Chief Science and Learning Officer
Cooking over open fires or inefficient stoves typically entails burning fuels (such as wood, charcoal, coal, and kerosene) that release harmful, climate-warming emissions.
These emissions of short-lived climate pollutants—such as black carbon and methane (CH4), as well as other greenhouse gases, such as carbon monoxide (CO) and carbon dioxide (CO2)—occur because of the incomplete combustion of kerosene and solid fuels during this form of cooking.
As a result, household energy use makes up more than half of all global black carbon emissions, the second largest contributor to climate change after carbon dioxide. Clean cooking is vital to combating global climate change and reducing environmental degradation.Read CCA’s Climate and Environment Factsheet
Black carbon, commonly known as soot, is by far the most significant short-lived climate pollutant emitted during cooking. Black carbon particles absorb sunlight, thereby warming the atmosphere, and are estimated to be second only to CO2 in their warming impact on the climate.
While black carbon remains in the atmosphere for only a short period of time, it then falls back to Earth with precipitation, where it darkens the surface of snow and ice and reduces their reflecting power, which causes the melting of sea ice and glaciers. Globally, as much as 25% of black carbon emissions come from household cooking, heating, and lighting. In many Asian and African countries, household cooking can account for as much as 60%-80% of black carbon emissions.
With nearly 2.4 billion people relying on firewood and charcoal (woodfuel) for cooking, woodfuel is by far the most commonly used solid fuel. The CO2 emissions from cooking with wood and charcoal are caused by woodfuel that is harvested unsustainably – that is, a rate that exceeds regrowth. This leads to forest degradation that reduces the ability of trees and shrubs to absorb emitted carbon from the air. Around 30% of the woodfuel harvested globally is unsustainable, accounting for 2% of global climate-damaging emissions. Forest degradation also causes losses in erosion control, biodiversity, and flood protection.
Many of today’s more modern stoves are highly efficient and can reduce fuel use by 30%-60%, resulting in fewer emissions of greenhouse gas and black carbon.
Recent evidence also demonstrates that the most advanced (efficient and low-emission) cookstoves and fuels can reduce black carbon emissions by 50%-90%. Well-managed woodlots produce sustainable woodfuel, reducing CO2 emissions.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2018) acknowledges that reducing black carbon, methane, and other short-lived climate pollutants would not only have substantial co-benefits on health and air pollution, but can, in the short-term, contribute significantly to limiting global warming to 2 degrees celsius, a long-term international goal for avoiding the most dangerous impacts of climate change.