THE name CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor) is well-known to many people across the world. It is recognized as China’s Belt and Road Initiative’s flagship project in Pakistan. Experts are divided on the economic advantages and environmental repercussions of this project, leaving aside the political and strategic aspect for the sake of this article.
However, an examination of cross-economic gains and environmental costs is required. To do so, one must first comprehend the notion of sustainable development. Different international organizations, notably the World Wild Fund (WWF), the United Nation (UN) and the WCED, have defined it in similar fashion. According to the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED), sustainability necessitates not only the protection of natural and environmental assets, but also the provision of economic and social well-being for current and future generations.
According to the concept, economic and social comfort is just as vital as environmental and natural resource conservation. The challenge then becomes whether it can work concurrently, to which the frantic response is a resounding “yes.” But, then again, will a developing country be able to fully implement such a policy?
Before delving into the specifics, we must first examine how the CPEC would help Pakistan’s economy recover from its previous state of insecurity. Self-sufficiency is essential for becoming a developed country; today, every developed country is self-sufficient to a larger level in terms of energy, food, healthcare, education and infrastructure, among other things.
Such countries rely heavily on their export economy and invest heavily in research and innovation in order to prosper. The main roadblocks to industrialization include a lack of infrastructure (roads, trains and buildings), a lack of communication, unreliable transport mechanism, insufficient power supply and untrained labour. As a result of the increased competitiveness in the world market, the high cost of manufacturing and human resources lead to less exports.
The goal of CPEC is to remove these barriers, first by assisting Pakistan in becoming self-sufficient in terms of energy, water, information technology, infrastructure, transportation, skilled education, trade & commerce and second by providing Pakistan with a fair chance to compete in the international market via BRI routes.
Returning to sustainable development, experts debate the magnitude of environmental costs that Pakistan will face as a result of its usage of coal for energy production and increased traffic on CPEC routes. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Carbon dioxide (CO2) accounts for roughly 75% of all worldwide greenhouse gas emissions.
Coal is responsible for about 39% of CO2 emissions, yet it is the most cost-effective source of energy for many advanced and emerging economies. In a developing country like Pakistan, depending solely on renewable energy sources isn’t ideal (optimal).
To provide a fair picture, we compare the worldwide proportion of carbon emissions to significant nations and, in particular, nearby neighbours. As per 2019 estimates, Pakistan is ranked 29th in the world, with 0.68% of global carbon emissions, compared to China’s 28%, the United States 15%, and India’s 7%. Other countries including Russia, Japan, Germany, Canada, Iran, Indonesia, Turkey and the United Kingdom are following suit, generating between 1% and 6% of global CO2.
In comparison to other Asian countries, Pakistan’s yearly relative change in carbon output during the last 20 years (since, year 2000) is +0.42%, compared to China (+13%), Japan (+5%), India (+4%), Iran (+2%), Indonesia (+1%), and North Korea (+0.28%). Although the United States proportion of global carbon is smaller than China’s, the overall relative change since 2000is the highest (+24%).
During the pandemic, global coal demand fell by 11%, as did CO2 emissions, but the International Energy Agency (IEA) forecasts a 2.6% increase in global coal usage in 2021. Also, the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) projects that total CO2 emissions would increase by 21% in 2021 and 2022 as coal becomes more cost-effective for electricity generation as natural gas prices rise.
Before drawing any comparisons, it’s worth noting that carbon emissions are an externality that impacts everyone on the planet, regardless of their level of engagement. As per World Bank statistics, Pakistan generates 31% of its electricity from hydropower, 37% from petroleum, 26% from gas, 4.8% from nuclear power plants, and only 0.10% from coal-fired power plants.
According to another estimate by the International Trade Administration (ITA), Pakistan gets 64% of its energy from thermal sources (coal, fossil fuels, and gas combined), 27% from hydro, and 7% from renewable sources. In contrast to big nations and near neighbours, Pakistan consumes significantly less coal and emits significantly less carbon dioxide. The preceding comparisons of carbon emission statistics reveal that Pakistan’s contribution to global CO2 emissions is quite minimal, but it is also evident that progress comes at a price in terms of the environment.
Pakistan, on the other hand, is trying everything possible to avoid using coal as much as possible and instead employ eco-friendly technology to create electricity. As of now, CPEC has twenty-three active and planned power-generation projects in different areas of Pakistan, with just nine of them being coal-fired power plants.
The remaining fourteen power plants will create electricity using water, wind, and solar energy. The main reason for the use of coal for power generation in few areas is because of the infeasibility or unavailability of other sources of energies. Moreover, Pakistan postponed 2600 MW of imported coal projects under the CPEC last year, replacing them with 3700 MW of zero-carbon and hydropower projects.
In addition, the Ministry of Energy (Petroleum Division) announced a new policy last year to produce roughly 20% of its installed capacity from renewables by 2025, and 30% by 2030. These measures will further lessen the country’s reliance on fossil fuels, natural gas, and coal for power generation.
Pakistan’s dedication to climate-friendly and sustainable growth is demonstrated by the Green Stimulus package announced in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic to protect nature while offering green jobs to nearly sixty five thousand daily wagers; applauded by global experts. This is an excellent model for linking economic development with a new deal for nature.
In addition, Pakistan has achieved a significant milestone on the path to environmental preservation by achieving UN Sustainable Development Goal 13 ten years ahead of the schedule (2030). Furthermore, the 10 Billion Tree Tsunami Program, the Clean Green Pakistan Initiative, the Clean Green Pakistan Index (CGPI), Pakistan Electric Vehicles Policy 2020-2025, the Protected Areas Initiative for the creation of new national parks, the Ecosystem Restoration Fund for facilitating green growth, and the Land Degradation Neutrality Initiative are visible strategies adopted to combat climate change.
While CPEC presents a window for Pakistan to industrialize, it is apparent that Pakistan is well ahead of many other countries in terms of environmental preservation and climate change mitigation. Finally, Pakistan is committed to transforming the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor into a China-Pakistan Green Economic Corridor.