ISLAMABAD: A European think tank has blamed the World Bank for a role in Pakistan’s energy sector problems over the decades and for rushing through a long-term power generation plan based on dirty and expensive fuels under its ‘prior actions’ of loan programmes.

Recourse — an Amsterdam-based non-profit organisation — claims it holds financial institutions to account for harms to people and the environment and is funded by foundations and organisations working for environment and development under the European Union.

In its report “World Bank’s Development Policy Finance (DPF) 2015-21: Stuck in a carbon rut”, the European think tank said its studies in Indonesia and Pakistan showed the WB was “accelerating the use of natural gas and supporting fragile energy sectors that are heavily invested in coal”.

‘Prior actions’ of the lender back a long-term power production plan that contradicts itself, says report

“In Pakistan the case study observes how DPF can have unintended consequences, even when ostensibly it is seeking to support a renewable energy transition,” the report said, adding the $400 million Programme for Affordable and Clean Energy (PACE) 2021/22 focused on measures to support the country’s transition to low-carbon energy. This loan disbursement was dependent on a prior action that required a commitment from the Pakistan government to transition to 66pc renewable energy by 2030 through the adoption of Indicative Generation Capacity Expansion Plan (IGCEP), a least-cost generation plan. However, targets on renewable energy sources were slashed from 30-33pc of the energy mix to 17pc.

The energy plan includes the “commissioning of a portfolio of new generation projects including many hydropower projects, Thar coal-based projects, K-3 nuclear power plant, and over 4,000MW of solar- and wind-based renewable energy projects,” the report said, adding that the DPF was not subject to proper checks and balances in terms of transparency and accountability.

The report said the World Bank’s Prior Actions were opening a Pandora’s Box for unsustainable energy in Pakistan. The report said that despite the Paris Climate Agreement of 2015, the World Bank committed $1.1 billion between 2014 and 2016 to energy sector reform in Pakistan that had an emphasis on tariff reform as “Prior Actions” to the disbursement of funds. “This tariff reform paved the way for Pakistan’s National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (Nepra) to offer the most attractive upfront tariff for coal-fired power projects in the world”, thereby setting the stage for massive expansion of coal in the Thar region and beyond.

In 2021, Pakistan is completing its second year of foundational reforms to comply with ‘Prior Actions’ for three DPF operations amounting to $1.4bn. “In our analysis, the Prior Actions required by this DPF operation have had a destabilising effect on Pakistan’s ability to transition to a sustainable renewable energy pathway,” the report claimed.

On August 26, 2021, it said, Pakistan’s cabinet committee on energy under immense pressure to meet its Prior Actions towards the World Bank gave its hasty approval to the controversial IGCEP, which was approved a month later by Nepra with a strong dissenting note from Nepra’s vice-chairman who refused to sign it. The political pressure to fast-track the IGCEP came in August when WB Vice President Hartwig Schafer visited Pakistan and urged the government to accelerate the pace of power sector reforms.

The generation mix in the new IGCEP is now dominated by expensive and dirty fossil fuels, with additions of around 8.5GW of coal, and 10GW of LNG and gas to be made in the next 10 years. The IGCEP itself confirms that renewable energy is quickly becoming cheapest forms of new electricity generation, yet the IGCEP contradicts itself with the recommendation to rely less on these sources.

“The IGCEP cannot, therefore, be considered a least-cost plan as it set out to do and it violates the very aims and purposes set by the Pakistan government and the World Bank. Yet the government is still pushing it through post-haste, because of the Prior Actions imposed by the bank itself,” the report said.

Published in Dawn, December 11th, 2021

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