Climate & Environment
Cooking over open fires or inefficient stoves typically entails burning fuels like wood, charcoal, coal, and kerosene, which releases harmful, climate-warming emissions. Short-lived climate pollutants such black carbon and methane (CH4), as well as other greenhouse gases, such as carbon monoxide (CO) and carbon dioxide (CO2), and are emitted due to the incomplete combustion of kerosene and solid fuels that occurs while cooking over open fires or with inefficient stoves.
Black carbon, commonly known as soot, refers to tiny carbon particles that form during incomplete combustion of carbon-based fuels (such as wood, charcoal, coal, and kerosene), and is by far the most significant short-lived climate pollutant emitted during cooking. Black carbon is a climate warming pollutant and is estimated to be second only to CO2 in its warming impact on the climate1. Black carbon particles absorb sunlight, warming the atmosphere. Black carbon only remains in the atmosphere for a short-period of time, then it falls back earth with precipitation, darkening the surface of snow and ice and reducing the reflecting power of a surface, causing sea ice and glacial melting. Globally, up to 25% of black carbon emissions come from household cooking, heating, and lighting. In many Asian and African countries, household cooking can account for as much as 60-80% of black carbon emissions2.
With nearly 2.4 billion people relying on firewood and charcoal (woodfuel) for cooking, woodfuel is by far the most-commonly used solid fuel3. The CO2 emissions from cooking with wood and charcoal are caused by unsustainably harvested woodfuel (when wood is harvested at a rate that exceeds regrowth) leading to forest degradation that reduces the ability of trees and shrubs to absorb emitted carbon from the air (carbon sequestration). Around 30% of the woodfuel harvested globally is unsustainable, resulting in climate damaging emissions equivalent to 2% of global emissions4. Forest degradation also causes loses in erosion control, biodiversity, and flood protection.
Clean Cooking Solutions
Many of today’s more modern stoves are highly efficient and can reduce fuel use by 30-60%, resulting in fewer greenhouse gas and black carbon emissions5. Recent evidence also demonstrates that the most advanced (efficient and low-emission) cookstoves and fuels can reduce black carbon emissions by 50-90%6. Well managed woodlots produce sustainable woodfuel, reducing CO2 emissions. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2018) acknowledges that reducing black carbon, methane, and other short-lived climate pollutants would not only have substantial co-benefits on health and air pollution, but can in the short-term contribute significantly to limiting global warming to 2oC, a long-term international goal for avoiding the most dangerous impacts of climate change.
Mitigating climate change and environmental degradation requires an inclusive industry that makes clean cooking accessible to the three billion people who live without it.
1 Ramanathan and Carmichael 2008
2 Bond et al. 2013
3 FAO 2017
4 Bailis et al. 2015
5 Garland et al. 2017
6 Garland et al. 2017