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CPEC: An environmental disaster

environmental
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Waqar Khan |

Slicing through the Himalayas, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a flagship project of China’s One Belt and One Road Initiative. The 3,000 km, over $50 billion corridor, is a network of railways, roads, and pipelines to transport gas and oil from Gwadar port in the south of Pakistan to Kashgar city in north-western China’s Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region.

CPEC has undeniable economic and geopolitical importance for not only China and Pakistan but is also being anticipated as a game changer for the whole region and now after the entry of Pakistan into Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) along with India, it’s being considered of great importance for world trade.

To tackle the problem of transport pollution, installation of catalytic converters in the concerned trucks that pass through the highways can reduce heavy emissions.

The environmental crisis is an existential threat to the life of all human and non-human species and to inanimate nature.

Now that the CPEC has been underway for almost two years, different energy generation projects and physical infrastructures are being completed. Some projects are to be completed by 2030, along with providing a boost to diverse economic activities they will also result in the environmental degradation and the political elite has yet to take into consideration its devastating impact on the environment.

It has been estimated that hundreds of trucks will pass through the ecologically sensitive Karakorum highway each day. According to another estimate, the number of trucks would reach up to 7,000 a day when CPEC will reach its full swing.

Read more: India’s ethno-terror proxies: From East Pakistan to CPEC

The ugly dark fumes released and the dust blown by these trucks along their way to the Gwadar and on their way back to Kashgar city will eventually settle on the glaciers, where they form a black layer. This black layer does two things; firstly it reduces its capacity to reflect sunlight and secondly, it starts absorbing the heat waves thus speeding the process of melting of glaciers and forming lakes.

The government should realize that hasty and reckless plans it is implementing today have the potential to harm the future of Pakistan. It should do cost-benefit calculations and keep environmental costs.

Other than transportation the major concern for the environment is the power generation projects under CPEC. Like all other ventures under CPEC, the government of Pakistan is very optimistic about the power generation projects and foreseeing that these will act as a backbone of the energy sector in combating the energy crisis faced by Pakistan.

No doubt these energy projects have the potential to help Pakistan in solving the load shedding crisis, which is a great hindrance in industrial and thus economic growth, but the fact is that most of the projects will make use of coal as it would be the cheapest. Pakistan has a huge amount of untapped coal reservoirs, which would be a matter of great concern for environmental security.

China is a living example before our eyes, where she has made remarkable progress in economic development in the last few decades, but has also inflicted irreparable damage to its environment. This is due to the tremendous use of coal in its energy production. Breathing the polluted air in the most populous cities of China inflicts irreparable damage to the lungs, consequently reducing the region’s life expectancy.

Read more: Why China needs CPEC?

Conversely, the use of coal could be a viable option for short-term and medium-term planning, but due to the potential of irreparable damage that it would inflict to the environment, it should never be considered as a long-term energy strategy.

The environmental problems caused by CPEC are inevitable but the government can take steps to limit the damage in some cases.

Enormous numbers of trees are coming in the way as large tracks of highways are being constructed under CPEC. Many parts of highways are passing through the forested areas of the country, which are home to diverse wildlife and are being deprived of tens of thousands of trees.

The oxygen we breathe in every moment of our life is produced by trees. The cutting down of trees eliminates the opportunity for the trees to produce oxygen and contributes to the growing pollution. Cutting of trees also leads to health problems, extinction of species, depletion of water resources, soil erosion, dangerous landslides and devastating floods.

These are just three of the cases where the damaging environmental impact of the various projects under CPEC needs to be intercepted by the government. Relevant institutions need to carry out comprehensive assessments for the damage likely to be inflicted on the environment. The academia needs to come up with the project-by-project cost-benefit analysis in the long run, considering the economic, environmental and social costs.

Read more: How is the government confusing all of us on CPEC?

China is a living example before our eyes, where she has made remarkable progress in economic development in the last few decades, but has also inflicted irreparable damage to its environment.

These profound environmental costs of different projects needs to be addressed so that CPEC could be made more sustainable environmentally as well. The government should not take the natural environment for granted and for the survival of the future generation have to take substantive measures for the protection and preservation of the natural environment.

The concerned authorities must realize that the visionless faith in CPEC as being a “game changer” for economic development can bring more harm than good and can end up inflicting irreversible damage to the environment. The environmental problems caused by CPEC are inevitable but the government can take steps to limit the damage in some cases.

To tackle the problem of transport pollution, installation of catalytic converters in the concerned trucks that pass through the highways can reduce heavy emissions. While reducing emissions from coal-based power plants, latest plants will be used, which are as clean as gas-based plants, with higher efficiency and lower fuel consumption per megawatt.

Read more: Why is US against CPEC?

Finally, the cutting of trees can be compensated with growing more trees and concerned provincial governments can do projects like KP’s Billion Tree Tsunami. The government should realize that hasty and reckless plans it is implementing today have the potential to harm the future of Pakistan. It should do cost-benefit calculations and keep environmental costs in mind before implementing any plan or project like CPEC.

Waqar Khan is a student of International Relations at School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad. Email: waqark371@gmail.com. The views expressed in this article are authors own the do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space. 


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