Environmental Impact Assessment of CPEC Projects and Mitigation Strategy

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By Dr. Abdul Rauf

Climate change, global warming, environmental degradation are some of the terms we hear quite often nowadays. All these issues not only exist but are getting worse with each passing day. Thus we owe it to our future generations to find ways to mitigate these effects. Global warming is causing climate change and because of that global average surface temperature is increasing, glaciers are melting, sea levels are rising, recurrence of deadly heat waves are on rise, precipitation patterns are changing, droughts are common, flash floods are getting worse, cyclones are getting stronger and a lot of other indicators are creating alarms. Pakistan currently ranks 7th most vulnerable country on the Global Climate Risk Index. It is therefore important to carry out a brief Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of CPEC projects and see how the negative environmental impacts can be mitigated whereas micro level assessment of each project needs to be carried out separately. All infrastructure developments need cement and steel. Cement production requires limestone, water and burning of a lot of fossil fuel, producing carbon dioxide which is a major greenhouse gas responsible for global warming, limestone on heating also produces additional 17 Analysis CO2. Steel production is also very energy intensive process producing a lot of CO2. Implementation of Gwadar master plan including construction of deep sea port must ensure that it does not affect the environment and marine life. The blue beaches in the area must remain blue. Sewerage water shall not go to the sea without proper treatment. All other waste from the city including domestic and industrial waste may be disposed of properly as at present plastic is the main source of pollution in seas. It is important that immediately after the construction, native trees are planted and maintained in the area. In addition to producing clean air and lowering temperature, trees on road sides are also useful to reduce traffic noise. Construction of new roads and expansion of existing roads may cause cutting of trees /flora and use of fertile agricultural land, which needs to be minimized by carefully designing the route and employing environment-friendly construction practices. The issues of soil, water, air and noise pollution during the construction work need to be controlled. Areas on either side of road can be isolated and converted into pockets which may hinder movement of local population, wild species and flood water flow, unless overhead bridges, underpasses, culverts and wildlife corridors are carefully planned. The routes of CPEC are constructed for the movement of goods. Trains, especially electric powered using power generated by renewable sources, are much better for environment than road transport that produces excessive CO2 by combustion engines. Environmental issues should be given due weightage during planning and execution phase of CPEC projects. Oil and gas may be transported by pipelines instead of road or rail transport. All three CPEC routes converge in Gilgit-Baltistan region, with one of the largest glacier systems in the world, and global warming is already causing recession of these glaciers. Moving a large number of trucks will not only increase greenhouse gas emissions in the area but carbon on snow causes snow to be less reflective resulting into increased melting rates. Although there are certain renewable (hydro, wind and solar) energy projects planned which are environment friendly but still bulk of energy in CPEC projects (69%), is planned to be produced by coal including, 660 MW at Port Qasim, 660 MW at Sahiwal, 300MW at Gwadar, 1,320MW at Hub and large number of coal-fired power plants at Thar using local coal. High efficiency, low emissions technologies with working efficiencies of nearly 45% using supercritical or ultra-supercritical steam cycle technology that releases less pollutants are required to be employed in the newly constructed coal-fired power plants under CPEC. These coal power plants will emit a lot of greenhouse gases bulk of which is CO2. Though bulk of global electricity generation (around 40%) still uses coal, due to its availability and being cheap, nonetheless, its effect on environment cannot be ignored. Pakistan has vast reserves of coals and hence coal power projects are economically viable. But there is a need to look into controlling the emissions from these plants. High efficiency, low emissions technologies with working efficiencies of nearly 45% using supercritical or ultra-supercritical steam cycle technology that releases less pollutants are required to be employed in the newly constructed coal-fired power plants under CPEC. Carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology involving capturing and safe disposal of CO2 produced by coal power plants is mature enough to be deployed. Beside CO2 emission coal also produce particulate matter (PM) and sulphur dioxide (SO2) which causes air pollution. Efficient scrubbers will be required to control the PM and other pollutant gases from the exhaust. Our local coal including Thar coal is inefficient and rich in sulphur contents, burning this coal will release a lot of SO2 in the atmosphere which may cause acid rain and respiratory diseases, unless efficient and effective desulfurization equipment to clean sulphur from the smoke is utilized. Proper disposal of coal ash (including fly ash, bottom ash and boiler slag) to avoid any environmental impact is also required. Although a number of special economic zones are planned as part of CPEC but at the moment not many details about the actual industries are available. Detailed EIA of each industry is required as these industries may cause soil, air and water pollution. Natural resources especially underground water need to be utilized by industry in a sustainable way as water table in most part of the country has already gone down to dangerous levels. CPEC projects are critical for the development of this region; no one can deny the positive economic and social benefits of these projects. Energy is a dire requirement and in fact it is the energy consumption per capita that indicates the standard of living. Road and rail communication is also critical. During this progress we need to make sure that these developments have least impact on environment. Therefore, environmental issues should be given due weightage during planning and execution phase of these projects. Detailed EIA of each project is essentially required. Global regulations for safeguarding the environment exist; we just need to implement these regulations for CPEC projects. To make CPEC projects really beneficial and fruitful in economic and social sectors it is important that these do not cause any harm to our environment.

Courtesy JISS, Islamabad.

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