Olafur Eliasson and Frederik Ottesen, Little Sun, 2012 Photograph: Merklit Mersha
Olafur Eliasson and Frederik Ottesen, Little Sun 2012

Imagine a world where the closing of the day plunges your community into darkness. Unimaginable, perhaps, for those of us living in developed countries with sophisticated supply grids providing the energy for light and heating. But in many parts of the world, especially in Africa, communities live far away from any modern energy source and have to make do with burning fires for both heat and light. Fires that consume natural resources and which impair indoor air quality. They might not be a major contribution to environmental harm, at least in comparison to some of the wasteful practices of richer nations across the world, but what if there was a better way? After all, the nights are long in equatorial regions.

Renewable energies are a necessity for the developed world to transition to a low-carbon society, but for those millions who live beyond the reach of grids, they offer a prospect of a better life where they have access to basic needs and comforts that are so often taken for granted elsewhere. These peoples are already expected to be among the ones most likely to be affected by the droughts and floods that are the consequences of climate change. They deserve better. Solar power in many of these regions is in abundance, and can be the source of energy to light local communities, enriching their lives without impoverishing the planet.

Little Sun lamps offer a readily available source of light that can empower so many of the 1.3 billion people that do not have access to electricity — if only we can get them to these communities. Drawing on the sunshine of the day, the stored energy will provide a bright focal point around which families and communities can gather in the evening.

Little Sun is but one example of how we can begin to create a world we like with a climate we like. A world with a rapidly growing population bringing with it ever greater demand for energy to provide heat and light. Low-carbon societies need to be developed across the world, urgently in developed countries, but especially too in developing countries that are seeking to respond to the legitimate demands of their peoples for a better life. 

Connie Hedegaard
European Commissioner for Climate Action, Brussels, Belgium