Energy access and availability are fundamental for individual consumers’ quality of life, economic growth, and employment opportunities. Increased energy supply and consumption lead to improved economic development and higher living standards.
The human development index of a country is directly proportional to its energy prosperity. A shortage in the energy supply is a barrier to the development, economic growth, and prosperity of a country and adversely affects its environment, water availability, agricultural productivity, and human health. However, the increasing consumption of nonrenewable fossil fuels also negatively affects a country’s development because of the exposure of its population to the adverse impacts of climate change. According to the International Energy Agency, the per capita electricity consumption in developed countries is markedly higher than that in other countries, resulting in the release of greater amounts of greenhouse gases such as methane, carbon dioxide, and sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere. This, in turn, results in environmental problems such as air pollution, deforestation, global warming, and climate change and also inflicts several respiratory diseases.
Despite these serious environmental threats, the world still consumes nonrenewable energy sources on a large scale which is highly dangerous for our climate. In this context, awareness of climate change and resource depletion has been raised considerably by international treaties and protocols like the Kyoto Protocol and the Copenhagen Summit, which encourage the world to gradually shift to renewable energy sources to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Today, many countries exploit such sustainable and environment-friendly renewable energy sources such as biogas and solar and wind energy systems.
Pakistan is highly vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate change at the global level. It ranks 16th out of 170 countries in a recent Climate Change Vulnerability Index1 (CCVI) and it is situated in that part of the world where as a result of climate changes, the increase in temperature is likely to be higher than the global average (an increase in temperature of up to 0.64°C during 1901–2007). According to Global Circulation Models (GCM), the country’s average temperature will increase (ranging from 3.9°C to 4.4°C) by the 2080s (GOP, 2010).
Apart from air pollution from industries in urban areas, the use of traditional fuel energy sources in rural areas also contributes to air pollution. Burning of crop residues, dung cakes2, and wood as a source of domestic energy pollutes the indoor environment by the emission of smoke and dangerous gases, like carbon monoxide, that causes various diseases such as lung cancer, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cardiovascular diseases, and respiratory infections.
1- The Climate Change Vulnerability Index (CCVI) evaluates 42 social, economic, and environmental factors to assess national vulnerabilities across three core areas. These include: exposure to climate-related natural disasters and sea-level rise; human sensitivity, in terms of population patterns, development, natural resources, agricultural dependency, and conflicts; and the index also assesses future vulnerability by considering the adaptive capacity of a country’s government and infrastructure to combat climate change (information obtained from Google.com).
2- Dung cakes are made from the animals’ excreta (manure) particularly cows or buffaloes and then after being dried, these are traditionally used as fuel in a domestic hearth called “Anghari” in Pakistan. They are usually made by female family members in rural areas.
Current forest assets (an indicator for climate change mitigation) Pakistan’s forests’ reserves provide 2,63,000 m3 of firewood, and most of it is used as fuel in the rural sector. The consistent collection of firewood from forests reduces carbon sequestration, and firewood burning by rural households increases carbon emissions, which might consequently lead to regional climate change. The current forest assets of the country are not enough to fulfill the growing demand for wood for various purposes. It is worth mentioning that forests serve as a mitigation strategy for climate change.
On the other hand, the higher rate of deforestation increases the likelihood and intensity of disasters like landslides, soil erosion, and floods. As a result of the earthquake on 8th October 2005, landslides took place mostly in the areas with no forest cover while less damage was reported in areas with a higher number of forests.
Looking at the aforementioned situation, the country is looking for different strategies for the purpose to lessen the impact of climate change. Biogas technology is one option in those strategies. Biogas typically refers to a gas produced by the biological breakdown of organic matter in the absence of oxygen, i.e. anaerobic fermentation. Biogas is the product of the food chain, in which the Sun’s energy is trapped by green plants that are eaten by livestock as fodder to produce energy, fats, carbohydrates, and proteins that the animals’ body uses. The waste products that are disposed of containing a lot of carbohydrates and other food nutrients and fibers are the major source of methane produced during the process of dung-fermentation by the anaerobic respiration of bacteria. There are two types of biogas plants extensively found in different countries including Pakistan, i.e. fixed dome and floating drum. The most famous biogas plant is a fixed dome type. It is made of bricks or concrete, and its construction required a high level of technical skills to avoid gas leakage. These plants consist of an inlet, an airtight underground digester, and an outlet tank. In the inlet tank, water and animal dung are mixed in equal amounts. From there, it goes to the underground digester for biogas production through anaerobic digestion. The produced gas accumulated in the dome of the digester and put pressure on the substrate, pushing it out of the digester through the outlet tank.
Biogas technology has been adopted by rural households in different areas. But the adoption rate is still not admirable, and the government should take serious steps towards its diffusion. The higher adoption rate can only bring considerable impact with respect to climate change. This has the potential of reducing the households’ dependence on fuel wood, which will eventually decrease the rate of deforestation, and resultantly the impact of climate change.
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Syed Muhammad Amir
Assistant Professor at the Institute of Agricultural Extension, Education, and Rural Development, University of Agriculture Faisalabad
Assistant Professor at the Institute Development Studies (IDS), the University of Agriculture Peshawar
Ph.D. Scholar, School of International Trade and Economics, University of International Business and Economics Beijing, China