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Emissions from cookstoves of the poor are 'survival emissions'
Narendra Ch | 12 Mar 2015

Over 2 billion people across the world use highly inefficient and polluting cookstoves; India alone has more than 800 million of them.


 
Alluding to the dual danger that current in-use cookstoves pose, Sunita Narain, director general, CSE, said: "Cookstoves are at the centre of failing international action today. While on one hand women are breathing toxic emissions from stoves, on the other, these emissions are adding to the climate change burden of the world." Narain was speaking at one of the parallel sessions of the 2015 Anil Agarwal Dialogue on 'The poor in climate change', which got off to a start here today.
 
Some of the key points of discussion at this Dialogue are identifying energy poverty and how the world is failing to give people clean energy to cook.
 
The World Health Organization (WHO) has classified indoor air pollution from cookstoves as a global health burden. According to the 2010 Global Burden of Disease report, as many as 1.04 million pre-mature deaths and 31.4 million disability adjusted life years (DALYs) – measure of years lost due to ill-health, early death etc – are related to exposure to biomass burning in poorly ventilated homes. Women, naturally, suffer the most.
 
Black carbon or SLCPs
According to researchers attending the Dialogue, cookstoves emit what are known as short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs) – black carbon. This is a product of incomplete combustion: burning fuel in cookstoves, diesel cars, brick kilns, etc. Black carbon is a fraction of the tiny PM2.5 particle, and deadly when inhaled.
 
The life span of SLCPs in the atmosphere is three to eight days, unlike carbon dioxide which has a life span of 80 to 100 years. Says Chandra Bhushan, CSE's deputy director general: "Combating SLCP emissions, therefore, can bring quick results for our increasingly over-heated Planet."  
 
Biomass endures
Researchers who attended today's Dialogue sessions on cookstoves pointed out that though many countries – including India and China – may have modernised, the bulk of cooking in villages is still done using biomass. According to the World Energy Outlook, in 2030, 33 per cent of the global population will continue to cook on biomass.
 
In India, nothing has changed in the past two decades. According to the National Sample Survey Organisation, in 1993-94, 78 per cent households in rural India used biomass as cooking fuel; in 2009-10, 76 per cent used it.
 
Despite this persisting emphasis on biomass, there is little evidence that it has led to any large-scale destruction of forests – something that the world was scared about in the 1970s and 80s.
 
The politics and the way out
"So what is the politics of particles and how do we deal with the cookstove emission issue?" asks Narain. According to her, emissions from cookstoves of the poor can be categorised as 'survival emissions' – and are different and distinct from 'luxury emissions' emitted by vehicles of the rich.
 
"The world tries to push the blame on to the poor. This is not correct," Narain says. "Action must differentiate between the two kinds of emissions – luxury emissions must be aggressively targeted, while those emitted by the poor need supportive policies."
 
CSE research says the options are to either give access to cleaner cooking devices, or to change the fuel used – opt for either LPG (which will be cleaner but still add to the climate burden) or solar mini-grid. Says Narain: "The poor, in fact, provide us with a perfect opportunity to leapfrog from one renewable energy source that is currently polluting to another that is cleaner. It is this objective that must drive our efforts."