Research identifies where clean and efficient cookstoves can have biggest benefits in battling climate change

New Alliance-funded research published in the journal Nature Climate Change analyzes the impact that gathering and burning wood for fuel has on deforestation and greenhouse pollution, and identifies regions where the climate benefits from clean and efficient cookstoves will be greatest. The research, conducted by experts at Yale University and Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) presents an assessment of woodfuel supply and demand across the tropics. Their results suggest that up to 17 percent of global woodfuel emissions could be reduced with successful deployment and utilization of 100 million cleaner, more efficient cookstoves.  At US $11 per ton of carbon dioxide equivalent, these reductions could be worth over US $1b/year.

Traditional woodfuels used for cooking and heating, which include both firewood and charcoal, represent about 55 percent of global wood harvest, and supply roughly 2.8 billion people with their basic energy needs. The unsustainable harvesting and incomplete combustion of woodfuels contributes to environmental degradation, climate change, and unhealthy living conditions.
Large-scale adoption of efficient, low-emission cookstoves and fuels can mitigate climate change by reducing carbon dioxide from non-sustainable harvesting of biomass, and by lowering emissions from short-lived greenhouse gases and aerosols such as methane, carbon monoxide, and black carbon.

While the research suggests that 27-34 percent of woodfuel harvested was unsustainable on a global scale, there are huge variations at national and regional levels. Two hundred and seventy five million people live in woodfuel ‘hotspots’, defined as regions where non renewability exceeds 50 percent. This includes nearly 60 percent in South Asia, 34 percent in Africa, and 6 percent in Latin America. Notably, the  Alliance focus countries of Bangladesh, Kenya, and Uganda are considered ‘hotspots’, and  Ghana, Guatemala, Kenya, and Uganda are among the countries with the highest per capita woodfuel consumption. India and China have the highest global woodfuel emissions overall, but have relatively lower per-capita emissions. Woodfuel contributions also account for 5-21 percent of total emissions in Nigeria.

Results from this study will enable program developers to more accurately incorporate environmental concerns, including sustainability of woodfuel and potential carbon offsets, into their planning processes. In places where deforestation is a concern, and where the collection of firewood contributes to negative environmental impacts, this information can be used to identify areas where scaling clean cookstoves and fuels could provide the greatest benefits to the environment.