Invest in clean, not coal power

While imperatives of capital investment and profit on the part of international donors are aggressively pushing way for fossil fuel-based options of power production against increasing demand of power in the countries like Pakistan, the citizens of recipient countries, however, are prioritizing clean and renewable sources of energy over coal-fired power.

Findings of a recently conducted survey reveal that citizens of six countries, including Pakistan, have shown a strong preference for clean rather than coal energy. The six countries polled are among the top 10 locations for proposed coal power plant construction globally other than China. Coal-fired power, notorious for its emissions of greenhouse gases, is increasingly abandoned by the developed countries. Pakistan’s reliance on it, however, has remarkably increased in recent years due to aggressive Chinese investment.

A majority of the survey respondents, ranging between 61% in Pakistan and 89% in Vietnam, selected renewable energy sources when asked about the type of energy they felt their country should invest in for better long-term development.

The first multi-country online survey has been conducted by ‘E3G’ an independent think tank, in six China-led Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) countries-Indonesia, Pakistan, Philippines, South Africa, Turkey and Vietnam. In Pakistan, total sample size was 1,016 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 9th and 17th April 2019.

When the environmental activists were raising their voices against disastrous impact of climate change along the sidelines of second BR Forum in Beijing last month, their reverberations were heard here in Pakistan

The think tank, operating to accelerate global transition to low carbon economy, specializes in climate diplomacy, climate risk, energy policy and climate finance. Its summary report ‘Clean Energy, not Coal: Citizens views of Foreign Investment’, available on its website, provides full details of the polling results. Coal-fired power is among the lowest priorities in all six countries. The public in these countries want their governments to prioritize investment in solar, wind and hydro power.

Over 85% citizens of the six countries, including Pakistan, said they would favor foreign governments, banks and companies that invested in renewable energy in their countries. In contrast, public favor for the foreign entities investing in fossil fuel based sources of energy was found to be much less, ranging between 44% in Turkey and 51% in Vietnam.

In every country top association with investment in coal power is either that it worsens the climate or increases air and water pollution. 53% respondents linked coal power with climate change and global warming. The public in South Africa, Philippines and Vietnam associated coal power with corruption.


Pakistan is the only country where a positive attribute-“creates job”-is the top association for foreign investment in coal. However, more people in Pakistan say that foreign investment in wind and solar power creates jobs than the same for coal power.

Results of the poling conducted ahead of BR Forum for International Cooperation held on 25-27 April in Beijing clearly highlights that the citizens’ preferences for clean energy are at odds with the government energy policies and investment packages favoring coal.

Heavily reliant on thermal power, Pakistan has currently been producing 4% energy from renewable sources. According to International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), however, the total solar and wind capacity has quadrupled from 538MW in 2015 to 2,724MW in 2018. Moreover, the incumbent government supports clean energy and is considering a new national policy to increase the contribution of renewables to 30% in national grid by 2030.

Pakistan has attracted Chinese investment both in coal power and renewable energy. It received $ 5.9 billion of Chinese funding for 9.5GW of coal-fired capacity under development. Some of these proposals-the Gawadar, Hubco, Rahimyar Khan and Keti Bandar coal plants-are part of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

However due to financial reasons, the government of Pakistan has shelved 1320MW Rahimyar Khan coal plant and removed it from CPEC priority list. With $2.4 billion invested between 2013 and 2018, Pakistan has attracted an increasing amount of renewable energy investment and seeing more renewables being built under CPEC scheme.

“This polling provides clear evidence that the citizens of the BRI countries prefer clean energy investment over coal. China should now work with governments, business and investors at the upcoming BR Forum to make sure these demands are met,” said Nick Mabey, Chief Executive of E3G. When the environmental activists were raising their voices against disastrous impact of climate change along the sidelines of second BR Forum in Beijing last month, their reverberations were heard here in Pakistan.

“Environmental degradation is, no doubt, a common loss faced by people across the globe yet everyone does not suffer from it equally. A coal power plant in Sindh may cause serious public health and environmental problems for the people in other parts of Pakistan in long-term but the people of Sindh are bound to be its first and worst sufferer. Same is true for a host and donor country when they collaborate on an environmentally hazardous project,” said Muhammad Ali Shah, Chairman, Pakistan Fisher-folk Forum. His was not the lone voice against environmentally disastrous investment.

“If BRI is to usher in an era progress and prosperity, the progress and prosperity will have to be redefined in broader and holistic manner, taking into account the issue of intergenerational environmental justice. Progress and prosperity must not be reduced to short-term economic gains attained at the cost of high environmental price. Being mindful of adverse environmental consequences our globe is facing today due to unchecked carbon emissions for last several centuries, those at the helm of affairs will have to show unflinching commitment to green investment agenda both in their policies and practices,” said Dr. Nafisa Shah, a PPP’s MNA. Imran Khan, who in his keynote speech at BR Forum in Beijing last month, called for greater attention to tackle climate change, will have to set the policy priorities for environmentally clean energy. The government will have to press China to give environmentally clean, energy interventions precedence over the coal power plants in Pakistan.

The writer specializes in anthropology and history

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