Though China is moving rapidly to curtail its own coal-fired generating capacity, the country is still happy to buy coal-powered electricity from Pakistan and keep up its investments in Canada’s tar sands/oil sands.
Parts of Pakistan already face severe smog, caused partly by coal-based industries in India’s neighbouring Punjab state. “Beyond causing acute ailments such as asthma, lung tissue damage, bronchial infections, and heart problems, the smog also resulted in dozens of fatal road accidents due to poor visibility,” King Abdulaziz University adjunct professor Fahad Saeed reports on The Conversation.
“Imagine, then, what will happen to the environment when Pakistan begins mining billions of tonnes of coal, in part due to its plan to open at least five new coal power plants by 2018 under a new agreement with China.”
While Pakistan only accounts for 0.43% of global greenhouse gas emissions, it’s among the world’s 10 most vulnerable countries to climate change. “The country is grappling with many issues, including receding glaciers, floods, heat waves, droughts, shifting weather patterns, and declining groundwater levels—and the list goes on,” he writes. “Agriculture, which comprises 21% of Pakistan’s GDP, 60% of exports, and employs 45% of the national labour force, is particularly vulnerable to climate change.” All of which leads the country’s climate specialists to “see the issue as a bigger threat than terrorism.”
Saeed cites a Natural Resources Defense Council report that criticizes China for investing $25 billion in worldwide coal projects between 2007 and 2015, the period in which it recognized the hazards of its own dependence on the climate-busting fossil fuel. “Most international financial institutions turned away from coal,” but “China established itself as Pakistan’s partner in developing the new coal power plants,” he writes, supporting US$27.6 billion in investments to build 7,560 megawatts of new coal capacity under the 2015 China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) initiative.
“In the guise of bringing energy, this investment will harm the air, water, public health, and environment of Pakistan,” he warns. “The costs and lifespans of such coal projects can stretch over decades, trapping developing nations in a system of carbon-intensive energy use.”
Saeed cites the 1,320-MW Port Qasim project near Karachi, a mega-city of 25 million people, for the “disastrous damage” it represents for health and the environment.
“Why is China, a leader in renewable energy technologies, investing in coal-based projects abroad?” he asks. “It may be a way to provide overseas business opportunities for Chinese coal plant equipment manufacturers, engineering, and construction companies,” but “Pakistan’s domestic interests are otherwise.”