Pakistan Bulletin

An up-to-date and informed analyses of key issues of Pakistan.

Pakistan’s Climate Concerns

November 2023

As the fifth most vulnerable country to the effects of climate change, Pakistan needs to undertake radical action to protect its population. Phasing out from using fossil fuels to control local emissions is a way forward especially since Pakistan has powerful wind and solar energy potential.

Climate change has rapidly enveloped the globe, creating chaos in the form of increasing heat waves, forest fires, hurricanes, floods, earthquakes and other environmental catastrophes. One of the causes of this climate catastrophe is the unrestrained exploitation of natural resources such as the use of coal, gas and oil. According to the United Nations Climate Action portal, the emission of fossil fuels accounts for 75% of global greenhouse gas and 90% of carbon dioxide which is resulting in heating the planet.
The Climate Risk Index places Pakistan as the fifth-most vulnerable country to the effects of climate change. Currently, Pakistan is facing the consequences of a significant rise in temperature which is expected to continue increasing due to the rise in global carbon emissions. The 2022 floods caused an economic loss of over US$ 30 billion. If economic damages caused by heat waves are added, the damages to crops, vegetation cover, livestock, may provide a more accurate picture of how climate change has impacted Pakistan’s social and economic landscape.
To hold the planet’s long-term average temperature to below 1.5 degrees Celsius, the world will have to reach net zero emissions by 2050. Yet, global fossil fuel emissions are projected to rise by 12% from 31 billion tonnes in 2020 to 35 billion in 2030.
Keeping in view the climate change challenges, Pakistan would have to actively undertake measures to reducing local emissions, and seek international and regional collaboration and support for climate change mitigation and adaptation.

The country’s estimated renewable energy share accounts for less than five percent of the total energy mix, while the country's growing energy demand is being met with increased use of domestic coal and LNG imports.

Despite Pakistan’s need to move away from fossil fuels-based energy production that is harmful to the local climate, Pakistan’s primary energy supply utilises fossil fuels. Despite the government’s commitments to reduce carbon emissions, Pakistan’s carbon emissions are set to increase due to insufficient allocation of resources towards renewable energy transition.

Pakistan has significant renewable potential in the form of solar and wind energy. However, the country’s estimated renewable energy (wind and solar) share accounts for less than five per cent of the total energy mix. At the same time, the country’s growing energy demand is being met with increased use of domestic coal and LNG imports as Pakistan’s own national gas resources have depleted. Pakistan’s LNG imports have significantly increased in recent years.
Oil and gas account for most of Pakistan’s energy mix while fossil fuels – oil, gas and coal – accounts for around 60% of the country’s electricity generation (Pakistan Economic Survey 2023). Other than household consumption, a significant amount of gas is being used for fertiliser production. In comparison with oil and coal, gas is globally projected as clean fuel. However, a study commenced by “Climate Analytics”, an organisation that works on scientific analysis and support to accelerate climate action, reveals that natural gas is the largest source of CO2 emission as it has increased by 60% methane emissions during 2010-19, further projected to increase up to 70% by 2030. The study shows that natural gas consumption must be reduced in Pakistan, and its phase-out is needed to speed up at the same pace as coal.
The report is also pertinent in Pakistan’s context wherein high costs of imported and competitive liquefied natural gas (LNG) and other fossil fuels have led to a widespread energy crisis and doubling of power tariffs as the country battles record-breaking inflation and foreign exchange crisis.
Keeping in view the economic burden of fossil fuels and the country’s vulnerability to climate change adversaries, Pakistan must opt for a quick phase-out of fossil fuels and turn to rely more on renewable energy sources.
Pakistan’s revised 2021 Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) submitted to UNFCCC set a cumulative conditional target of an overall 50% reduction of its projected emissions between 2015 and 2030. It also includes increasing the energy capacity share of wind, solar, biomass and small hydro up to 30% by 2030, and achieving power sector decarbonisation by 2038.
Reducing rising average temperature requires expanding renewable energy capacity. However, experts have repeatedly pointed out that Pakistan’s pledge to achieve a higher share of renewables in its energy mix also includes a substantial leap towards hydropower generation, which is not counted as renewable due to its climate impact.  Large dams have a wide-scale climate footprint.

Climate justice experts also criticise the role of the World Bank-sponsored energy policy that has promoted fossil fuel-based independent power producers (IPPs) in the 90s and continue to lobby to include harmful large-hydro in the renewables policy. A recent report by Recourse, titled “How are the IMF and the World Bank Shaping Climate Policy? Lessons from Pakistan” notes that IMF programmes in recent years have failed to provide support for adaptation and mitigation even as Pakistan struggled with the Covid pandemic, a spike in global fossil fuel prices and interest rates, followed by the 2022 floods.

Climate justice experts criticise the role of the World Bank-sponsored energy policy that has promoted fossil fuel-based independent power producers (IPPs) in the ’90s and continue to lobby to include harmful large-hydro in the renewables policy.

Pakistan’s efforts to begin the decarbonisation process offer a lot of opportunities promising social and economic benefits. Moreover, renewables would be a low-cost source of energy and power generation which could ease the country’s economic liabilities such as import bills and circular debt. This saved financial resources can enable the government to spend more on development, poverty reduction and climate adaptation.

Note: This article has been produced based on expert discussion in a webinar jointly organised by ‘The Knowledge Forum’ and ‘Climate Analytics’ titled “The Path to Climate Action: Rethinking Fossil Fuels in Pakistan’s Energy Mix”, conducted on 13 July 2023. The webinar is available on TKF’s YouTube channel at @theknowledgeforum.

Muhammad Rafique


Muhammad Rafique is human & labour rights expert. He holds M.A in Political Science.

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