WEBCAST: It’s Not Easy Being Green: Obstacles for Clean Energy in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor
This panel discussed the roadblocks for integrating green energy into the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
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Launched in 2015 as a flagship Belt and Road Initiative project, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) aims to ramp up infrastructure development in a big way. One of the major priority areas is power generation. Pakistan has considerable electricity shortfalls, and it has pledged to have an energy mix with 30% renewable energy by 2030. To date, Chinese state-owned enterprises have mainly built coal-fired power plants, while China’s mainly private renewable energy companies are facing enormous difficulties getting their “green” investments into CPEC.
This panel will discuss the roadblocks for integrating green energy into CPEC. Atika Rehman and Beth Walker(China Dialogue) will open by discussing the trends of China’s carbon-intensive energy investments in CPEC and their environmental impact. Wang Yan (an independent consultant formerly with Greenpeace) will draw on her field experience in Pakistan and discuss both the opportunities and obstacles for clean energy investment in CPEC. Michael Kugelman, the Wilson Center’s senior associate for South Asia and Asia Program deputy director, will discuss broader energy security considerations in Pakistan.
“When we come to talk about transparency and information and how they have changed in the last few years, there is nothing very positive to report, especially regarding environmental impact. Officials continue to be pretty defensive about CPEC projects and even though each project has to have an environmental impact assessment, both the previous and the current governments are not forthcoming about such information”
“There are very weak [air pollution] monitoring mechanisms in Pakistan. There is a growing pressure from citizens and from activists to install better air quality monitors. There have been private initiatives to install these monitors, but the readings are incredibly high and totally different from what the governments’ monitors are saying. The conversation in Pakistan is growing, especially because of a respiratory illness like COVID-19.”
“Coal doesn’t make economic sense for [Pakistan]. It’s far more expensive than solar and renewables and Chinese state-owned enterprises have secured lucrative deals on their power purchase deals which means that Pakistan has ended up paying for very expensive electricity and has had increased problems around circular debt in the power industry.”
“Pakistan is on track to actually face over-capacity of energy now by 2020. And so while Pakistan has turned to China asking for easier repayment terms on the CPEC, existing coal power plants are already standing idle.”
"In 2013, climate change and environmental issues were fringe topics in the CPEC negotiation process compared to the urgent need to quickly fill in the power gap and ease poverty. But now as the CPEC continues, the two countries plan to cooperate in more infrastructure projects and several Special Economic Zones."
"I believe both sides [China and Pakistan] should spend more time and attention on feasibility studies and project design to make the project greener to incorporate the long-term issues like climate change, environmental and ecological risks into decision making. And they should also try to increase transparency and to mitigate the skepticism and criticism from the local people towards China’s investment and create channels and platforms to help information disclosure and to foster the communication with the affected communities."
"The challenges of integrating clean energy projects into the CPEC are notable. I think from the perspective of Beijing and Islamabad this is not a good time to be trying to get too ambitious despite the very genuine desire of the current Pakistani government to make clean energy a bigger part of its energy mix."
"I think what might be more realistic over the longer term is the Chinese support for Pakistan solar and wind projects or other clean energy initiatives that take place outside the CPEC enterprise."
"Despite those positive signs for the CPEC, even the slowdown it's facing, it’s going to be important for Pakistan and China to prioritize the aspects that the CPEC has the greatest chance of yielding relatively quick and visible progress and I think that difficult clean energy projects simply don’t make the cut."
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