The Big Shift goes global

Christian Aid volunteer, Alice Witt shares her thoughts on Christian Aid’s climate campaign as the Big Shift is launched in Kigali.

“It seems everybody’s working to get finance out of fossil fuels and into clean energy”

As a student I have been working to get my college, St Hilda’s, at Oxford University to divest from fossil fuels which has been a hard slog, but it gives me hope and inspiration that the same sort of work is going on around the world, and especially in countries that are really vulnerable to the impact of climate change.

Christian Aid’s Big Shift movement began in the UK last year with campaigners helping to persuade the UK government to phase out coal. This year the campaign has focussed on churches making a big shift in their own energy supplies and caring for creation by moving to renewable electricity providers. But this is just the start!

Coal campaigners outside the houses of Parliament in October 2015 call on the UK government to phase out coal

We need this Big Shift in energy investment to happen on a global scale. We need to get the tens of trillions of dollars available for energy infrastructure projects invested into low-carbon renewable energy.

At the moment research by campaign groups is taking place to discover how to persuade energy industries, banks and governments across Africa, Asia and Latin America to invest in clean energy. This research will give a boost the international climate movement around this issue.

At the Paris climate summit in December 2015, rich and poor countries together made a commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and decouple their development and prosperity from fossil fuels. Yet three of the six countries where this research is taking place have plans to expand coal-fired electricity generation. Fossil fuel reserves attract private foreign investment, so they continue to be exploited by developing country governments because of the revenues they bring in from foreign companies. This is why it is so important to promote low carbon alternatives and raise the voice of the people to call for change in government legislation that will make fossil fuels a far less attractive option for investors and producers alike.

On the plus side the cost of renewable electricity is rapidly reducing and becoming increasingly competitive with fossil fuels. The International Renewable Energy Association, did a comprehensive study in 2014. Its findings are striking — solar energy modules in 2014 cost three quarters less than in 2009, while wind turbine prices have declined almost a third over the same period.

And this could be a win-win for communities in developing countries as renewable electricity sources can also help alleviate energy poverty and bring electricity to parts of the world where communities currently have no access to energy, just like in Mali where a solar revolution has begun bringing light to villages, enabling schoolchildren like Massaran Samake, 7(pictured below) to study at night and increasing productivity of local businesses.

Massaran Samake, aged seven, demonstrates the solar lamp her mother bought from a shop set up by Christian Aid partner Mali Folkecenter. Massaran and her family live in an area on the outskirts of Mali that has no formal electricity provision. Massaran uses the solar lamp to do her homework.

In the video below, you’ll see how solar energy is power development in some of Mali’s remote rural villages…

And now…

The Big Shift campaign has begun in Kigali, Rwanda.

At the first meeting, during the ‘African Union and Governments Summit’ over 20 representatives of African civil society groups agreed to get active and to start campaigning to get finance out of fossil fuels and into renewables and to ensure energy access for some of the most vulnerable people on the planet.

Campaigners at PACJA celebrate their launch of the Big Shift

In the words of Mithika Mwenda, Secretary General of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance:

“We need other civil society organisations to join the Big Shift initiative and demand for investment in the energy sector to be moved from fossil fuel to renewable or low carbon energy”