Pakistan in 2022 became the canary in the mine of climate change. The flood that ravaged one-third of the country this year came from the sky, not from overflowing rivers. An area larger than many European countries became a flood-lake many feet deep. The calamity was an undeniable consequence of global warming.
Pakistan has [been] flooded before but it has never flooded at this scale,” wrote one observer, “and never in so many ways at once: cloudbursts and glacial outbursts in the north, prolonged spells of rain in Sindh and Balochistan, flash floods in the foothills west of the Indus, and urban flooding in cities like Karachi – a mélange of meteorological disasters.”
There was no spring this year in Pakistan. The weather turned from cold to hot seemingly overnight in April, and then became hotter still. Electricity demand soared first to an unprecedented seasonal level, and then to the historical record high of over 30,000MW.
Monsoon rains came in mid-July and burst the clouds in late August, as if on steroids. Sindh and Balochistan received rainfall manifolds above average. The rainfall was the flood. It caused $30 billion in loss and damage, destroyed nearly two million dwellings, displaced 8 million people, and affected 33 million citizens.
The irony is stark. Pakistan contributes a negligible 0.8 per cent of the global carbon footprint, but we are among the 10 most climate-stressed countries on the planet – a tragedy writ large. Pakistan is a victim of pollution emitted by others. Even if we reduced our climate impact to zero, we would still be vulnerable against melting glaciers, errant and severe rainfall, agricultural failure, and extreme prolonged heat.
The pluralist government of PM Shehbaz Sharif has, however, begun to build resilience by addressing mitigation of and adaptation to climate change. The transition towards renewable, clean, and indigenous energy is the highest priority because it combines equally urgent imperatives: reducing cost of energy, energy sovereignty, and protecting the environment.
The new energy landscape after the Ukraine war has necessitated that all new power generation in Pakistan shall henceforth be based upon indigenous resources, of which major ones are: solar, Thar coal, hydel, nuclear, and wind. These might be supplemented by other domestic sources such as wave, geo-thermal, and waste, as they become feasible economically.
On September 1, PM Sharif announced a 10,000MW solar initiative, of which the bidding for the first 600MW will be held in a few weeks. Part of the solar initiative is the proposal for thousands of 1-4MW rural-grid based micro-solar plants that will be put for bidding soon, and conversion of all federal government-owned buildings to solar.
New 10,000MW solar will be supplemented in the next few years by 12,500MW from two large-scale hydel-power project at Dasu and Diamer-Basha as well as many medium-scale hydel projects already installed or due to come into operation such as Neelum-Jhelum, Karot, Sukhi-Kinari, Azad Pattan, and Kohala.
The wind corridor in Sindh continues to provide reliable electricity and a renewed push for wind will be announced in the coming weeks. The solar-hydel-wind projects currently under construction and some nearing completion will help fulfill Pakistan’s pledge of 60 per cent renewables in our energy mix by 2030.
The renewable energy projects will perform indispensable pro-poor and pro-growth functions: reduce the price of electricity; reduce the strain on our balance-of-payment by decreasing imports of expensive fossil fuels; and reduce carbon emissions – the three pillars of sustainable development.
We have also begun a serious push towards conservation. The public’s behavioural change towards conservation is slow, but we will nudge it through technological innovations such as Advanced Metering Infrastructure and, particularly, through conversion of all motorcycles and three-wheelers to electronic vehicles (EV). Our EV initiative will cut emissions as well as Pakistan’s fuel consumption by half – a boon not only to the environment but also to the public exchequer.
PM Sharif’s government is also moving speedily towards changing specifications of electrical appliances and accessories towards energy conservation, encouraging car-pooling, installing conical baffles in gas geysers to conserve gas, and to persuade traders to change working hours towards international norms.
Pakistan’s geography makes it extremely vulnerable to climate change. We cannot change our geography. We alone cannot address global carbon emissions and the consequent warming of the globe. As PM Sharif said at COP27 this week, “the international community must come together to create a common charter for the survival of the planet. And we should vow to succeed at all costs.” We will provide Pakistan’s future generations with clean, economical energy to power our coming economic growth.