Almost half the world’s households, some three billion, eat food cooked on fires and stoves burning wood, dung, coal, straw, husks and charcoal. Traditional stoves make kitchens death traps for the world’s most vulnerable people. Pollution levels from smoke and gases such as carbon monoxide are typically hundreds of times those that would be tolerated in the streets or a factory. An estimated 1.6 million people die annually as a result, including around a million children under five, mostly victims of childhood pneumonia.

But our calculations suggest that a global programme to manufacture the half-billion improved stoves needed to convert the world’s poor to safer cooking could save hundreds of thousands of young lives a year - and at the same time cut global greenhouse gas emissions by the equivalent of up to one billion tonnes of CO2 a year.

Such investments ought to attract large sums through the carbon market. We calculate that improved cooking stoves can keep a tonne of CO2 out of the atmosphere for as little as $1-3, an exceedingly good deal in a market where offsets can be sold for $20-30 a tonne.

The Ashden Awards for Sustainable Energy have recognised and supported advancing designs for different cultures and cooking needs. Since 2001, 18 stove projects in Africa, Asia and Latin America have won awards, most of which have gone on to expand and develop.

Getting the technology and design of stoves right is essential to ensure their widespread adoption. They need to be culturally appropriate. But equally governments, businesses and development organisations need to promote and replicate the most effective stoves or the necessary scale of uptake will never be achieved. Carbon finance may be significant in achieving this.

Working closely with communities to overcome the barriers to adoption is essential to squaring this circle. The good news is that the costs are not great, the mechanics of scaling up production are not complex – and the benefits are multiple, including better health, improved rates of child survival, better lives for women, improved local environments and cost-effective measures to tackle climate change.

Some other highlights of the report

  • Our report says that a global programme to produce half a billion improved stoves could convert the world’s poor to safer cooking, save hundreds of thousands of young lives a year, and at the same time cut global greenhouse gas emissions by the equivalent of up to one billion tonnes of CO 2 a year.
  • Traditional, inefficient stoves make kitchens highly dangerous for the world’s most vulnerable people - women and children’s lungs in particular are subjected to a toxic mix of smoke and gases, leading to a silent epidemic of disease. Household smoke is a major cause of childhood pneumonia, the biggest cause of death among children worldwide, and is strongly linked to chronic lung disease among women.
  • Cooking fires and stoves are also significant contributors to climate change, through their emissions of CO2, other gases and particulates. Soot is now thought to be responsible for up to a fifth of the warming effect of man-made pollution.
  • The benefits extend to the wider environment, with reduced emissions of pollutants that cause both local pollution and global climate change, and locally dramatic reductions in deforestation, especially on the fringes of urban areas.

The report gives many examples of stoves programmes across the developing world that provide affordable, robust ‘improved’ stoves that burn less fuel, cook faster and approximately halve harmful smoke emissions. Many use a chimney to remove smoke and gases from the kitchen, improving combustion.

"We think the time has come for greater finance and political will to roll out stoves. Just as donors have grasped the value of rolling out bed-nets against malaria, we want to see improved stoves make a real impact on the poor. Better stoves improve health, save lives, help mitigate the effects of climate change while also saving money."

''Sarah Butler-Sloss,
Founder Director,
Ashden Awards for Sustainable Energy''

Read the report in full here