WASHINGTON, D.C. — Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) introduced the Clean Cookstoves and Fuels Support Act to Congress in March. It is a bill to promote the use of safer and environmentally-friendly cookstoves and fuels for those in extreme poverty in the developing world. The bill urges the U.S. government to continue support for the advancement of the goals and work of the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves and ensure that there is sufficient funding in future fiscal years to maintain commitments related to work with the Alliance.
Daily exposure to the harmful smoke of traditional cooking practices is one of the world’s biggest – but least known – killers. Almost half the world’s population still cooks food, boils water and warms their homes by burning wood, animal and agricultural waste and coal in open fires or rudimentary cookstoves. Cookstove smoke, or household air pollution, kills one person every eight seconds – leading to 4 million deaths annually in the developing world. This adds up to be more than the deaths from malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS combined.
The public health concern goes alongside environmental issues. Black carbon emissions from rudimentary cookstoves account for an estimated 21 percent of total global inventory. The amount of biomass cooking fuel required for each family can reach up to two tons per year. Collecting biomass often outstrips natural resources and leads to local environmental degradation.
The problem is a social issue as well. Reliance on inefficient and unsafe cookstoves and fuels disproportionately impact women and girls because cooking and fuel collection largely remain a woman’s responsibility. When the nearby biomass sources are expended, women are forced to spend more time to go farther to find fuel to cook their families’ meals. In some regions, women and girls spend up to 20 hours per week gathering firewood – becoming vulnerable to rape and gender-based violence when away from the safety of their home and losing valuable time away from education or productive activities.
The Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves is a public-private partnership of governments, donors, corporations, academia and nonprofits. There are 900 partners teaming up in the Alliance aiming to create a thriving global market for affordable, safe and clean cookstoves and fuels that will improve lives and protect the environment. The Alliance is led by the United Nations Foundation. It is headquartered in Washington, D.C. with a leadership council that includes former U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, and has amongst its global ambassadors the Academy Award-winning actress, Julia Roberts.
Without such collaboration, cookstove businesses would not have an incentive to remain in business. Their target customer base, who live on less than $2.50 per day, are presented with relatively high upfront costs. For example, a $25 modern cookstove is a burdensome investment for a household that survives on $100 per month. The cost is even more exacerbated for the rural poor who are hard to reach for retailers.
Better cookstoves by themselves cannot get into the hands of those who need it the most without local authorities and grassroots organizations helping to distribute them in an educative way. Governments play their role by ensuring sufficient capital for cookstove businesses, along with research and development and standards-setting. Even innovative micro-financing schemes take charge in becoming more available to the poor to help them switch to the cleaner cookstoves.
Over 40 countries have aligned themselves with the mission to enable the adoption of clean and efficient stoves in 100 million homes by 2020. Six countries were identified for immediate engagement: Bangladesh, China, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and Uganda. Developing regions in Asia and Africa are particularly prone to the problem of household air pollution.
The U.S. government is one of 12 donor countries providing funding and in-kind support such as research and development, advocacy and pilot programs. Since the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves was launched in 2010, the U.S. government has committed a total of up to $125 million – including approximately $60 million in research, $15 million in field implementation activities and up to $50 million in financing. The Clean Cookstoves and Fuels Support Act would authorize and appropriate federal spending for the Department of State, National Science Foundation, Peace Corps and other federal agencies in order to carry out the goals of the Alliance.
“Replacing unsafe cookstoves with modern alternatives is the ‘low-hanging fruit’ of environmental fixes,” Senator Collins said in a statement. “It can be done relatively quickly and inexpensively and would improve lives, empower women, and combat pollution around the world.”