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28 Jun 2021 | Air pollution solutions

A big push for climate-friendly brick production in Pakistan

Mona Sharma

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ICIMOD and FCDO with BKOAP launch the cleaner bricks project at a newly designated showcase kiln in Lahore, Pakistan. Photo credit: Kanwal Waqar

The transition towards climate-friendly brick production in Pakistan received a big boost with the launch of the ICIMOD-FCDO ‘Towards cleaner brick production in Pakistan’ demonstration project and an inception workshop for brick sector stakeholders in Lahore this week. The workshop brought together public and private sector stakeholders to discuss project objectives and expected outcomes. Our evolving partnership with FCDO and the Brick Kiln Owners’ Association of Pakistan (BKOAP) is aimed at building the capacity of the brick sector to transition to cleaner brick production and support country-level climate actions that reduce emissions.

On 22 June, Lord Tariq Ahmad of Wimbledon, Minister of State for South Asia and the Commonwealth at the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO); Dr Christian Turner, British High Commissioner to Pakistan, and Muhammad Abdullah Khan Sumbal, Chairman, Planning and Development Department, Government of Punjab visited a designated showcase zig-zag kiln in Lahore, Pakistan.

Lord Ahmad said climate change is a problem not only for Pakistan but most developing countries, and hoped that the zig zag technology will help minimize emissions. Dr Christian appreciated our efforts towards cleaner brick technology and assured full support to ICIMOD. Chairman P&D reiterated Government of Punjab’s support for local brick kiln owners and commitment to the newly launched project.

H.E. Malik Amin Aslam, Federal Minister on Climate Change/Special Assistant to the Prime Minister noted that the transition to cleaner brick production technology had reached a watershed moment in that businesses have realized that this makes business sense and contributes to environmental health. He also noted the crucial decision of the Punjab Smog Committee to respond to the air quality situation as a calamity in precipitating the uptake of the technology.

Shoaib Khan Niazi, President, BKOAP stated that by introducing this technology, ICIMOD has helped improve air quality in Pakistan. He appreciated how the shift to zig-zag technology has brought about 35% energy savings, and about 85% reduction in emissions.

Pema Gyamtsho, our Director General, highlighted the importance of the Hindu Kush Himalaya as the pulse of the planet and urged all member countries to take action to address air pollution in the region. He noted that this project can potentially be a game changer for Pakistan.

ICIMOD and FCDO seek to further this support by building capacity to facilitate innovation and the uptake of cleaner technology in the brick sector. Two showcase kilns will be established in Punjab, which will demonstrate the use of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) instead of fuelwood for initial firing. Additionally, awareness programmes will be conducted, and a pool of master trainers will be developed to outscale the zig-zag technology beyond Punjab. ICIMOD and FCDO will also assist in the setting up of instrumentation for emissions and energy use monitoring, which will help to monitor and calculate emissions, contribute to Pakistan’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) accounting, and help carbon financing efforts.

Sana Zia, UK development representative for Punjab, and Senior Responsible Owner (SRO) for FCDO’s brick kiln initiative urged that the learnings from the newly launched project be shared in the context of wider climate scenarios, and linkages established with policy and academia.

Bidya Banmali Pradhan, our Programme Coordinator for the Air Pollution Solutions Initiative presented on the technology transition process as well as the planned interventions. She also highlighted how the policy engagement efforts with the Government of Pakistan were conducted in parallel to the rollout of the technology, which fostered an evidence-based environment for technology uptake.

Our engagement with the brick sector in Pakistan

We have been working with the Brick Kiln Owners’ Association of Pakistan (BKOAP), the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC), and FCDO (earlier DFID) to support the transition of Pakistan’s brick sector to climate-friendly brick production through focused skill and technology transfer. Other key partners in this intervention are the Ministry of Climate Change (MOCC), Environment Protection Department, Punjab and the National Energy Efficiency & Conservation Authority (NEECA). Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we continued to support the brick entrepreneurs, and maintained the momentum of technology transition in Pakistan through remote support and on the ground mobilization of previously trained personnel.

There are around 20,000 brick kilns in Pakistan, out of which almost 50% are in Punjab. The sector alone contributes 1.5% of Pakistan’s GDP. The brick sector is highly unregulated and uncoordinated until 2017 when we introduced the zig-zag technology through peer-to-peer trainings in both Nepal and Pakistan. Pakistani brick entrepreneurs learned first-hand how to set up and operate the environment-friendly and financially viable zig-zag technology, an alternative to the highly polluting Fixed Chimney Bull’s Trench Kilns (FCBTK). BKOAP established the first zig-zag brick kiln in Lahore, and within a span of three years, more than 7,000 FCBTK have converted into zig-zag kilns. Emission measurement studies show a 15% reduction in CO2, 40% reduction in particulate matter, and 60% reduction in black carbon as a result of the switch. Profitability has increased for brick entrepreneurs with reduced coal consumption and better grade bricks produced.

Transition to the energy-efficient and climate friendly zig-zag technology can result in 20-25% reduction in fuel consumption and up to ~85 % reduction in air pollutants and black carbon emissions as well as improvements in brick quality. Recognizing the technology’s potential impact in improving air and soil quality nationwide, as well as the strong business case for the transition, the Government of Pakistan has restricted construction of conventional kilns, issued directives in 2019 permitting only zig-zag kilns to operate in the peak winter smog period, and approved 6% subsidized loan for kiln conversions. These interventions support Pakistan’s NDC commitments and actions towards the SDGs, which is significant as the country is the third-largest brick producer in Asia. This also supports Prime Minister Imran Khan’s vision for ‘Clean Green Pakistan’. In early 2021, these efforts culminated in BKOAP being registered as a formal Trade Organization under the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry for the very first time.

The brick industry accounts for a staggering 20%–25% of global air pollution and is a significant cause of global warming. Almost 5 million men and women in Nepal, India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh are currently engaged in brick production.

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