ISLAMABAD, May 3 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - With much
of the world pouring investments into renewable and clean
energy, Pakistan is drawing criticism for welcoming Chinese
investment in coal-fired power plants as part of a plan to boost
urgently needed generating capacity.
Officials at the Water and Power Ministry have said Chinese
companies and their partners are expected to spend around $15
billion over the next 15 years to build close to a dozen coal
power plants of varying sizes around the country.
Mohammed Younus Dagha, the former federal secretary for
water and power, who became commerce secretary at the end of
March, emphasised that the coal plants are part of a larger
That is the $54 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor
(CPEC), which includes spending of about $33 billion on a total
of 19 energy projects, including coal-fired and renewable power
plants, transmission lines, and other infrastructure.
“Hefty investment under the CPEC project has held out hopes
of significantly spiking domestic power generation (by) around
6,000 megawatts by the end of 2018,” Dagha said.
Combined, the projects will eventually generate 16,000
megawatts (MW) of electricity, which the government says is
About three-quarters of the newly generated power will come
from coal-powered plants, and the government insists that these
will be fitted with the latest technology to reduce pollution
and climate-changing emissions.
But environmentalists and energy experts have lambasted the
plans for coal-fired plants as a waste of money that will badly
damage the environment and tarnish Pakistan’s image as one of
the lowest-carbon emitters.
“Such plants would only accelerate the rising trajectory of
the country’s carbon emissions, (accelerating) environmental
degradation that costs billions of rupees to the national
exchequer annually,” said Syed Jawad Hussain Shahzad, an energy
expert at the Comsats Institute of Information Technology in
Pakistan has long needed more power than it can produce,
with the energy deficit currently around 4,000 MW. According to
the International Energy Agency (IEA), average energy demand in
the country is around 19,000 MW, against generation of around
Demand soars beyond 20,000 MW during peak summer months of
May to July, when air conditioning systems place an extra burden
on the national power grid, often causing power cuts.
The IEA forecasts that total electricity demand will rise to
more than 49,000 MW by 2025 as the country’s population
Only 67 percent of Pakistan’s approximately 190 million
people have access to electricity, according to the World Bank.
To improve access and keep pace with economic growth, the
country needs to invest between 3.7 percent and 5.5 percent of
its GDP each year in increasing electrical production, the bank
said in a report on South Asian infrastructure published in
Part of the motivation for building coal-powered plants lies
in the availability of the fuel within Pakistan.
The federal minister for planning, development and reform,
Ahsan Iqbal, said that the sprawling desert region of Tharparkar
in southern Pakistan, home to some of the world’s largest coal
reserves, cannot be left unexploited.
“Pakistan must tap these unutilised vast underground
reserves of 175 billion tonnes of coal, adequate to meet the
country’s energy needs for several decades, for powering the
country’s economic wheel, creating new jobs, and fighting
spiking unemployment and poverty,” Iqbal said.
Pakistan currently ranks 135th in the list of global
emitters of carbon on a per capita basis, accounting for less
than 1 percent of total global carbon emissions, according to
World Bank data.
According to the report submitted by Pakistan to the U.N.
Framework Convention on Climate Change last year, the country’s
emissions in 2015 stood at 405 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide
equivalent (MTCO2 eq.).
However, emissions are increasing at a rate of 3.9 percent
(16 MTCO2 eq.) annually.
Iqbal touts the green credentials of the planned coal power
plants, which will use the latest “supercritical”
emission-reducing technology that is used in China itself and
“The latest coal power plants (will) be as clean as
gas-based power generation,” Iqbal insisted. “(They) require
less coal per megawatt-hour, leading to lower emissions,
including carbon dioxide and mercury, higher efficiency and
lower fuel costs per megawatt.”
RISKS OF WORSENING CLIMATE CHANGE
Nevertheless, independent renewable energy experts say the
government's love affair with coal power plants is a huge worry.
“No sane person would want electricity from dirty energy
sources, even though supercritical technology is used," said
Malik Amin Aslam, a former state minister for the environment
who serves as global vice-president of the International Union
for Conservation of Nature.
"These plants, not being completely free of carbon
emissions, will still harm the public health and the country’s
environment,” he said.
Pakistan is considered one of the countries most vulnerable
to the impacts of climate change, from worsening floods and
scalding summer temperatures to erratic rainfall that can kill
China’s ambassador to Pakistan, Sun Weidong, stressed that
coal power is only part of the projects China is supporting
through its investment in CPEC.
“We are equally helping Pakistan to bring more and more
renewable energy sources into its energy mix by tapping its
massive wind and solar energy potential,” Sun said.
Planned renewable energy projects under CPEC include a solar
park, four wind farms and three hydro plants that together would
generate around 3,900 MW, at a cost of about $7.5 billion
According to the Pakistan Alternative Energy Development
Board, Pakistan has the potential to generate annually 2.9
million MW of clean energy from solar, 340,000 MW from wind and
100,000 MW from hydropower.
“We really fail to fathom the government’s inclination
towards environmentally damaging coal power plants while the
country can generate millions of megawatts of solar, wind and
hydro electricity,” said Mir Ahmad Shah, executive secretary of
the Pakistan Renewable and Alternative Energy Association.
“Even countries like Saudi Arabia – rich in oil resources –
are gradually switching over to clean energy sources,” Shah
(Reporting by Saleem Shaikh and Sughra Tunio; editing by James
Baer and Laurie Goering :; Please credit the Thomson Reuters
Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers
humanitarian news, climate change, resilience, women's rights,
trafficking and property rights. Visit news.trust.org/climate)