Published in Mar-Apr 2022
It would have been nothing short of miraculous had Pakistan’s energy policy been coherent and focused. Instead, it is a hotchpotch of half-baked intentions designed to give a nod to what passes for the renewable energy lobby in Pakistan – which, let’s not kid ourselves, is very weak.
To be fair to Pakistan, transitioning to renewable and green energy alternatives is a question that is exercising the minds of policymakers worldwide. The world economy is heavily dependent on fossil fuels, so moving smoothly to renewable energy alternatives is going to take time – perhaps too much time, if the goal of net-zero carbon emissions is to be met by 2050, as this would require fundamental, rapid and widespread shifts in policies – and more crucially – investments across all areas of economic activity, as well as a determined commitment by governments and their citizens. By any standards a tall order – but then we need look no further than the Covid-19 crisis of 2020 to know that in times of existential threat, governments and individuals can achieve what would otherwise be considered to be impossible.
However, the difference between Covid-19 and the impact of climate change is that Covid-19 became a global media event that seriously frightened people and almost brought the world economy to its knees. The effects of climate change are more insidious and when apparent, they come in short bursts, such as forest fires and floods – causing panic and media headlines (depending on the countries affected), but once dealt with, the memories of the dangers they portend are forgotten and governments go back to hemming and hawing. Yet, the science is pretty clear that unless global warming is contained within the next 25 years, planet Earth will be a rather uncomfortable place to live in.
In this context, it has become apparent that change in this direction is going to be driven by Gen Z and their progeny – in the West at least. Ascribe it perhaps to the Greta Thunberg effect, but the message about the consequences of climate change seems to be having its greatest impact upon the young. They have caught on to what 2050 will mean for their future if governments fail to enact the policies required to lower carbon emissions worldwide. In the UK, for example, Extinction Rebellion, the global environmental movement, has spawned Insulate Britain and, more recently, Just Stop Oil. Both movements have been roundly criticised by the majority of civil society for being made up of a cohort of middle class, privileged and misguided young people, who rather than get proper jobs, have nothing better to do than aggravate the public by glueing themselves to motorways causing massive disruption, delays and wasting police time or blocking oil terminals with similar outcomes. Yet, despite the vociferous criticism, these movements seem set to continue with their disruptive forays in the public sphere because in their estimation their government is not listening to them. Their solutions to the impending crisis are undoubtedly naïve and impractical, but they have managed to steer the conversation towards climate change among a wider public despite the widespread condemnation of their tactics. And that in itself is a small victory.
In Pakistan, awareness of the implication of climate change is nowhere as keen among a younger generation preoccupied with making ends meet. Which is why climate change can almost be considered a ‘first world problem’. Except that it is not. Pakistan is already experiencing the effects of climate change as glaciers melt, bringing the country closer to the consequences of major water scarcity. The problem is that public awareness of what looms ahead is negligible. After all, how many educated and seemingly aware people have taken even the smallest of steps in trying to conserve water or reduce their own carbon footprint?
Of course, it can be argued that compared to the rest of the world, Pakistan’s carbon footprint is negligible and whatever it may undertake to meet the 2025 net-zero emission deadline, the effects will be minimal. However, the argument for a coherent policy that moves towards the adoption of renewable energy is both compelling and urgent. Apart from the gas shortages that are gripping the country, the cost of importing fuel is putting untenable pressures on the import bill. There are so many reasons why Pakistan’s economy continues to jerk along in a stop-start cycle and the costs of fossil fuels rank among the major ones, making moving to other sources a national priority. (The fact that we have such a thing as the Circular Debt is a national scandal – but that is a story for another time.) Granted Pakistani governments have to reconcile critical strategic and commercial interests, but the transition towards reconciling these interests and moving towards a sustainable alternative energy policy must begin now. The problem, as it always is, is one of political will – and not only on the energy front but also in terms of working with businesses in the implementation of the United Nation’s ESG goals.