The Coal disillusion in Asia

August 24, 2017 Asia , Environment , Opinion , OPINION/NEWS , Pakistan

AFP photo



Zeeshan A. Shah


In recent years, talks about the coal revolution are taking shape within pockets of Asia, yet there remains little understanding on the depth and gravity of the process. Asia leads ahead coal being the center for gravitational power for future excavations within certain hidden regions of Asia. Pakistan is one such hidden gem with one of the largest untapped coal reserves in the world.

The World Bank’s largest ever assistance to Pakistan had been for the Thar Coal project. The institution invested a massive $8 billion out of the $13 billion required to kick off the project a few years back and today it marks a reality if ensured, and can lead up to over 100,000 jobs within the desert community, alongside with a permanent solution to cheap and reliable energy for the country that is embroiled with turmoil and a severe water and power crisis.

By the year 2040, renewables will finally have won the global energy race. The prices of coal and gas will have dropped significantly, but this will not derail the de-carbonization of our energy systems. Last year on 12th  December, the Paris Accord was the world’s first universal, legally-binding deal to tackle climate change; setting out a long-term emissions reduction goal of keeping the global temperature increase “well below 2C”, while pursuing efforts to limit the rise to 1.5C. Later in April in New York, over 170 country leaders came together to ratify it. Yet, it is not that simple. The Paris Agreement is a two-step process: countries must first sign the Agreement, and then indicate their consent to join and be legally bound by it. The ratification signatures of at least 55 countries – representing more than 55% of global carbon emissions – are required for the deal to formally apply from 2020.

Coal production and mining is a hard road ahead towards resolving the energy crisis and requires careful attention to detail on infrastructure commitments, financial assistance through funding agencies and credible human resources mobilization to achieve desired results over time. Here in Pakistan, we just might be sitting on the world’s biggest coal reserve that can change the course of history for the country.

A lot needs to be cleared about this hidden untapped natural resource.

At 380 kilometers from the city of Karachi, the massive natural resource is spread over 4,719,025 acres in Thar Desert, bound on the eastern side of the border with India. The region is a vast desert plain, where people rely on rainfall and monsoons to cultivate Bajra and Gawaar as cattle and livestock contribute 60% of their livelihood. In good rainy years, lentils, melons and sesame are also grown. Handicrafts, cloth embroidery and carpet weaving are the other sources of income. Between vast sand dunes the flat plain offers a chance to cultivate and live, in an arid zone hit by drought in the last 6 to 7 years. With this discovery, we could look at revolutionary changes in the entire region of the under privileged segments of society situated in the desert.

Thar-Desert in the past has been low on political priority, hence the area’s communication levels are not up to the mark while education and negligible have been neglected. Research indicates power production through crude oil is becoming unfeasible due to its high price, an alternative solution to produce cheap energy being the need of the hour. Coal seems to be the prime candidate as it caters to over 40% of the world’s power generation and is increasing day by day specifically in developing countries. WEO (world energy outlook) forecasts future energy demand in emerging Asian countries increase to 60% by 2020, increasing massively from 26% in 1980.

Fossil fuel will remain the primary source of energy through 2030 with demand peaking to 90%, with markets like India, China and Pakistan using coal as the dominant fuel. Moreover, coal is the most vital, abundant, cost-effective and secure fossil fuel. Coal is also the safest fossil fuel for storage and transportation. The estimated inferred coal resources are between 1.2 km to 4.8 km below earth’s surface and indicated coal resources between 400 meters and 1.2 km below the ground.

The coalfield is a huge project, requiring precision and drilling know-how, hence it has been divided into four blocks. The immediate objective is to explore up to 500 million tons per block to cater the needs of four power generation units producing 1,000MW of energy for the next 30 years.

The international community has highlighted the inherent risks of coal mining with India and China suffering thousands of casualties due to failure to adhere the health and environment laws and regulation. In India, there are 70,000 premature deaths annually due to coal pollution. Even in developed countries like the United States, coal burning is responsible for approximately 13,200 deaths, 9,700 hospitalizations, and more than 20,000 heart attacks annually.

The KYOTO protocol, Toronto declaration, the World Summit on sustainable development has taken up this serious matter to protect people worldwide and ensure project and people safety simultaneously.

New technologies have to be introduced with an immense effort required by the government to inculcate the concept of 100% safety and zero negligence, if projects like these are to be implanted successfully for life.

The time is now for our government to step up the works on building blocks and make this giant initiative project, the biggest success story of Asia and lead Pakistan to be the ultimate winner as an energy giant. The actual success on ground requires great steps towards higher governance, strict accountability on fund utilization and the performance of the provincial government taking it to high priority level. No single country can stand alone and face such odds in the wake of the events that have taken place in the region. This mammoth task will become an illusion if it does not incorporate collective efforts by the federal and provincial government, the armed forces, the bureaucracy and the international community to achieve progress in coal extraction, treatment and exploration to the highest standards.

In the end, the reality lies within the depths of the earth and it is up to us as the community to ensure that we advocate the right of the people who stand to gain out of this discovery and bring about the dis-illusion of coal in Pakistan that will have the greatest impact in Asia in years to come.





Zeeshan A. Shah

The writer is a Director at CNNA Pakistan – a leading advocacy institute and is an expert on International Relations and Education Policy.

With over 150 publications in major local and global social media & newspapers, he has been instrumental in producing over 5000 radio broadcasts aired globally.

A thought leader, environmental journalist, media broadcaster and a change maker with an acute focus on development affairs & education for Pakistan.

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