October 27, 2023
By Xari Jalil
An analysis carried out by an independent research organization Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) has revealed that nitrogen dioxide (NO2) emissions have fallen to the lowest levels ever, for the first time since the COVID lockdown in 2020.
NO2 emissions are linked to petroleum, coal, and gas combustion, and the study claims that they have declined, because of economic slowdown, resulting in lower energy use.
Dawar Butt, Energy and Air Quality Researcher at CREA says that high fossil fuel consumption leads to huge human health impacts locally, which have made Pakistan one of the most polluted countries globally.
“We have seen high electricity and fuel prices which are predominantly derived from high prices of imported fossil fuels. This is a grim reminder to us that the high fossil fuel pathway to economic development is a very high-risk option when it comes to energy security and economic development,” said Dawar Butt, Energy and Air Quality Researcher at CREA.
Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 saw several government-imposed lockdowns and restrictions which lowered energy use and therefore emissions.
But three years later in 2023, the large reductions have been caused not by less vehicular emissions but by the country’s energy inflation and economic slowdown. Additionally, falling foreign exchange reserves also forced the government to restrict payments to certain thermal power plants, resulting in abrupt closures or restrictions.
Here is a comparison of this year’s AQI of Lahore with last year. Up till now we have been successful to maintain it at a moderate / healthy level through containment and mitigation. The next two weeks are critical in this battle. pic.twitter.com/PsuHGwVb1I
— Zaheer Abbas Malik (@Zaheer_PAS) October 27, 2023
Journalist Samiullah Randhawa said that the source of this data by the EPA was dubious as the department only has two analyzers to monitor particulate matter 2.5, out of which one is stationary and the other is a mobile air quality measuring system (AQMS) which is moving around.
Some thoughts on the variations across cities:
• #Lahore saw the biggest decline, but that’s also because prior to it, it saw the most polluted years eg. Was declared the most polluted in World AQ Report 2022. Transport use, Powergen, Industry all have fallen now.
— Dawar Butt (@dawarhbutt) October 26, 2023
Lahore will face less smog this year
Based on data from the Oil Companies Advisory Council (OCAC), petrol and diesel sales in Karachi during January to August dropped by 24% year-on-year (YoY), from 1,042,970 tons in 2022 to 841,221 tons in 2023. During this period, nitrogen dioxide (NO2) emissions dropped in the city by 20%.
Similar reductions have been observed in Lahore, Islamabad, and Peshawar. In the full 9-month (January-September) analysis, NO2 levels in Karachi were down by 18%, in Lahore by 20%, in Islamabad by 14%, and in Peshawar by 5% (having already fallen by 8% in the previous year).
With the economy still under pressure, and continuing energy inflation it is expected that annual average air pollution levels will be lower compared to the previous two years. Notwithstanding meteorological variations, the ‘winter smog’ will also be of relatively less intensity in cities like Lahore and Peshawar. The analysis concludes that economic activities in the country are very closely tied to fossil fuel use, and this dependency should be lessened to reduce pollution as well as energy inflation.
Sunil Dahiya, the South Asia Analyst at CREA said, “Moving to aggressive renewable energy deployments for meeting the future demand in electricity and ensuring a robust EV-powered public transportation system along with strengthening the non-motorized-transport infrastructure can help reduce import dependence, enhance energy security, reduce economic drain-out and help the public breathe clean air across Pakistan.”