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How your support is helping respond to the climate crisis

John Keane


How can I do my bit to help combat climate change?

Many people seem to be asking this question right now. What can I do to make a difference? Perhaps you are watching the news coverage coming out of COP26 or listening to radio talk shows discussing how we can reduce our use of carbon? Maybe you are there – at COP26 – lobbying, protesting, or involved in some way. 

I wanted to let you know where your support for SolarAid fits in all of this.

It goes right back to the beginning, when we were first founded.

SolarAid was established to fight poverty and climate change. Since 2006, we have  been actively doing this by catalysing change across sub-Saharan Africa, pioneering the development and distribution of solar lights and systems to transform energy access within homes, schools, and clinics across the continent. We know that every single solar light makes a difference. 

Fast forward to 2021. The most recent IPCC report has stated that we are at a “code red for humanity,” the climate crisis is at the forefront of our minds and our global leaders are currently in Glasgow at COP26. What now?

There are some clear messages coming out of COP26 and many connect right back to our founding mission. Please check out this message from SolarAid trustee, John Faulks from COP26.

Firstly, developing nations cannot make the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy without the support of richer, industrialised nations.  

The principal is the same with families living without access to electricity in sub-Saharan Africa. They need help transitioning from burning a kerosene lamp, a paraffin candle, or burning grass for light, to a cleaner, safer alternative. Together, that is what we are doing. With your support – we create sustainable access to safe clean solar lighting. 

Twenty leading nations alongside financial institutions have made a commitment to no longer invest in fossil fuels overseas and switch instead to investing in renewables. This is an incredible commitment. We are great believers in the power of  business, which is why, even as a charity, we aim to create a market for solar power. Our ‘trade-not-aid’ model invests in  local entrepreneurs creating businesses that supply (and repair) solar products. This kickstarts markets ensuring that solar energy is more readily available that won’t be achieved by businesses alone. 

And then, there is the issue of carbon and its effect on increasing the temperature of the Earth. As governments and institutions put forward their big scale initiatives to reduce carbon, and we begin to look at our own lives, there is something really simple we can do. That is simply to enable families without access to electricity who cannot, without some help, reduce their carbon emissions. 

Recent independent research looking at data from India, the Far East and Africa confirms that families who are able to switch from kerosene to solar, reduce their CO₂ emissions by close to half a tonne per year. All it takes is one solar light to have that impact. Consider that in Africa 578 million people do not have access to electricity and you can see the potential win for us all.

The late Dr Kirk Smith, Nobel Peace Winner and a Professor of Global Environmental Health once said, “There are no magic bullets that will solve all our greenhouse gas problems, but replacing kerosene lamps is a low hanging fruit.”

42-year-old Nelia Mbewe points at a solar bulb at her home in Kachingwe Village, Malawi.

So when you support SolarAid, alongside all your other lifestyle choices and changes that I am sure you are considering, you are also helping to reduce carbon (note please don’t support SolarAid to justify increasing your carbon foot-print!).

Finally, and perhaps the most sobering realisation is that, even with these commitments emerging from COP26, we are still heading for a planet that will be 1.5 degrees warmer. Those that will suffer the most will be those who contributed the least. 

The harsh reality of what a warmer planet is already being felt. 

I am based in Zambia and 2019 saw its worst drought in over 40 years. With the majority of the rural population reliant on smallholder farming to survive, one bad year is enough to set whole communities back, to stymie economic development, and keep people trapped in poverty. In the same year, neighbouring Malawi, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe suffered from catastrophic floods caused by Cyclone Idai – ruining lives and livelihoods.

Drought in Zambia, 2019. The Kariba dam, which generates much of the country’s electricity, was at a record low during this time.

In short, the worst hit are the least able to cope, the least able to recover, and the least to blame. The blame, we know, lies with us living in more developed economies. We have, therefore, a moral obligation to both people and the planet to effect change – and every little thing helps. This is not only a climate crisis issue. It’s a climate justice issue.

As we end the second week of COP26 it’s clear even these bold commitments are not enough. They need to go further and faster. And this is where people like you come in.  Our behaviours, from what we choose to consume  or buy,  to adding our voice to protests and petitions,  influence the pace of change. And of course we include your support for SolarAid as one step in the right direction.

The social impact of solar lighting is immediate. In the case of solar lights, they bring positive change, literally overnight – making homes safer, cleaner, more pleasant places to be while saving people money and providing the opportunity for children to study, parents to work after dark and families simply to spend time together. In short, solar power and lighting are an important ingredient that can help vulnerable communities strengthen local economies, build for a stronger future and become more resilient and better able to withstand the challenges of the climate crisis

We cannot fight poverty without access to electricity.

We cannot avert a climate disaster without solar energy.

The world will not achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals without solar lighting and power making an important and significant contribution.

We cannot avert the climate disaster without solar energy. We have a moral duty to help people who may suffer more, and to do our best to increase their resilience. We know a solar light won’t solve everything – but it’s an important first step and a journey we ask you to join us on. In doing so you are responding to the climate crisis and tackling poverty – this is why SolarAid was founded.

Thank you for your part in furthering our mission together.