ENERGY transitions are complex beasts. As Pakistan’s crucial energy transition gets underway, not only do power generation, fuel substitution, private sector incentivisation, green financing and energy efficiency remain areas of interest for markets, consumers and policymakers, so does the transport sector. Transport’s ‘contribution’ to climate change, air quality degradation and health issues in Pakistan are both relevant and immediate. As the resident bad-guy-on-the-block, transport contributes towards the import bill (as biofuels) as well as the country’s energy insecurity.
In order to combat climate change, move towards cheaper, cleaner fuels, reduce the impact on the environment and have more inclusive growth, Pakistan has continued to aggressively adopt policies of energy transition, strengthened institutional capacity, invested in generation, transmission and despatch infrastructure, introduced synergistic operational measures and adopted ambitious energy targets over the last one decade.
To date, however, there has been a concerted effort — with results — in two areas primarily: power generation (off-grid solarisation, electricity wheeling regulations, institutional and regulatory support for renewable energy generation, etc) and energy efficiency (programmes under the National Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority and the Punjab Energy Efficiency and Conservation Agency, for example).
Contrary to appearances, the total final energy consumption of an average country does not happen in the commercial or residential sector. Since 1990, for example, global commercial usage of energy has remained at around seven per cent, residential usage has reduced from 25pc to around 20pc, while the industry and transport sectors have continued to consume about 30pc of the total final energy consumption each! While the global energy consumption by the transport sector has increased from 25pc to 30pc during this time — 1990 to 2019 — Pakistan’s total final consumption through transport has doubled. Arguably, with residential share being the highest (48pc in 2019) in Pakistan, followed by industry (25pc) and then by transport (18.4pc), the policy thrust to date has been in the right direction — power generation through renewables (producing more — supply side) and energy efficiency (using less — supply side).
Deploying EVs isn’t enough to decarbonise transport.
However, this leaves the transport sector, the bad-guy-on-the-block, quite untouched. The impact of current sectoral dynamics is becoming ever more evident with industry data showing high, combustion-engine, vehicle sales for the last two years — fuelled by new vehicle manufacturers’ entry into Pakistan and more choice for the increasingly affluent urban consumers — on the one hand, and cities choked with smog for several months at a stretch on the other.
The Pakistan Electric Vehicle Policy, 2019, had been the first policy to set ambitious zero emission vehicle targets, referred to as electric vehicle or EV targets. Simply put, this meant aiming at the deployment of zero-carbon-emission vehicles (two-/ three-wheelers, cars, buses and trucks). The policy set adoption targets for these combined with incentives for buyers and manufacturers. The ambitious goal for cars, for example, was set at 30pc of new sales by 2030 and 90pc of new sales by 2040. Similar targets were set for two-/ three-wheelers, buses and trucks. Buyer incentives included lower GST. The need for charging infrastructure development was also cited, and again in the EV 2021-25 non-cars policy.
Targets are important. It’s just that these are not enough.
A stark reality check is needed here. As the global electric car stock reached 10 million in 2020, and the world gears towards EV sales comprising 60pc of the total by 2030, the reality is that not only is the developed world keen to offload its combustion engine vehicles onto us — the recent fast-paced influx of semi-SUV combustion engine vehicle manufacturers in Pakistan is an indication — but the legacy stock of combustion engine vehicles is also expected to remain the biggest stock globally in 2030 and beyond. It will comprise an even greater share in countries like ours where EV transition is likely to be slow.
EV targets will not do. Fuel efficiency standards for all vehicles must be made mandatory for lessening carbon within the transport sector. If we are to succeed, then policy must focus on low-carbon, fuel-efficient new vehicles, while putting in measures that make fuel efficiency standards mandatory — pushing for both retirement of older vehicle stock but also, more importantly, not allowing Western manufacturers to offload lower efficiency vehicles onto an immature consumer market such as ours.
The writer is an academic with an interest in renewable energy and project management.
Published in Dawn, December 26th, 2021