The writer has spent over 25 years advising on and writing about climate and environmental issues in over 60 countries globally.
The writer has spent over 25 years advising on and writing about climate and environmental issues in over 60 countries globally.

PRESIDENT Donald Trump’s recent announcement to pull the US out of the Paris climate agreement is going to help put other countries ‘first’ in terms of the biggest job opportunities ever. Businesses are forever trying to figure out what the market wants, so they can supply it, and make money. As businesses grow, they create jobs and contribute to economic growth.

To put it simply, climate change is a real opportunity for businesses. It is guaranteeing a current and future global market for energy and water efficiency services and products, as well as alternative (non-fossil fuel) energy products, such as solar energy, wind power, and electric cars. In response, the energy industry is transforming at a breakneck speed similar to that of the information revolution. Former US vice president Al Gore and Bill Gates compare this change to the Industrial Revolution. The agricultural industry is not far behind. What does all this mean for Pakistan?

I was delighted to learn that Pakistan is one of 19 countries whose citizens are aware of climate change, viewing it as a top global threat, according to a 2015 Pew Research Centre survey. Sadly though, I suspect, we know about climate change due to the massive loss of life caused by adverse weather events, such as the floods in 2010 and 2013 and the extremely high temperatures in the last few years. Pakistan’s geography, with its mountains, glaciers, river systems and coastline, is such that we will continue to be severely affected by climate change.

In Pakistan, we have an opportunity to shift directly to non-fossil fuel energy sources.

After all, if you think about it, snow and ice ensure that water is available for growing crops during the summer, when it is needed. If the water cannot stay stored as ice till the summer because of slightly higher temperatures and melts too soon, there will be flooding in spring. This in turn leads to droughts during summertime, when we actually need the water. For a primarily agricultural country, this is a very steep price to pay.

Furthermore, varying water levels in our rivers could also affect hydropower generation, which is our major source of electricity. At the other end of the country, Karachi, on the coastline, could be prone to sea-level rise and urban flooding, even more so given the depletion of mangroves which are typically the first line of defence. As you can see, climate change is creating havoc with our water. The media has repeatedly noted that Pakistan is the seventh most climate-affected country in the world according to the Global Climate Risk Index 2017.

As a country, Pakistan’s production per capita of greenhouse gases that warm the atmosphere is low. So there is not much anxiety associated with reducing fossil fuels immediately. But many countries are very focused on reducing GHG emissions, creating a global demand for these alternative energy products. However, in these countries, where people are already connected to electricity grids and power plants are functioning, it will take time to shift to new sources of power.

In Pakistan, where our power generation still does not fully meet citizens’ needs, we have an opportunity to shift directly to non-fossil fuel energy sources. Pakistani businesses can take advantage of this situation and be first movers in this new market, capturing both a guaranteed domestic market but also positioning themselves early for the guaranteed global market. Given that these products have a very different cost structure, in terms of capital and O&M costs, as well as a more decentralised generation mode, the opportunity is not only in the actual technology, but also in the development of new financial models, contractual arrangements, and service delivery models to facilitate access to these services for the general public.

For example, allowing ‘net metering’ so residential households can sell surplus electricity generated from decentralised solar panels back to the grid. Having followed alternative energy developments over more than 25 years, I believe that it is all the ‘how to get it done’ transactions that, at the end of the day, will be crucial in capturing those markets. And Pakistanis are pretty good at that, if they put their minds to it, and the right financial and non-financial incentives are in place.

At an individual level, there is also a lot to do. It is mainly about behaviour change. For one thing, we need to be much more conscious of minimising our energy and water use. In our household, I may be the environmental specialist, but it is my children who tell me how I could use less water when washing dishes. Why? It is those years of instruction in school since the age of four about the need to turn off lights and taps. One friend living in Australia tells us how her son started timing his showers to ensure that they were shorter than three minutes.

We need to start prioritising these messages in our schools. We also need to start buying more energy-, fuel- and water-efficient products, such as refrigerators, electric appliances, cars and washing machines. We need to think about how we can reduce the number of our trips in cars and motorcycles. We need to stop burning trash, releasing greenhouse gas into the atmosphere. We need to ask questions like ‘why don’t we see more solar water heaters?’ living in a country with such high levels of sunshine. We need to start planting more native plants in our gardens, as typically they use a lot less water.

It may sound like a lot of ‘need to’s, but not only will these actions prepare us better to cope in a climate-changed world, they will also result in immediate benefits. The first one is a reduction in our water and energy bills, leading to more money in our pockets. Reduction in greenhouse gases is also correlated with reduction of fine particulate matter emissions into the air, which will help to improve our air quality and thus reduce our incidence of heart disease, lung cancer and respiratory illnesses. And don’t forget the massive potential gains associated with creating a potential world-class industry for the supply of alternative energy services and more energy-/water-efficient products.

So doing something for our children and grandchildren’s future will also benefit our lives today. Don’t you think it’s time we make responding to climate change one of the crucial election issues on which we judge our political parties in 2018?

The writer has spent over 25 years advising on and writing about climate and environmental issues in over 60 countries globally.

Published in Dawn, June 12th, 2017

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