Despite doubts about how much will eventually be accomplished in the Cancun Climate talks, a reward for optimism would be welcome, as reports about the consequences of climate change become increasingly dire. Scientists predict a temperature rise of 4 degrees Celsius in the next sixty years, a change that would cause the retreat of rainforests in the east Amazon, Central America, and Africa, more frequent drought, and sea levels to rise 2 meters by the end of the century.
While the lack of commitment from major nations, such as the U.S. and China, is a key setback to the UN’s goal of reducing worldwide emissions to decrease the temperature rise from 4 to a target of 2 degrees Celsius, the future of solar power in African and Asian developing nations is looking bright. While 1.5 billion people (including 89% of sub-Saharan Africa), are without electricity, and rely instead on diesel generators and kerosene lamps, which are poisonous for both the climate and the patients in the rural clinics they power, solar products are becoming increasingly cheap and more varied, thanks to new technological developments such as solar-powered cell phone chargers, lightbulbs that absorb daytime energy to provide nighttime light, and thin-filmed photovoltaic panels.
The $17 billion per year off-grid electricity market, as estimated by the World Bank, could provide encouragement to countries concerned that cutting down on carbon emissions would be an economic disadvantage. Several charities, nonprofits, international finance groups, and microfinance organizations have already begun supporting solar power projects in schools in East Africa, water pumps in Bangladesh and Benin, and makeshift hospitals in post-earthquake Haiti.
Still, obstacles remain for the future of solar power. Solar powered batteries have limited charge life and contain toxic components, making their disposal and recycling a challenge. If these problems can be resolved, however, solar power may have potential as a legitimate prospect for reducing carbon emissions. Furthermore, the example of beneficial solar technology in developing nations could also provide a positive model for the rest of the world, who hopefully will discuss the possibility and make some headway in the climate conference. With one day left at Cancun, will these issues be addressed, and if so, how?
Photo Courtesy of PRI’s The World