Image caption Rachel can now do her homework thanks to the lamp

You’d be pushed to uncover a more uplifting display of the transformative power of renewable energy.

In a one particular-area residence in rural Malawi, the tiny face of six-year-old Rachel is framed in a soft white halo.

On a bamboo mat lies a maths book alongside a bundle of fine twigs that she shuffles to assist her arithmetic.

The rest of the village is in total darkness but thanks to the lamp – purchased with the help of UK government help – Rachel’s college grades are enhancing now she can study at property.

In a nearby village, solar panels on a college roof – donated by the Scottish government – have improved results, as properly as offering an additional revenue supply from charging phones and automobile batteries.

“Please thank men and women in Scotland,” the head teacher asks me. “Thanks to the solar panel we even had one pupil go to national college.”

But these are rare examples of electrical energy in rural Malawi. This is one particular of the world’s poorest countries. Just ten% of people are on the grid. And around 90% of power is made by hydro-electric stations, which are beset by erratic rains brought on – Malawian meteorologists say – by climate modify.

Malawi’s own greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels are minuscule. But the nation has a single of the highest deforestation prices in the world as men and women desperate for fuelwood hack into the after-rich forests.

Deforestation reduces the capacity of forests to soak up CO2. It also loosens soil, which then releases carbon dioxide.

Image caption Just ten% of folks are on the grid in Malawi

What’s a lot more, in heavy rains, the loosened soil cascades down the hills. This means aquifers do not get replenished, rivers burst their banks, and silt and branches clog up the hydropower plants.

Escom, the physique that owns the hydro dams, says reservoir capacity has been decreased by two thirds as a result of siltation from forest felling. There are constant black-outs for the couple of men and women and companies who have grid electricity at all.

So what’s Malawi’s answer to its climate and power crisis? Nicely, it is bidding to construct two coal-fired energy stations. Its politicians realise these will swell the international emissions which are already cranking up temperatures, but they say Malawi needs the power for development. Its emissions up to 2040 are projected to increase by 38%.

Coal, they say, is the least bad choice since it provides the opportunity for the nation to address deforestation.

Malawi, like most other nations has submitted its pledge on energy and climate (identified as an INDC) to the United Nations. It has presented to reforest its hills, expand the use of clean cookstoves and get far more solar power – conditional on support from wealthy nations as element of the Paris deal.

But no-1 should underestimate the scale of Malawi’s challenge. The water catchment above the capital Lilongwe is beneath such severe assault from wood-cutters that the Army is on stand-by.

The authorities accept that they can not punish the poor charcoal sellers but their efforts to catch the masterminds of the trade are stated to have been bedevilled by corruption.

Part of Malawi’s remedy is to have two million effective cookstoves in operation by 2020. The population is booming and this will not fulfil national demand.

But each and every stove, made at low price of clay by local women, is said to use much less than half as significantly wood as a conventional 3-stone open fire.

An additional gizmo on trial – a thermoelectric generator created with Irish help – can be bolted on to a cookstove to generate electrical energy for charging phones and LED lights. The existing is designed by the differential in temperature among two metal components.

This invention will only make a tiny dent in Malawi’s energy demands, although. Lord Stern’s group of international experts on climate economics have concluded that climate alter can not be tackled in countries like Malawi exactly where the population is nonetheless 80% rural and where men and women degrade the land to meet their needs.

The only solution, the team says, is for creating nations to program densely-packed cities with exceptional public transport, powered by renewables – Malawi has an exceptional solar resource.

Experts in Malawi say the government, undermined by corruption scandals, is in no state to fulfill that mission.

And the very same shortcomings are disbarring the nation from attracting huge-scale investments in renewables. Paddy Padmanathan, a businessman installing solar thermal power on an epic scale in North Africa, told us Malawi’s development was not sufficiently advanced for that sort of project.

“It’s the institutional capacity in a lot of of these nations. There are not sufficient folks who can manage these factors in the government structures, who know how to put in location the appropriate policies and procedures and procurement programmes,” he stated.

Meanwhile despite the campaign against coal by environmentalists in the West, the stress to burn coal in Malawi is growing.

We visited the Kukoma cooking oil factory which burns large quantities of wood for its boilers. The owner Mohamed Ameen Nathanie is taking into consideration whether or not to set up coal-fired boilers for a a lot more constant burn.

He asks me: “Do you want me to burn the wood from the countryside – or the coal… you choose!”

Roger Harrabin’s series Changlng Climate concludes on Monday at 8pm and is accessible on iPlayer. You can watch his film from Malawi on Newsnight tonight. Interviews for the series are accessible at the OU’s www.creativeclimate.org.

Follow Roger on Twitter @rharrabin

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