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 (outdoor) air pollution. Household air pollution accounts for 12% of ambient air pollution globally and up to 30% of ambient air pollution in areas of South Asia and China. 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 loss of biodiversity and forest degradation, 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.
When produced from sustainably managed woodlots, charcoal production can play a positive role in an agroforestry system. However, the unsustainable harvesting of wood for charcoal production can contribute to forest degradation. In some countries, the reliance on wood fuel – in the form of wood or wood charcoal - for cooking has led to a decline in the quality of forests. Degraded lands lead to losses in biodiversity, erosion control, and storm flow regulation (flood protection). Forest degradation contributes to climate change and can also lead to desertification.
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.