The importance of renewable energy has had a persistent presence on social media and in the news in the past few years, accompanied by ominous but important warnings of the consequences of continuing fossil fuel reliance. For me personally, it is something that has been a key focus in the past few months, through promoting CAFOD’s current Power to Be campaign and having recently returned from Costa Rica, one of the most environmentally friendly countries in the world.
My name is Emily and I began volunteering with the CAFOD Liverpool Office earlier this year as a campaigns volunteer during the final year of my history degree at the University of Liverpool. I decided to volunteer because of the more general reasons; wanting to make a more direct contribution to the local community and raising awareness of the bigger global issues through campaigning, but more specifically I was particularly interested in how organisations like CAFOD interact with both governments and communities around the world. Through my dissertation research into the way in which the US government prioritised its aid and the impact this had on the lives of ordinary Salvadoran citizens, the importance of the work of organisations like CAFOD to people in the poorest parts of the world became inescapably obvious and was one of the main reasons that I decided to volunteer with CAFOD in particular.
I recently spent several weeks travelling through Central America and in Costa Rica more specifically. One of the main things I noticed was that everywhere I went in Costa Rica, even in the most remote places, there were constant reminders of the country’s environmental outlook and renewable energy targets. These included everything from the little things, like signs on every single toilet detailing what not to flush and eco-
friendly shower systems, to the more obvious, such as the solar panels on most buildings across the county. In 2015, Costa Rica broke the record for the most days without using fossil fuels to generate power, reaching 75 consecutive days at the beginning of the year. In 2016 it managed to use 98% clean energy for its total power consumption throughout the year and the government has claimed that the country hopes to be carbon neutral by 2021. This is a substantial achievement and a definite victory for the environment, made even more impressive when compared with countries such as the USA, which only managed to use 15% renewable energy in 2016. The benefits of these environmental policies are also clear to see; the air is noticeably cleaner than I’ve ever experienced before and signs of climate change aren’t nearly as obvious as they are elsewhere.
Costa Rica provides an excellent example of the environmental benefits of focusing on renewable energy, whilst CAFOD’s current Power to Be campaign highlights the other side; the transformation of people’s lives that is possible through improving access to renewable energy in the world’s poorest places. Nearly one in six people don’t have access to electricity, yet renewable energy resources are sufficient enough to potentially supply the world’s energy demands. It is estimated that wider energy access would improve literacy rates, education and generally improve the quality of life for an incredibly large proportion of people. Given that connecting to energy grids fuelled by fossil fuels is so expensive in many poorer countries, increasing access to renewable energy would not only be better for the environment, but would make a significant impact on the lives of nearly a billion people.
The focus on renewable energy is also present at home in the UK, a big part of CAFOD’s LiveSimply award, which encourages communities to show how they have been living sustainably with creation, as well as living simply and solidarity with people in poverty. By encouraging communities to live sustainably with creation, CAFOD encourages the
use of small cleaner energy resources, such as solar panels, among other initiatives such as recycling and reducing their carbon footprint. The centrality of renewable energy to a variety of CAFOD projects, both globally as well as at home, together with the commitment of governments in Costa Rica and 47 other developing countries that have committed to becoming 100% reliant on renewable energy, demonstrates that total reliance on renewable, cleaner energy is becoming a much more realistic goal.
Written by Emily McIndoe, CAFOD Liverpool volunteer