Under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a bilateral project of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the two countries are collaborating on significant infrastructure development projects to boost socioeconomic growth while emphasising green and sustainable practices. The incorporation of these practices is manifested in the form of renewable energy projects, agricultural cooperation and development projects in Gwadar. The aim is to reduce the reliance on fossil fuels, minimise carbon emissions, overcome the electricity shortage, create employment opportunities, alleviate poverty, boost food security, and enhance people’s living standards. Moreover, promoting green and sustainable development is a viable solution to address Pakistan’s severe climate challenges and rising inflation.
In 2022, Pakistan and China partnered on the Green CPEC Initiative, for which an event called Green China-Pakistan Economic Corridor Alliance was organised by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) and Pakistan-China Institute (PCI), uniting all stakeholders to make the CPEC greener and decarbonised. Hina Aslam, Head of the China Study Centre at the SDPI, said, “CPEC helps Pakistan through job creation, income growth, infrastructure upgrading, skill development, education and more.” While at the Awarding Ceremony for Outstanding Pakistani Staff of the CPEC Projects 2022, Chinese Ambassador Nong Rong stated that “CPEC has created 192,000 jobs, 6,000MW of power supply, 510km of highway, and 886km of transmission line, which laid a solid foundation for Pakistan’s socioeconomic development.” Later, in March 2023, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between SDPI and World Wildlife Fund (WWF)-Pakistan to bridge the gaps in policies of environmental protection and ecological and biodiversity conservation during the execution of CPEC projects. Through its diverse range of projects, CPEC has demonstrated that it not only provides an economic uplift but also sets the foundation for an environmentally friendly and sustainable Pakistan.
To ensure CPEC’s green and sustainable development, committing to environmental strategies adaptation, monitoring, and evaluation is imperative during the projects’ execution.
Firstly, under the aegis of CPEC, the two states cooperate in green and sustainable energy projects. The Karot Hydropower Project exemplifies such a vision. During the project’s execution, a biodiversity management plan was developed to protect the aquatic and wildlife while taking strict measures to protect river water quality around the project site. Built with modern hydropower technology, it will reduce CO₂ emissions by 3.5 million tons. Every year, it supplies Pakistan with over 3.2 billion kWh of clean energy, guaranteeing electricity supply for five million people and providing almost 4,500 decent jobs annually. Its power station near Rawalpindi and Azad Kashmir has significantly changed the lives of local communities by providing them with education, road infrastructure, and health facilities (Kahuta Emergency Hospital and some dispensaries). According to one of the nearby residents, he used to teach in a single-room school; however, after this project, the Chinese company rebuilt the school with five to six rooms along with the provision of all necessary facilities as well as constructing a road to the village, resulting in increased enrollment of children, particularly girls. Besides, 90% work is completed on the Suki Kinari Hydropower Project, where a shaft pan has been installed to provide a base for water preservation and electricity generation. The project will address the country’s energy shortfall and bring prosperity to the people of Hazara by providing locals with permanent employment.
Similarly, the Thar Block-1 Integrated Coal Mine Power Project has transformed the lives of people in Thar, providing more than 18,000 jobs for the locals and bringing cost-effective energy to millions of Pakistani households. In an interview with The Daily Times, a mining engineer, Gul Hassan, said that the project management team had implemented measures to ensure mining safety, reducing emissions, raising environmental safety awareness and organising hidden danger screening to make Thar clean and beautiful. Many local women have been trained for jobs at the project site changing their lives towards a better future.
Another significant milestone, the Matiari to Lahore Transmission Line ensures consistent and clean electricity for almost 10 million local households even during Pakistan’s flood season as the management office has made proper preparations, including flood control materials, drainage facilities, emergency power supplies and placement of sandbags to protect the equipment area. Likewise, CPEC has effectively converted unused areas into renewable energy projects such as Quaid-e-Azam Solar Park in Bahawalpur and wind power projects in Jhimpir, providing cheap and clean energy to the national grid of Pakistan. Several projects, such as the Cacho Wind Power Project, the Kohala Hydropower Project and Azad Pattan Hydropower Project, are currently underway and would further contribute to renewable energy capacity.
Secondly, under the CPEC Green Corridor Initiative, China has been assisting Pakistan in modernising its agriculture sector by promoting agricultural research, sharing advanced farming and irrigation systems technologies, storage facilities and access to markets to enhance the growth and marketability of agricultural products. The agriculture sector is the backbone of low-income economies. This cooperation will ultimately contribute to their economic condition and poverty alleviation.
In the pursuit of transforming Gwadar into a “shining pearl” of CPEC, Sino-Pakistani scientists are producing plants that can adapt to the local environment. So far, nearly 100,000 seedlings of various fruits have been cultivated. For instance, a red chilli farming project has been initiated, with Pakistani model farms cultivating Chinese chilli varieties for export to China, thus generating foreign exchange revenue for Pakistan. Also, Pak-China Friendship Green Park would be built in Gwadar with the cooperation of local people to develop a vibrant Gwadar Port with an improved environment and prosperous economy. Efforts are also underway for water resource management as Pakistan proposed it as the potential area of collaboration within the CPEC long-term plan, while for the sustainable development in Gwadar City, Gwadar Smart Environment Sanitation System and Landfill Project was introduced to establish a smart sanitation and solid waste management system.
Thirdly, various infrastructure projects in Gwadar under the umbrella of CPEC contribute to the country’s socioeconomic development while considering its sustainability. Projects such as the Faqeer Colony School of Gwadar, Pak-China Technical and Vocational Institute, Pak-China Friendship Hospital and 1.2 MGD desalination plant provide the people of Gwadar with educational facilities, technical education, medical assistance and clean drinking water, respectively. However, The New Gwadar International Airport and Gwadar Free Zone will greatly enhance the trade and tourism industry, connectivity of Gwadar with the rest of the world, and new jobs for the local population.
From the expert’s views presented at a conference titled “The Need to Switch Towards A Greener Future: Lessons From China” hosted by PCI and SDPI, it can be inferred that green financing should be a mainstream policy, Special Economic Zones should be made into a successful model like Shenzhen, wind and solar energy ought to be thoroughly explored, and banks need to be accredited with green climate fund.
China is leading the transition to green and sustainable development, evidenced by its Global Development Initiative (GDI), to meet the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through balanced and inclusive development. Pakistan as a member of the Group of Friends of GDI is fully committed to achieving SDGs and considers CPEC a remarkable showcase of BRI and instrumental in achieving SDGs. To ensure CPEC’s green and sustainable development, committing to environmental strategies adaptation, monitoring, and evaluation is imperative during the projects’ execution. Additionally, consensus among all stakeholders and federal and provincial governments is required to implement the projects. Notwithstanding the presence of hostile forces to CPEC, instead of wasting time doubting or finding faults in the project, the focus should be on maximising CPEC’s benefits to the economy and prosperity of the country.