Despite being a low emitter of greenhouse gases, Pakistan faces particular risk from the threat of global climate change. In a recent column for Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, Michael Kugelman noted several of the devastating effects that Pakistan has suffered as the result of global climate change – historic flooding in Sindh destroyed not only thousands of lives, but is estimated to have caused $40 billion in damage to critical infrastructure; an avalanche on the Siachen glacier earlier this year took the lives of 124 Pakistani soldiers and 11 civilians. But Pakistanis are a resilient people who have persevered in spite of immense challenges. And though Pakistan is not responsible for global climate change, they are doing much to find a solution.
In his column, Mr. Kugelman noted a few of the steps that Pakistan has taken to address the threat of global climate change – the adoption of a National Climate Change Policy and Action Plan as well as programmes to promote tree planting and storm water harvesting. Each of these plays an important role in reducing the impact of climate change, but Pakistan is doing much more.
A feasibility study is underway for extensive rehabilitation of the Renala Hydel Power Station to improve its efficiency, and Pakistan is rehabilitating the Nara canal in Sindh. Working in partnership with USAID, Pakistan is rehabilitating the Tarbela Dam and the Jamshoro Power Station, and constructing the Satpara Dam and an adjacent canal system that will provide improved irrigation and serve as a significant source of drinking water for the residents of Gilgit-Baltistan.
In April, the government of Pakistan elevated the issue of climate change to a cabinet level portfolio by creating the Ministry of Climate Change to oversee research and implementation of projects to mitigate the effects of climate change and reduce the risks to the region, and most importantly to the Pakistani people.
The government of Pakistan also recently launched the Reducing Risks and Vulnerabilities from Glacier Lake Outburst Floods project in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme to improve both human and technical capacity to address immediate risks for those vulnerable to future flooding. In May, the government initiated the Punjab Environmental Protection Council, improving environmental oversight and increasing fines on polluters.
While Pakistan repairs and rehabilitates existing infrastructure, they are also developing the technology of tomorrow. Though some nations continue to emphasize development of fossil fuels, Pakistan is a leader in the field of developing clean and renewable alternative energy sources. In 2010, President Zardari told the Ministry of Water and Power that “The energy crisis has forced upon a vigorous search for out of box, imaginative and bold solutions.”
Since then, the Ministry’s Alternative Energy Development Board signed a Memorandum of Understanding with China for wind power and solar energy projects in Pakistan of worth approximately $6.5 billion. The Chief Minister of Sindh hosted representatives of China’s United Energy Group for a ceremony to commemorate a new cooperative project that will build a 150 Megawatt wind power project in Thatta and Jamshoro.
Solar power, too, is taking off in Pakistan. Thanks to the government’s Rural Electrification Programme, thousands of homes in 49 villages in Sindh are powered by solar energy, and funds have been approved to expand solar electrification projects to hundreds of villages in Balochistan. This week, the government of Punjab announced another own program to provide solar and biogas units to the poor and small farmers.
Pakistan’s work to repair and rehabilitate existing infrastructure as well as to develop innovative alternative energy projects is being carried out in every province, and in every sector of the economy. The cutting edge research and development taking place in Pakistan can help solve one of the world’s most pressing issues, and the success of joint US-Pakistan energy projects also provides a glimpse into what we can achieve when we work together.