Andrew Newey
Sangu River, Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bangladesh

Nearly three billion people around the world burn wood, charcoal, animal dung, or coal in open fires or in inefficient stoves for daily cooking and heating. This reliance on inefficient cookstoves and fuels leads to a wide variety of environmental problems including deforestation, air pollution, and climate change.

Use of Solid Fuel for Cooking Causes Environmental Harm

Burning solid fuels in inefficient cookstoves releases toxic pollutants into the air leading to levels of household air pollution which often far exceed World Health Organization health-based guidelines. Unfortunately, the potential for harm does not stop when smoke leaves the home. Instead, in many areas, fine particulate emissions from household cooking with solid fuels are a major source of ambient pollution. Indeed, according to a recent study, household air pollution accounts for 12% of ambient air pollution globally. The ambient pollution which occurs as a result of  household cooking with solid fuels has major implications for both human health and the environment.

In addition to air pollution, burning solid fuels releases emissions of some of the most important contributors to global climate change: carbon dioxide, methane, black carbon, and other short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs). Unsustainable wood harvesting also contributes to deforestation, reducing carbon uptake by forests.

Black carbon, which results from incomplete combustion, is estimated to contribute the equivalent of 25 to 50% of carbon dioxide warming globally, and residential solid fuel burning accounts for up to 25% of global black carbon emissions, about 84% of which is from households in developing countries. In South Asia, for example, more than half of black carbon comes from the use of inefficient cookstoves. Black carbon also disrupts the monsoon and accelerates melting of the Himalayan-Tibetan glaciers. As a result, water availability and food security are threatened for millions of people. These problems are compounded by crop damage from ozone produced in part by cookstove emissions and from surface dimming, as airborne black carbon intercepts sunlight.

In many countries, much of the native forest cover has been stripped to support charcoal production, and in others reliance on wood fuel for cooking has led to pressure on local forests and natural resources. In most of the urban or peri-urban areas in developing countries, charcoal is often the fuel of choice. The unsustainable collection of wood for charcoal production can contribute to mud-slides, loss of watershed, and desertification, which places further pressures on regional food security and agricultural productivity. In many countries, especially those with remaining old growth tropical forests, the increasing loss of forest canopy for charcoal production also brings devastation to local biodiversity, while the construction of logging roads damages the environment and exacerbates the dwindling habitat of endangered species. Unsustainable wood harvesting also contributes to deforestation, reducing carbon uptake by forests.

Benefits of Clean Cooking Solutions

Many of today’s more efficient cookstoves have been shown to reduce fuel use by 30-60%, resulting in fewer greenhouse gas and black carbon emissions and reducing impacts on forests, habitats, and biodiversity. Recent evidence also demonstrates that advanced (efficient and low emission) cookstoves and fuels can reduce black carbon emissions by 50-90%. Since the atmospheric lifetime of black carbon is only a few days, reducing black carbon emissions can bring about a more rapid climate response than reductions in carbon dioxide and other long-lived greenhouse gases alone. In addition to having an immediate impact on the climate, reducing black carbon emissions would have a regional effect.

Studies show that controlling both short-lived climate pollutants and long-lived greenhouse gases can increase the chances of limiting global temperature rise to below 2ºC, a long-term international goal for avoiding the most dangerous impacts of climate change.