The Clean Cooking Alliance works with a global network of partners to build an inclusive industry that makes clean cooking accessible to the three billion people who live each day without it.

Building an inclusive industry requires a robust-evidence base for decision-making. The evidence-base for clean cooking has grown over the years and we are increasingly seeing research not only focus on the big questions around health and climate but around the hard questions that will move the sector into the next stage of growth. We are seeing research ask various questions such as: What makes someone want to adopt new technology? What policies are the most effective for driving access and use? What is the relationship between emissions and exposure? What energy transition makes sense for a given context? And has resource scarcity really forced people to transition to modern fuels?

To ensure that the sector has access to the most up-to-date research, the Alliance is launching the “Clean Cooking Research Update.” Periodically, the Alliance will publish a blog spotlighting new research published on clean cooking by sub-topic.

So far in 2019, we’ve seen…

…. that in some regions of the world, the development and environmental consequences are serious if we don’t take fast action to address the use of firewood and charcoal for cooking…

  • Hindu Kush Himalaya: The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) published the first comprehensive assessment of the impact of climate change on the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH) region. This report highlights that “although improvements have been made at the national level, 80% of rural populations living in HKH countries still lack access to clean energy for cooking,” and the lack of access to clean cooking is contributing to climate warming emissions and air pollution. The report calls for integrated, and evidence-based policy solutions, and increased investment to address this deficit that will only increase with population growth.

But both technical and policy solutions are being tested to do just that…

  • India: Large-scale government programs promoting modern cooking fuels show large environmental benefits, even if the health benefits aren’t yet realized. The Government of India’s PMUY LPG program has realized significant emission reductions with households only partially transitioning to cooking with LPG. A chapter in the new book that takes a comprehensive look at the PMUY Ujjwala Program focuses on the climate impact of the cooking energy transition, finding between 1.85 and 3.35 MT CO2 emission reductions in 2018 attributable to the program. This research shows that even with a partial transition to clean fuels, you can realize climate benefits.
  • Kenya:  A new book looks at low-carbon pathways focusing on renewable energy technologies at the household and community levels. The authors examined Kenya’s ambitious plans for a low-carbon and climate resilient future that include modernizing the household cooking sector through “a mix of regulation, promotion of improved kilns and cookstoves, and support of alternative fuels.” The authors argue that charcoal will remain a part of Kenya’s household energy mix for the short and medium term until cleaner and more sustainable fuels become viable, and as such investments must be made to increase the sustainable and efficient forest management, charcoal production, and charcoal consumption.
  • Kenya and Colombia: A fuel consumption study in Kenya found that the Upsei Ceramic stove reduces fuel consumption by almost 40%. The study looked at factors influencing fuel use and found “that household size, numbers of tea meals cooked, and distance from the forest were the best predictors of Upesi stove wood consumption in households, while season, stove age, condition of stove, and number of food meal types had no discernable effects.” Similarly, a life cycle assessment of biogas digesters in Colombia found emissions reduction potential of up to 80%.

Other countries are trying to understand how people are still using firewood and charcoal for fuel when historical data told us that there shouldn’t be any forests left…

  • Haiti: Haitians meet approximately 80 percent of their national energy needs through firewood and charcoal production, yet the environmental “apocalypse” predicted in 1979 has not occurred. Why? A new report from the World Bank conducted a national assessment of charcoal production and consumption trends and “found that Haitians are not only still meeting their woodfuel needs, they are also producing charcoal at higher volumes...This suggests that at least part of the charcoal being produced in Haiti is made with biomass resources that are renewable.” This is in line with 2018 research by Ghilardi, Tarter, and Bailis. Though the environmental apocalypse has not arisen, the authors note that there are problems attributable to charcoal use—"ongoing charcoal production in ecologically fragile areas, ecological deterioration, loss of woody biomass in unsustainably harvested zones, as well as the serious health impacts of household charcoal consumption.” The authors conclude that there is a need for an exploration of pragmatic solutions and better data.

And why people are still using traditional fuels to the detriment of the climate and environment when there are readily available modern alternatives?

  • Mexico: Researchers in Mexico examined the historical evolution and implications of firewood and charcoal consumption in Mexico from 1960 to present in a critique of the conventional energy transition model. Despite a thriving market for LPG, Mexican households have not made the expected energy transition to modern fuels. Instead, the researchers found that “since 1960 fuelwood use has remained virtually constant and is expected to continue” and that many households instead of fully converting to modern cooking fuels have transitioned to using multiple fuels or as they call it, a “fuel stacking strategy.” The authors attribute this to “economic, technical, and cultural reasons.” Like Haiti, Mexico has not experienced an environmental apocalypse; 64% of the fuelwood harvest is renewable. That said, the climate impact of using firewood and charcoal for cooking is not to be discounted, the author’s find that emissions from fuelwood use represent 50% of total annual Mexican greenhouse gas emissions. This paper highlights the importance of “promoting integrated strategies that include the clean and efficient use of fuelwood [via improved cookstoves] while also benefitting from increasing access to clean and modern fuels.”

And as always, we need more data. Specifically, we still need better data on emissions factors if we are going to track emission inventories and trust climate prediction models. 

  • Senegal: We already know that in some regions of the world, cooking with traditional biomass (charcoal and firewood) is the largest source of black carbon emissions. What we don’t know is the exact characterization of the mix of black carbon (warming effect) and organic carbon (cooling effect) emissions from cookstoves at a country or regional level. These are vital data for climate models, emissions inventories, and climate impact measurements. Researchers added new emissions measurements to the evidence base for four cookstoves (three-stone fire, rocket stove, basic ceramic stove, and gasifier) using two wood types in Senegal. This emissions data will allow for more accurate local and regional impact measurements.
  • Global: While the climate and health-damaging emissions from the incomplete combustion of cooking fuels like wood, charcoal, kerosene, are well studied, anecdotal evidence tells us that the fuel used for starting a cookstove or open fire is often far flung from that list of traditional fuels. Researchers conducted a survey of clean cooking sector experts on the material types used to start cookstoves. Respondents provided information on 49 locations in 22 countries. The survey results “…indicate that a wide variety of materials are used to ignite cookstoves globally…Three of the material groups identified - accelerants, paper, and plastic - together represented nearly half of the mentioned materials…Understanding startup material choice is an important first step towards understanding the contribution of startup materials to overall cookstove emissions and their subsequent health and environmental impacts.”