The Sindh Government is set to launch the Thar coal powered plant with much pomp and pageantry. Unfortunately we must dampen the spirits of the enthusiasts of the project by reminding them that Pakistan is a signatory to the Paris Agreement, which commits to a low greenhouse gas emissions development to tackle the threat of climate change. At a time when the world is increasingly distancing itself from the use of fossil fuel for energy production, Pakistan is turning a blind eye to the environmental consequence the Thar project will bring and is trying to implement just any kind of energy production to escape the pressure of resolving the energy crisis.
The billion dollar coalmining-cum-power project in Thar has received a major boost after the China State Council (CSC) approved financing for the scheme which has assumed a fundamental position in Pakistan’s efforts to halt its chronic electricity shortfall. While it is encouraging that the Chinese government is so gracious with their money to help a friend out of a quagmire, Beijing is more than familiar with the hazards of coal powered production of energy. During the most severe air pollution episode last year, concentrations of the primary pollutants in Beijing last November reached levels nearly 40 times higher than what the World Health Organization considers safe for 24-hour exposure. Air pollution is killing an average of 4,000 people a day in China, a number not far off for Pakistan if it keeps up its reliance on dirty fossil fuel.
China’s 2013 Air Pollution Prevention Action Plan requires the Beijing region to achieve negative coal consumption growth by 2017 by replacing coal with electricity generated from natural gas and non-fossil fuel energy, aiming to be completely coal-free by 2020. This naturally begs the question as to why Pakistan does not realize the extent of the harmful effects on the environment and its people if it commits to such projects? Is it not ethically questionable that the country that aims to become coal free itself, wants others to utilize the very same fossil fuel? China’s commitment to reduce their carbon footprint and address the threat of global warming is commendable in light of the historic climate deal it signed with the Obama administration last year. It should hold others to the same standards as it holds itself to ensure a more holistic and global impact to address climate change.