The prevalence of smog is evidence that coal simply needs to go

“Smog is a form of air pollution that is produced in the atmosphere when sunlight reacts with nitrogen oxides and at least one volatile organic compound.”

The major causes of atmospheric pollutants or gases that form smog are coal and oil operated plants, gasoline and diesel-run vehicles, crop burning and heating due to human activities. When heat from the sun reacts with these gases and fine particles in the atmosphere, smog is formed. Smog can be responsible for many health issues from minor pains to deadly pulmonary diseases such as lung cancer. Smog is well known for causing irritation in the eye. It can cause several other issues and human body finds it very difficult to defend itself against the smog’s harmful effects.

Pakistan, especially surroundings of Lahore is facing severe issues of smog nowadays. The city had witnessed a similar situation the last year as well.The major causes of this environmental issue are bad policies and infrastructure for power generations in the country. The government of Pakistan is on track to execute a power generation strategy, but this strategy could extract a potentially high environmental cost and even lives in the coming years and decades. While the world is moving towards cheap renewable energy resources, Pakistan is wasting money on expensive coal and other fossil fuel fired plants. These fossil fuel and oil and gas-powered plants are hazardous to public health as well as the environment. China is investing for coal operated power plants in Pakistan on the other hand China has been shutting down all of its coal power plants because of pollution issues. Pakistan is facing environmental issues much like China nowadays.

According to the environmental protection agency, coal power plants are the cause of worst air pollution. Coal power plants are major emitters of greenhouse gases (GHG), which according to a consensus of scientific organizations are a major contributor to global warming.

The present energy scenario of Pakistan is the worst in the history of the nation and has been marred by unprecedented load shedding and a massive circular debt. Pakistan spends around 60% of its total foreign exchange on the import of fossil fuels. High oil prices have forced the nation to curtail the quantity of oil being imported in the country and as a result demand-supply gap of electricity has increased. This raises serious questions about the long-term vision of our energy policymakers.

Figure 1: Pictures showing dense smog in Punjab, Pakistan.
Figure 2: Carbon dioxide emissions in Pakistan.

The renewable energy future prospects are encouraging in Pakistan and it is more than enough to meet the total electricity demand of the country. This vast potential of renewable sources of energy could be utilized to overcome the energy shortage which has not been utilized properly due to lack of policies and infrastructure. The diversification of existing energy resources and exploration of new sources is an important aspect to be considered in order to have a sustainable power development and its implementation in the country.Unfortunately, limited work has been done in the past to explore naturally existing renewable energy sources. The effective utilization of existing or locally developed renewable energy technologies can play a vital role to meet the current energy deficit of the country.

“The government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) has taken positive initiatives to achieve sustainable development by reducing harmful emissions. They planted a billion trees in just two years as part of an effort for sustainable development and to restore forests wiped out by decades of felling and natural disasters such as floods. Imran Khan, who heads the political party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), launched the green mission in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the north-west of the country. The project – dubbed Billion Tree Tsunami – aims to slow down the effects of global warming. Apart from that different other renewable energy based projects have been launched in the province.”

The estimated potential of solar power in Pakistan is around 2,900 GW and the annual solar irradiance in the country is around 1900–2200 KWh/m2. The emission mitigation costs are negligible with this mode of power generation. Solar photovoltaic have close to zero carbon emissions in comparison to carbon emissions releases from fossil fuels. According to Global Climate and Energy Project (GCEP) based energy assessment analysis, it is estimated that a 1kW PV panel would give a yearly CO2 savings of 1.33 x103 kg on an average sunlight of 5.5 hours of per day, and the payback period of solar cells is small. Furthermore, according to GCEP based energy assessment analysis, a 12% solar efficient panel releases 3.3×103 kg of CO2 for the generation of a 1kW power, which is paid back within a time scale of 2.5 years in the form of avoided emissions of 1.33×103 kg/year.

Figure 3: Smog reduction through behavioral changes.Although fossil fuels produce useful energy but are also responsible for the production of harmful greenhouse gases and hence need to be addressed by making use of clean and renewable sources of energy. Therefore, steps need to be taken to explore, develop, and establish sustainable and secure energy sources on national level to combat the energy supply and demand gap. It is the sole responsibility of the government to initiate mega projects to explore the naturally energy potential alternative energy sources must be developed in order to provide the energy to all sectors in the country and avoid or minimize the evil which usually take birth due to power cuts and its improper distribution. While government has to play major role for environmental protection through sustainable policies; everyone can do their part to reduce smog by through behavioral changes.

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