Pakistan’s Prime Minister announced during the virtual Climate Ambition Summit last weekend that the country won’t approve any new coal plants and by 2030, 60% of the energy produced in Pakistan will be generated through renewable resources.
Malik Amin Aslam, minister and adviser to the Prime Minister on climate change, elaborated that the two existing coal projects were Muzaffargarh and Rahim Yar Khan, both using imported coal. Both plants were part of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The centerpiece of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is CPEC. Many of the CPEC energy projects in place are emissions-heavy and are not going to help mitigate climate change.
China’s BRI project has been criticised for pushing outdated, expensive, and polluting coal plants on developing countries in Asia and Africa. If coal plants in CPEC are canceled, then it will set a trend across the BRI countries. Bangladesh is also considering abandoning its coal plant pipeline – much of which was to be financed and built by China.
Pakistan can easily do away with coal. It already has the surplus capacity- the entire coal fleet operated at just 37% utilisation in 2019/20. At present, the prime minister’s announcement won’t stop the use of coal in its energy sector.
Pakistan has to make its intentions clear. The statement from the prime minister lacks any concrete proposals. It is not clear whether existing coal projects that have not yet begun construction will be canceled or that no new coal proposals will be added to the current development pipeline.
While the prime minister’s announcement was positive, the plan to use domestic coal for coal-to-liquids (CTL) and coal-to-gas (CTG) doesn’t do justice to the statement. Both gasification and liquefaction of coal are expensive, and at the end of the day, they are still fossil fuels. “Liquefaction to replace diesel and gasification is done to produce pipeline quality gas or fertiliser, or to produce cleaner power in comparison to conventional coal-fired power generation,” Vaqar Zakaria, managing director of Hagler Bailley Pakistan explained. He did not see much economic sense of either in the current oil price scenario.
Towards a future run by renewable energy
Pakistan has taken steps to increase the role of renewables in its energy mix. In 2019 it reversed a three-year ban on investing in solar and wind that was put in place by the previous government. The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) predicts that the share of renewables in power generation will rise to 86% globally, compared to 25% today, with 60% of that share coming from solar and wind.
Pakistan can also give a push to microgrids and rooftop solar projects instead of investing in mega renewable energy projects. In an article on Thirdpole.net, Vaqar Zakaria, managing director of Hagler Bailley Pakistan, said that rather than investing in big wind farms, or mega hydro and solar parks, the best way to boost renewables in Pakistan is to give people a chance to produce their own electricity. “Bring in the capital from the people, let them be investors and give them subsidies,” he said. With such facilitation, every home could be lit up by solar power, he suggested.
Will Pakistan’s new statement pave the way for more countries in South Asia to declare No coal policies? Will India and Bangladesh follow suit? Only time will tell but we will keep a watch and keep fighting until the region embraces 100% renewable energy.