Clean cookstoves can save lives and slow climate change

Deaths from cookstove emissions are higher than the toll of HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined

(Pic: UN)

(Pic: UN)

By Nilima Choudhury 

Reducing emissions from cookstoves could save a million lives a year and slow global warming says a World Bank report.

Nearly three billion people living in developing countries – close to half the world’s population – rely on biomass (wood, charcoal, dung, and crop residues) and coal burning to cook their food and heat their homes.

Deaths linked to air pollution caused by using these cookstoves are higher than annual mortalities linked to HIV/Aids, tuberculosis and malaria combined.

Produced with the International Cryosphere Climate Initiative, the report warns that current rapid warming of the Earth’s glaciers, ice caps and vast permafrost regions is likely to affect more than 100 million people globally.

“The damage from indoor cooking smoke alone is horrendous. Every year, four million people die from exposure to the smoke. With cleaner air, cities will become more productive, food production will increase and children will be healthier,” said Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank.

Sameer Akbar, a senior environmental specialist at the World Bank and a co-author of the report says it demonstrates the huge value cleaner cookstoves could offer to developing and developed countries.

“Reductions in short-lived climate pollutants cannot be made in isolation from efforts to reduce other greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide,” he said.

“But black carbon and methane reductions can slow the warming impact in the near-term. That would by us some much-needed time to address carbon dioxide emissions and to help communities adapt to the changing climate”.

Affordable alternatives

The report offers cleaner cooking solutions including using liquid petroleum gas, biogas or ethanol. “The benefits would multiply because, with cleaner air, cities become more productive, child health improves, and more food can be grown,” said the report.

Alongside measures to reduce black carbon and methane from cookstoves, the report also called for improvements in cleaner transport, cutting emissions from waste and forest fires.

Reductions in emissions from diesel transport and equipment could result in over 16 million tons of additional yield in staple crops such as rice, soy, and wheat, especially in Southeast Asia, as well as averting 340,000 premature deaths.

Speaking at a press conference about the report last week, Rachel Kyte, vice president for sustainable development at the World Bank said: “Such action would bring multiple health, agricultural crop and ecosystem benefits and would decrease risk to development from flooding and water shortages.”

Kyte said black carbon as a pollutant would not be discussed at the forthcoming UN climate talks, so instead the Climate and Clean Air Coalition will be holding a side meeting to discuss short lived pollutants.

“Success in the area of short lived climate pollutants is seen as a very important way to demonstrate that action is possible and that action can show measureable benefits and effects in the short term,” she said.

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