Pakistan’s coal-based economy could suffer after climate deal

Ambitious plans to expand use of coal power threaten country’s long term economic outlook says UN official


By Ed King

A global climate deal in 2015 could hurt Pakistan’s coal-reliant economy, according to a senior UN official.

Qamar uz Zaman Chaudhry, a special envoy of the World Meteorological Organisation and lead author of Pakistan’s National Climate Change Policy, called on the government to  halt plans for a wave of new coal power plants across the country.

“As soon as the new carbon-emission regime is agreed upon, the world will put carbon tax on all the exporting countries,” he said in an interview with Pakistan’s Business Recorder website.

“This probably may not be more than five to ten years later. That is why China has started to shift towards cleaner energy; same is the case for India. But Pakistan is going in the opposite direction, commissioning more and more coal-based power project.”

Pakistan’s official ‘Energy Yearbook‘ for 2012 reveals fossil fuel imports costing $14.5 billion account for around a third of its annual consumption.

Chaudhry, who ran Pakistan’s Meteorological Department from 1996-2010, said current energy plans by the government in Islamabad could undermine the country’s long term economic footing.

“If we don’t take stock, we would be locking Pakistan country for the next 25-30 years into coal technology,” he said.

“We need to increase generation from hydro resources and get our energy mix right.”

According to the US Energy Information Administration, Pakistan had an electrification rate of 67% in 2010.

Power cuts and load shedding, where high demand leads to the shutdown of transmission lines, have previously been estimated to cost the economy $13.5 billion per year.

Last month the IPS press agency reported that four new coal power plants will become operational by 2016, requiring coal to be imported from Indonesia and South Africa. Domestic coal production peaked in 2006.

And while some leading development banks in the US and EU are moving away from coal, in February the Asian Development Bank pledged $900 million in assistance for a new 1200MW plant in Jamshoro, which will come online in 2018.

Report: Pakistan faces ‘environmental cataclysm’ warn officials

Pakistan is seen as acutely vulnerable to changes in climate. Earlier this former state minister Malik Amin Aslam Khan said institutions are “ill prepared” for extreme weather events.

In 2010, 2011 and 2012 heavy floods hit the country, resulting in the deaths of thousands and the evacuation of millions from their homes and farmlands.

There are also growing fears the seasonal monsoon may be shifting away from Pakistan to Afghanistan, with long term impacts for crop yields.

But despite these warnings, recent government actions suggest that climate has fallen in the list of priorities.

And in a damning indictment of a lack of action since the recent floods, Chaudhry said “no significant investments” had been made to the country’s disaster risk response (DRR) capabilities since 2010.

“The problem is with the flash floods’ warning system, which only exists in one area across the whole country. That warning system only gives two to three hours for emergency response because of the nature of the flash floods.”

In June 2013, finance minister Ishaq Dar announced in his budget speech a cut of over 62% in annual spending for the Ministry of Climate Change, which was also been downgraded to a division.

And Chaudhry said he hoped Pakistan’s prime minister would reconsider his planning after UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s climate summit in September, where heads of state are set to gather to discuss various responses to the threats posed by global warming.

“I hope if Nawaz Sharif attends this conference, then it would help in the country’s sensitisation to climate change challenges.”

He added: “As in other developing countries, the climate-change ministry is not deemed a ‘key’ ministry like finance or planning ministry in terms of decision-making here. The status of this division needs to be enhanced in Federal structure with the appointment of a minister of climate change.”

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