While renewable energy sources could help mitigate climate change and tackle the energy crisis, it is up to the Pakistan Government to take necessary actions and make that possibility a reality. Pakistan is among the most-affected countries by climate change worldwide. At the same time, it has been crippled by a raging energy crisis for the last few years. A large number of studies and policy recommendations have been produced on these issues without much visible impact.
In the backdrop of this: what needs to be done in order to support – and/or – pressurize the government to implement a meaningful policy on climate change and energy? Do we have enough on-the-ground knowledge to tackle both issues or do we need more research? How can we network with relevant actors such as civil society and grass-roots activists, academics, think-tanks, media, private sector and government officials in order to address the problems more efficiently?
All these questions were discussed in a recently convened strategy workshop on “Climate Change, Governance and Energy” organized by the Heinrich Boell Foundation (HBS) in Islamabad on January 21, 2013. The HBS in fact endeavors to see a role it can play as an international organization to help build capacity and momentum towards alternate energy options such as renewables. The workshop was attended by a number of experts including civil society activists, Government officials, academicians, environmental lawyers and journalists.
In view of soaring prices, limitations and climate change, many countries are going through or planning to transit their focus from fossil fuel and nuclear energy to renewables. Germany, for instance, is undertaking a major energy transition towards renewables, leaving coal and nuclear power behind. Germany's process of successful energy transition is currently discussed and appreciated in Pakistan as well. The transition of Germany also confirms a pro-renewable agenda in developing countries such as Pakistan where a bulk of the population still lack electricity and gas. There is thus an urgent need to study and brainstorm on lessons that can be drawn from Germany for a renewable energy strategy and transition in Pakistan.
To follow the course to a greener energy future, Pakistan is in fact in a very good position to exploit these alternatives because it has abundant wind and sun. A transition to other alternate energy options is also inevitable in view of the ongoing energy crisis in the country.
Pakistan is currently meeting its energy needs derived from five main sources, i.e. oil (36%), natural gas (27%), hydroelectricity (32%), coal and nuclear power (5%). Energy consumption pattern shows that industrial sector consumes a large part of the energy followed by transport, domestic, commercial and agriculture sectors. The country currently acquires most of the electricity from private power plants that mainly depend on fossil fuels (oil & gas). In view of depleting oil and gas reserves and rising international oil prices, domestic prices are on the rise and a huge gap between demand and supply of the both electricity and gas. As a consequence, consumers are facing the burden of the power and gas load-shedding and are also paying huge bills.
Renewable energy in Pakistan is a relatively underdeveloped sector. Most of the renewable energy in Pakistan comes from hydroelectricity. In recent years, there has been some interest by environmentalist groups and from the authorities to explore new renewable energy resources for energy production, in light of the on-going energy crises and power shortages affecting the country.
During the course of the HBS workshop on “Climate Change, Governance and Energy”, as mentioned above, a number of issues and options were put on the table by various learned experts. Some key areas of emphasis are summarized below in bullet form:
Issues and options at the macro level
- At the macro level, the situation has recently been changed as the climate change and energy subjects now belong to provinces after the recent 18th constitutional amendment. The related provincial departments, however, are not well prepared and seriously lack capacity and skilled human resources. Civil society organizations and other activist groups are recommended to target Provinces in their future action plans regarding advocacy, networking, capacity building and policy research.
- The response to climate change and energy in the country has so far been reactionary in nature and there has been no long term planning and policy as such. Given that the federal Ministry of Climate Change has now been constituted, it is recommended that well thought, widely consulted and consensus based long term policies on climate change and energy should be put in place. Currently, the national climate change policy carries a long wish list. There is an urgent need for rationalizing it through setting up priorities and developing practical strategies. These solutions must be boxed as per short, medium and long-term objectives.
- Energy issue has been termed as a governance issue rather than a financial one. Under-funding occurred at many instances where the planned projects were not initiated despite having enough funds in the budget. Thus, political commitment and intra-institutional linkages are also important besides having well planned national policy on climate change, energy, agriculture, and food security.
