Pakistan has been the 8th-most affected country when it comes to climate change. Although the government recognizes that vulnerability, there is a lot of room for forming an effective adaptation plan.
Pakistan has set aside 7.6 billion rupees ($47 million) for addressing climate change in its 2019-2020 budget. This will be spent on new initiatives and ongoing schemes including climate-resilient urban settlements, the establishment of a Geomatic Centre for Climate Change and of a Pakistan Water, Sanitation & Hygiene Strategic Planning and Coordination Cell, as well as sustainable land management projects to combat desertification. Pakistan planted a billion trees in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region, and there is a commitment to plant 10 billion trees over the next five-to-eight years.
But governments cannot achieve climate change targets by themselves. Increasing public-private partnerships are required. Global trends in innovation have led to the advent of ‘cleantech’ - technological innovations with sustainable aims, such as reducing our carbon footprint, meeting the demands for clean energy, cleaner air and water, producing healthy food for our ever-growing population, and the optimal utilization of finite resources.
Fossil fuel-based energy generation is one of the biggest contributors to climate change. In Pakistan, the sector is now marred by a pile-up of huge circular debt, thanks to poor quality transmission and distribution, as well as revenue losses in the form of unpaid bills. And there has been a lack of attention to achieving an appropriate and sustainable energy mix - and so today there is a great need for a new policy direction. Microgrids, microturbines, wind turbines and solar photovoltaics are redefining energy generation and distribution with more and more start-ups trying to capture the inefficiencies in the current distribution models. Technology and the low cost of acquisition now make it possible to set up distributed generation systems for unserved or underserved populations much faster, with onsite renewables, onsite storage and distribution.
Cleantech is not limited to clean energy, however. It extends to agriculture and food production through processes such as precision farming, smart irrigation, quality monitoring, logistics and plant sciences for the creation of sustainable protein sources. Our agriculture sector is vulnerable to heat stress, changes in productivity, and changes in water availability. Increasing droughts and floods will impact food production; coupled with our ever-growing population, this will increase the risk of food security and hunger.
Moreover, cleantech innovations are playing a critical role by recycling plastics, municipal solid waste or industrial waste, including e-waste, and in spreading awareness around the consumption of plastics. Cleantech has also impacted the transportation and logistics industry with the invention of autonomous and connected vehicles, electric vehicles and charging infrastructure, logistics services, new mobility business models, and sharing infrastructure.
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Challenges for the cleantech sector range from regulatory frameworks to the inefficiencies of conventional systems and a lack of investor confidence. Globally, cleantech firms received $332.1 billion in investment in 2018 due to increased efforts by governments to align their regulatory frameworks with sustainable development; however, this has not been the case in Pakistan, where we are still spending heavily on fossil fuel-based energy. There is a huge need to alter our system, which subsidises fossil fuels. This issue needs to be dealt with at the legal and regulatory levels in order to remove subsides and to make renewable energy competitive. Innovative finance, technology development and switching from conventional energy systems will require investors to be on board with the government.
The government should provide basic funding for research by providing grants to universities and other researchers, and offering tax credits on private sector research. In Pakistan, which has many energy projects in the pipeline through the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, the government should include renewables in its integrated energy planning, in order to attract investment at scale in cleantech, and should include cleantech targets in primary legislation, provide green financing options and most importantly phase out fossil fuel subsidies. Its focus must now be on greening projects across all sectors throughout the country.