Asian politics and political Islam

 

We must assess CPEC energy projects on merit. We should not just be blinded by the cash but also by the light, too

 

This July saw Lahore covered with more pictures than usual of the ruling leadership photo shopped into even more gaudy posters across the city. This time they were patting themselves on the back over the inauguration of the Sahiwal Coal Power Plant’s second unit, the posters boasting about how this falls under the China Pakistan Economic Corridor umbrella. Also celebrated were the plant’s 1320MW generation capacity and its investment price tag of $1.8billion. So far so good. Until, that is, one reads the part about this being an environmentally friendly power plant. This shouldn’t really come as too much of a shock, to be honest. Not after Senator Zahid Hamid, the then Climate Change minister, back in 2015 took to the upper House floor to tell his fellow parliamentarians the ‘good’ news: namely, that there is absolutely no link between coal-powered plants and increased summer temperatures. Yes, really. In a country that is already hopelessly misinformed about the perils of global warming — this was a disingenuous move to say the least.

The aforementioned assertions were made on the basis that the Sahiwal plant is run on a supercritical generator, making it Pakistan’s first. This means it emits marginally lower levels of greenhouse gases compared to those traditionally run on coal-powered generators. Nevertheless, the Climate Risk Index ranks this country number seven in terms of being vulnerable to global warming. Coal power should therefore be avoided wherever possible. Yet given that CPEC early harvest projects include a total of 17 different energy projects, including the Sahiwal power plant, one can only imagine the untold damage to the environment that these will leave in their wake.

Already the signs are not good. A recent report by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology projects that by 2100 South Asia will be hit by deadly heat waves rendering this region uninhabitable for both people and vegetation alike. This is devastating news for a land that is not only heavily reliant on agriculture — but one where large chunks of the population already suffer chronic malnutrition.

The time to act is now. As a first step, Pakistan needs to aggressively cut back on carbon emissions, CPEC or no CPEC. Let us not forget that the Chinese are all ready to help us build seven different coal-powered plants, requiring the burning of billions of tonnes of coal. The result being raging temperatures and flooding as well as agricultural and economic losses. Interestingly, Beijing has proven itself rather shrewd. At home it has been steadily reducing its on reliance on coal, replacing this with considerable investments in renewable energy. All the while happy to invest in dirty energy abroad with profits returning to boost the domestic sector.

In its overwhelming desire to meet the relentless energy shortfall once and for all the Pakistani state has ended up shooting itself in the foot. Such has been the focused frenzy when it comes to putting infrastructure deliverables on the table — the ruling PMLN, in the rush to ink deals and sign treaties with our friends from the North, has put the issue of climate security on the backburner, quite literally. Consider this, a cumulative 7,560MW worth of coal-powered plants are to be set up across Pakistan, with the Chinese picking up a large portion of the tab. The most alarming of these is the Port Qasim Coal Power Plant located right in the heart of Karachi, which is home to some 16 million people. Thus the expected impact on this coastal city is likely to be nothing less than ravaging: a dramatic drop in air quality, increased temperatures, rising sea levels and forced migrations.

Beijing has proven itself rather shrewd. At home it has been steadily reducing its reliance on coal, replacing it with renewable energy. Yet all the while — it has been happy to invest in dirty energy abroad, with profits returning to boost the domestic sector
Here, of course, the case could be made that energy is a non-negotiable requirement for any country in the Global South. Meaning that producing energy by whichever possible means remains the priority. However, we only need to look across the border at India to see that it doesn’t have to be this way. New Delhi has overseen increased investment in renewable energy to the point where this is expected to account for 60 percent of all power generation by 2027. Pakistan should take note of the falling cost of renewable energy.

Yet it is not all doom and gloom. A silver lining does exist in at least one CPEC project. The under-construction Quaid-e-Azam solar park in Bahawalpur has an anticipated generation capacity of 1,000MW, making it the world’s largest photovoltaic power station. And with more than 300 sunny days expected every year in the area — the local retail market has already experienced an increase in the sale of solar products. The signal is clear: the government must follow suit and invest in more clean energy. Especially given that at least one CPEC project, promisingly, focuses on wind farm projects in Thatta, with a total expected ‘return’ of 300MW. Nevertheless, it is crucial that all CPEC early harvest energy projects be assessed on merit. We should not just be blinded by the cash. But by the light, too.

Courtesy: Daily Times

Originally, this article has been published in The Daily Times on August 18, 2017.

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