Jaywalking on the road to climate change

The climate change is accelerating. There is no room for complacency

Jaywalking on the road to climate change


ost children are taught the importance of zebra-crossing in kindergarten. Jaywalking is walking on or crossing a road with traffic in places other than the zebra-crossing. In many countries, it is a penal offence. In case of jaywalking, the responsibility for any accidents lies with the pedestrian not using the designated road crossing point.

Climate change is a road on which Nature is in the driving seat. We, the humans, need to stop jaywalking on it and start using the crossings indicated by it. Here are some dos and don’ts:

First, don’t interfere with the natural cycles of the Earth. There are three major natural cycles to respect: the carbon cycle, the water cycle and the nitrogen cycle. The carbon cycle is Nature’s way of capturing carbon and storing it in the form of trees. Jaywalking in this context is exceeding the limits for carbon emissions. The designated crossing point is to either plant more trees or to cut carbon emissions.

The water cycle is the conversion of seawater to freshwater through vapourisation and rain. The conversion of seawater to snow and glaciers is paramount for the Earth’s climate. Jaywalking in this context is again the carbon emissions that disrupt the water cycle. Consequently, the earth’s temperature is rising and the glaciers are melting.

The cost of jaywalking is either too little rain, causing droughts, or touch rain, causing floods.

The Nature uses nitrogen as a natural fertiliser to produce food. Nitrogen deficiencies causes low yields; excessive nitrogen increases toxicity and creates water pollution. Jaywalking here is the growing population and mass farming which is causing a deficiency of nitrogen in many regions due to which fertilisers are needed for agriculture.

The Ukraine conflict has caused disruptions in provision of natural fertiliser to fertiliser manufacturers causing a cascade effect leading to low yields and concerns about food security. In the future, food availability might be a bigger problem than affordability. This brings us again to jaywalking on the carbon cycle to meet the energy demand. Coal-fired power plants are again being planned, constructed and commissioned.

Second, the underdeveloped and developing countries are adversely impacted due to climate change caused by jaywalking in the developed world. We are now facing events like droughts, floods, rising temperatures, seawater levels and food insecurity. There has been a renewed focus on mitigation and adaptation approaches to fight climate change.

These approaches need due diligence and financial assistance from the developed world to raise the level of energy efficiency and transition to renewables. The developing and underdeveloped countries cannot afford to import efficient energy appliances and expensive mechanisms to retire cheaper sources of energy.

This brings us to the economy over the environment argument. The way out and designated road crossing points are climate funds like the one established in COP27, transfers to affected countries and the transfer of renewable energy technology so that the affected countries can develop these mechanisms indigenously.

The Energy Transition Mechanism, recently implemented by the Asian Development Bank, is an actionable plan to achieve energy transition. The ADB provided funds to the Indonesian government to retire a 600 megawatts coal-fired power plant and to replace it with renewable energy. The environment can be made a priority again by incentivising renewable and efficient energy measures for developing and underdeveloped countries.

Third, short-run and long-term gains. Sustainability requires planning for the long run. One generation enjoying an abundance of natural resources at the expense of future generations is not the right way to cross the climate road.

The macro-economic model of overlapping generations summarises it perfectly. The young need to work and save for their retirement phase, then use these savings so that sustainability can be achieved. Nature demands a similar approach; we need to conserve resources for the times when there is a shortage.

Pakistan’s natural gas reserve depletion is an example of jaywalking on consumption. It is also a case of jaywalking on the climate change road. We have exhausted our natural gas reserves. We did not save anything for the time when we’d have a shortage. As a result, we are now left with the alternatives that are either expensive, i.e., imported LNG and oil, or environmentally unfriendly, i.e., use of firewood and coal.

The way out is to respect the Nature’s carbon cycle and plant more trees so that the sustainability of biofuels (firewood) can be ensured without causing deforestation; add more renewables to the energy generation mix and adopt energy efficiency measures. Coal-fired power plants are cheaper but their long-run affordability is lower than the renewable alternatives.

We need to build a case to attain energy transition backed by our international development partners and multilateral financial institutions, such as climate funds, energy transition mechanisms, green bonds, carbon credits and green financing.

What are the actionable options to avoid jaywalking? It requires dynamic and multipronged planning. We must understand the ways of the Nature, respect the natural cycles and use these for our collective advantage.

The actionable policy options are the use of renewable energy (solar and wind), efficient use of daylight to conserve electricity, effective water management, saving flood water for droughts and efficient use of nitrogen for high yield agriculture.

Climate diplomacy should deliver transfer of funds from international development partners. We should take advantage of the energy transition mechanism established by the ADB. Apart from funds, technology transfer is important so that renewable mechanisms can be manufactured locally and at a lower cost. We should also plan for a longer-run. Coal-fired power plants might bring some short-run relief but are not a sustainable option for future. Climate change is likely to occur faster in the future. We cannot afford any more jaywalking.

The writer is associated with the SDPI as an energy consultant. He can be reached at khalidwaleed@sdpi.org and tweets @Khalidwaleed.

Jaywalking on the road to climate change