- Pakistan is blessed with range of ecological zones such as glaciers, high mountains, tropical forests, riverine belts, deserts, and coastal ecosystems. Different zones however require unique strategies to deal with climate change and energy issues and hence, policies should also be made accordingly in order to reap tangible results.
- Climate change is a broad issue which does not consider country boundaries. Countries across border, India and Afghanistan, face similar climate change issues. A joint strategy at regional level and mutual cooperation is thus needed for a futuristic, rationalized and target oriented climate change adaptations.
- In a nutshell, Pakistan needs to enact supportive legislation and policies; improve governance; enhance capacity of the workforce; build technical institutions and introduce diploma or degree courses in subjects related to climate change and energy; allow manufacturing of material used in renewable energy units; subsidize the material to make it affordable; and encourage private sector to build their capacity to produce electricity. The sugar industry, for instance, can produce up to 5000 megawatt electricity through biogas and bogass. It would really be a win-win position for all stakeholders in the industry.
- Private public partnership has thus great significance. Business sector, non-governmental organizations, law chambers and the media should come forward to help the Government by building its institutional capacity; recommending them well researched policy measures; raising awareness in general masses; and investing in small units in order to initially, catch up the ongoing energy crisis and then transiting gradually to renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, hydro and biomass.
- Climate change and energy issues should not be dealt in isolation and policies/practices with regards to other related subjects such as health, education, agriculture, natural resource management, micro credit, etc. should also be dealt with simultaneously and rectified accordingly. Cross-sectoral learning based on best practices is important in the context of climate change and energy.
- At many instances, development projects were completed without taking local communities into confidence. The result is that communities do not own projects and there have been negative impacts on environment and peoples livelihoods. Instead, all future projects must include communities, especially women, so that they own projects and play an active role.
Issues and options at the micro level
- At the micro level, renewable energy transition is desperately needed to the off-grid and unserved rural communities who make up a bulk of the country. The knowhow and technical capacity of communities must be built through community based capacity building interventions. This way, communities will own the concept and will also be able to play their role for their own-self.
- The past experience of renewable energy initiatives states that these had suffered setbacks in view of high initial costs and lack of expertise and capacity of the community members to maintain the installed units. Thus, cost effectiveness has to be ensured through supportive government policies backed by expert’s opinions, community mobilization, local manufacturing and skilled workforce.
- Gender sensitive field activities are important in order to involve local women at the grassroots level in alternate energy projects and build their capacity. In a recent field study on “climate change and gender” conducted by the Shirkat Gah (a women’s resource centre), rural women are found to be affected differently, and often more severely than men, by the unhealthy environment at home and changing weathers. Factors that increase the intensity of their vulnerability to environmental issues are gender-based discrimination against women; unequal power relations between women and men including in access to assets and resources; and intra-household inequities.
- In villages, firewood and animal dung is used for cooking that causes serious health problems among rural women from the smoke emitted from cooking. Apart from solar and wind energy options, use of biogas energy and fuel efficient stoves should be promoted to conserve energy and provide smokeless healthy environment to women.
- International organizations, just like HBS, should promote networking among stakeholders and provide a platform to pursue research, advocacy and capacity building activities on climate change and energy. Civil society activists, in partnership with HBS, must form national/provincial level forums in order to bring stakeholders together, generate information and carry forward advocacy campaigns.
- Media has yet to realize the significance of climate change and energy. According to a study recently conducted by the National Council of Environmental Journalists (NCEJ), media currently provides 86 % coverage to criminal and political matters as compared to only 2.8 % for environmental issues (weather forecast, rainfall, disasters). Climate change and more especially the energy related subjects get almost no attention. There is thus urgent need to mainstream public interest on climate change and energy through news and talk shows on media and by telecasting documentary films. Media has to be engaged on regular basis and capacity of media folks needs to be built.
- Locally written print material lack climate change and energy focus and hence, it would be useful to produce series of publications that should be disseminated to masses far and wide. Youth involvement would also be very crucial and it is recommended to develop a book on climate change and energy for the young children with 12-18 years age group.