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Pakistan’s another step towards the decarbonisation of its built environment and its socio-economic impact

A blog from Pakistan Green Building Council for World Green Building Week 2021, #BuildingResilience – Pakistan GBC supports national brick kilns initiative to convert dated practices to new green technology that will accelerate positive environmental and socioeconomic impacts. 

There are around 18,000-20,000 traditional brick kilns in Pakistan, which use mainly coal and therefore emit lethal black carbon emissions into the atmosphere. Most are located around urban areas and contribute significantly to air pollution.

Over one million people are employed (figures from 2018) in the brick kiln industry, which produces around 80 billion bricks annually, when the annual demand is actually over 110 billion bricks. Although the brick production industry is considered an informal sector, it is estimated that it is responsible for around 1.5% of the Gross Domestic Product of the country.

Those working in the brick kiln industry mostly belong to Pakistan’s lower-income group, with little or no education. Due to their socioeconomic conditions, they are vulnerable to exploitation by those in the industry who are involved in illegal practices.

Sometimes these workers are forced to work in unhealthy and inhumane environmental conditions. The water they use to mix the soil can give them skin diseases, and the hazardous fumes from the billowing black smoke during the brick-making process can cause asthma and other diseases which could increase the risk of contracting tuberculosis.

Yet still the demand for bricks in Pakistan has been persistent. Due to the global pandemic and recent socioeconomic situations, the construction activity has been slowed, however, the demand is expected to go up in the near future since both public and private sectors are committed to starting mega-infrastructure and urban development projects across the country. This would put additional pressure on the industry which is currently unable to meet its existing demand and supply requirements.

Pakistan, being a signatory of the Paris Agreement, has taken several steps towards meeting its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) commitments and improving its Climate Change resilience.

In the Climate Change Act of Pakistan, Energy Conservation & Efficiency in the Building and Construction industry has been designated as one of the major areas in which Pakistan can meet its SDGs commitments. Improvements in the brick kiln industry is one of the key areas where the government has collaborated with the major industry stakeholders and initiated a program to convert the existing conventional brick kilns.

The plan is to convert the dated kilns, which run on smog-causing fossil fuels, into environmentally smart Zig-Zag technology that helps reduce breath-choking carbon emissions by 60 percent and saves energy by 30 percent. This initiative is also a way forward for Pakistan towards meeting its commitments on SDGs: 1) No Poverty, 3) Good Health and Well Being, 8) Decent Work and Economic Growth, and 13) Climate Action.

Pakistan Green Building Council (PakGBC) being a major stakeholder in the industry has been part of the process and consultations with the National Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (NEECA); a central governmental body leading the project. While in the process of these conversions, many brick kiln owners were reluctant to invest in the new technology, fearing that they would not be able to meet their daily production targets, and most importantly were concerned about the quality of the produced bricks and its acceptance in the local markets. The fear of losing their market share is one of the major barriers in the conversion.

To address these concerns, multiple governmental and non-governmental stakeholders have supported this initiative and played their part at the different stages of the conversion process. PakGBC in collaboration with the National Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (NEECA), and Punjab Energy Efficiency and Conservation Agency (PEECA), is providing ongoing support to the brick kiln industry by highlighting, advocating and promoting the positive environmental and socioeconomic impacts of responsible bricks production practices to the general public and public and private sectors.

From the start, the project was supported by the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC), which is a global effort that unites governments, civil society and the private sector to commit to improving air quality, and shielding climate for the next few decades by reducing short-lived climate pollutants across sectors.

Complementary to mitigating CO2 emissions, the coalition acts as a catalyst to create, implement and share immediate solutions addressing near-term climate change to improve people’s lives rapidly, and to ensure sustainable development for future generations. The CCAC brick kiln initiative through International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) is aimed at achieving substantial reductions of black carbon and other emissions from brick kilns by employing a range of technologies and policy approaches.

The report on Brick Kiln Emission-Energy Study in Pakistan was prepared and submitted by ICIMOD to UNEP based on outcomes of a field measurement campaign on energy and emission of various brick kilns in the Punjab area of Pakistan.

The study was conducted by Brick Initiative, ICIMOD in collaboration with the All Pakistan Brick Kiln Owners’ Association, National Energy Efficiency & Conservation Authority, and Pakistan (NEECA). The main objective of the campaign was to generate the baseline status of emission and energy for different kinds of brick kilns operating around the Punjab area of Pakistan in March 2019.

Pakistan has made substantial progress in the past to meet its climate change commitments and this is another step towards the decarbonisation of its built environment. This action will bring the country closer-to and in-line with the World Green Building Council’s Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment.

The brick industry conversion towards green and sustainable practices has accelerated the commitment from other sectors like cement, steel, paint & coatings, fans, lighting etc., who are now gearing up to follow in the footsteps of the brick industry.

To ensure a significant impact of decarbonisation in the built environment, each industry is ready to play its role in the coming days. PakGBC is engaged with different industries from the building and construction sector, from large to small scale real-estate-developers, constructors, manufacturers, consultants, councils and NGOs. They are providing technical support to several large-scale developers for low-impact carbon developments, building and construction Bylaws.

Out of 18,000-20,000 brick kilns in Pakistan, Punjab, the largest province in the country has shifted its 7,986 kilns to Zig-Zag. Brick kiln owners in other provinces like Baluchistan, KPK and AJ&K have also started converting their conventional kilns to Zig-Zag kilns due to the associated profit by getting extra high-quality bricks and significant coal reduction per brick.

Taking the same output of 20,000 bricks per day as a reference, the decrease in coal consumption shall be up to 55-60 percent provided that high calorific value coal is used, and the kiln is operated in an efficient manner.

The conversion process has also triggered the demand for skilled labor, motors, blower’s fabricators, and associated brick machinery which has generated green employment opportunities as well.

The incorporation of new technologies and reduction of coal use in the brick kiln industry has also significantly reduced the exposure of humans to the toxic carbon fumes and improved the working conditions. The reduction in production cost of brick manufacturing has also increased the possibility of improved pay for the workers, which will uplift their socioeconomic situation.

Pakistan GBC is supporting the new brick kilns industries by advocating and promoting it as a green product among project owners, decision makers, architects, town planners, engineers, developers, constructors and society at large through its training and professional workshop programs.

Pakistan GBC has also been helping in bridging the gaps between the brick suppliers and the large-scale developers in the country for their mega infrastructure and urban development projects. Through Pakistan Green Building Council’s Green Building Rating tools, they provide points for the use of green construction materials e.g. bricks produced in the Zig-Zag kilns which improves the certification level of the project.

In the most recent development, Pakistan is in the process of upgrading its national and provincial level Energy Conservation Building Codes – ECBCs, where there are recommendations that the use of low-carbon impact bricks should be incentivised, so people from the public and private sector can be encouraged to use this green product. This will also encourage remaining conventional brick kiln owners to convert their operations to green and sustainable practices and turn to environmentally responsible production methods.