Removing the `stovepipe' in the cookstove

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Here is something to chew on as you cook your next meal: There are three billion people gathering around open fires or primitive cookstoves in poorly ventilated homes around the world, preparing their next meal. They are breathing toxic chemicals that are up to 200 times above `safe’ levels, and as a result, close to two million are dying each year from this deadly cocktail. This is more than twice the number from malaria and it is mostly women and young children.


ImageFor several years, emissions from inefficient cookstoves have been acknowledged as a major health hazard, but governments and development institutions alike have continued to adopt a classic ‘silo’ or shall we say in this instance `stovepipe’ approach. While the issue cuts across sectors such as forestry, energy, gender, and environment, each ministry/ department has looked at it from their limited perspective.  The result is that nothing much gets done, with each sector saying it is the other’s responsibility.


There is now a new program, led by the UN Foundation, that promises to be commensurate with the scale of the problem: U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves on the sidelines of the MDG Summit in New York yesterday.  The US has announced US$50 million to support the program―the goal is to raise US$250 million in the next 10 years, and have 100 million homes adopt clean and efficient cookstoves and fuels by 2020. The World Bank is going to participate in this program through the Energy Sector Management Assistance Program (ESMAP), which is a global multi-donor technical assistance trust fund administered by the World Bank. This new public-partnership involving a major foundation, Governments of the US, Norway, Germany and Peru, multilateral agencies like the WFP, WHO, UNEP, and private companies such as Morgan Stanley and Shell may finally circumvent the `stovepipe’ malaise.


Climate change seems to have encouraged a new look at this old problem. While improving the health of women and children is the primary driver, dealing with climate change can be a potential co-benefit.  Modern cookstoves can significantly reduce the emissions of GHGs, and other products of incomplete combustion such as black carbon. According to research under the UNEP-supported Atmospheric Brown Cloud (ABC) project, black carbon could be a significant contributor to climate change. Part of the solution could also come from the evolving climate financing architecture including Carbon funds, administered by the World Bank. Some of the possible options could be projects through the BioCarbon Fund, the Community Development Carbon Fund, and the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility.


ImageAnother reason for optimism is the progress being made developing new stove technologies. There are companies like Bosch and Shell that have been working to produce cookstoves that are modern and highly efficient, yet affordable for the poor.  


To attain this goal there is room for more innovation to lower the cost of stoves. India recently announced a partnership with XPrize Foundation, a U.S. based non-profit that designs and administers competitions with prizes up to US$30 million. This competition will focus on the development of affordable and deployable clean burning cookstoves as part of the government’s National Biomass Cookstove initiative.

Emissions from cookstoves were first acknowledged as a problem in the 1950s, and since then there have been sporadic efforts to tackle it. This new UN Foundation led effort may finally signal the breaking down of the ‘stovepipes’ that often come in the way of collaboration and innovation.  


Sameer Akbar

Senior Environmental Specialist, Environment, Natural Resources, and Blue Economy Global Practice, Europe and Central Asia, World Bank

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