Cookstoves and the Environment

Cookstoves and the environment

Nearly 3 billion people each day cook on open fires or rudimentary cookstoves that are fueled by coal or solid biomass such as wood. Reliance on polluting cookstoves and fuels leads to a wide variety of environmental problems. Using solid biomass as fuels depletes forests, a condition that weakens the soil causing mudslides and destroying agricultural land; and jeopardizes human health and household and community air quality through toxic smoke emissions.

CO2 Emissions produce greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming

Burning solid biomass is inefficient at converting energy to heat for cooking, and releases a toxic mix of health damaging pollutants that contribute to climate change at regional and global levels. In particular, some of these pollutants, such as black carbon and methane, have short life spans but significant consequences for the climate.

Black carbon, which results from incomplete combustion, is estimated to contribute the equivalent of 25 to 50 percent of carbon dioxide warming globally. Methane emissions are the second largest cause of climate change after carbon dioxide. Clearly, inefficient household energy use has adverse consequences for the environment, air quality and human health.

Emissions from traditional cookstoves also contribute significantly to outdoor air pollution and exacerbate already deadly air pollution in large towns and cities around the world, affecting those with and without access to clean household energy.

Wood and charcoal use can increase deforestation rates

In many countries, much of the native forest cover has been stripped to support charcoal production, and in others reliance on wood fuel for cooking can lead to increased pressures on local forests and natural resources. In most of the urban or periurban areas in developing countries, charcoal is usually the fuel of choice. The unsustainable collection of wood for charcoal production can contribute to mud-slides, loss of watershed, and desertification, which places further pressures on regional food security and agricultural productivity.

In many nations, the increasing loss of forest canopy for charcoal production also brings devastation to local biodiversity, while the construction of logging roads damages the environment and exacerbates the dwindling habitat of endangered species.

Alarmingly, the cycle of destruction grows dire every year as population growth and increasingly protracted refugee crises in places like Northern Kenya and Southern Ethiopia place growing pressure on natural resources. As women and girls venture further and further away from home in a desperate search for fuel, they are also at greater risk of sexual and gender based violence.

Furthermore, competition between local communities and refugee populations for fuel resources is a frequent source of strife in many countries. As the world’s population grows, and conflicts globally lead to increased pressures on natural resources, fuel scarcities are expected to intensify, affecting rural women most of all.