US Launches Multinational Clean Cookstoves Initiative

Andrew Freedman

By Andrew Freedman

The U.S. announced on Tuesday a multinational program to help spread the use of clean-burning cookstoves to 100 million homes worldwide by 2020. The program, called the “Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves,” was announced by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at the annual meeting of former President Bill Clinton's foundation, the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI). It includes an initial pledge of about $51 million over the next five years from the U.S. government, and constitutes a major commitment to reducing (among other hazards) black carbon pollution, a contributor to global climate change.  Multiple federal agencies will be involved in the effort, from the U.S. EPA to the National Institutes of Health, according to the State Department.

Clean-burning cookstoves have long been viewed as a potential “sweet spot” for those interested in addressing several key development issues simultaneously, ranging from environmental degradation to empowering women, but efforts to spread their use have met with limited success. One hindrance has been the inability of many stoves to replicate the taste of traditionally-cooked food, for example. Clinton said the new initiative, which will be overseen by the nonprofit United Nations Foundation, has a greater chance of success than previous efforts because it will be a coordinated program that includes everything from research and development to addressing trade barriers that stand in the way of cookstove exports. “We think this is actually a problem we can solve,” she said.

“Now, no single stove will meet the needs of every community across the world. In fact, previous efforts have taught us that if local tastes and preferences are not considered, people will simply not use the stoves, and we’ll find them stacked in piles of refuse,” Clinton stated. “That’s why a market-based approach that relies on testing, monitoring, and research is so important, because if we do this right, these new stoves will fit seamlessly into family cooking traditions while also offering a step up toward a better life.”

Partners — including Germany, Norway, and Peru — have already committed about $10 million to the effort as well. The goal is to raise as much as $250 million over ten years from a coalition of governments, nongovernmental organizations and private corporations to develop and distribute the stoves to many of the households in the developing world that currently rely on fuel sources that harm their health and the environment by generating air pollutants. Such fuel sources include biomass and wood, and seriously degrade indoor air quality, largely affecting women and children.

“The World Health Organization considers smoke from dirty stoves to be one of the five most serious health risks that face people in poor, developing countries. Nearly two million people die from its effects each year, more than twice the number from malaria. And because the smoke contains greenhouse gasses such as carbon dioxide and methane, as well as black carbon, it contributes to climate change,” Clinton said. 

In addition to causing health problems, recent studies have shown that black carbon, more commonly referred to as soot, can warm the climate and melt snow and ice cover. Cookstoves that burn biomass or charcoal, for example, are a major source of black carbon emissions in developing countries such as India.