Clever cooking methods to combat climate change | Global Ideas | DW | 23.03.2010
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Global Ideas

Clever cooking methods to combat climate change

Efficient stoves and ovens not only improve the quality of life for people in developing countries, they also help protect the climate. It's even possible to earn money buy cutting emissions.

Two Peruvian women get their new efficient stove working

Entering a new age of cooking: two Peruvian women get their new stove working

From Africa to South America to Asia, when it comes to cooking, many people around the world face similar problems. Family members are forced to sit close by an open fireplace so smoky that the kitchen walls have been coated in black soot. The children have coughs, and the women have already developed lung disease. They're the ones who do the majority of cooking, after all. And that means long exposure to fires which cause bronchitis, asthma, and lung cancer.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), some 1.5 million people die each year from lung diseases resulting from wood-burning fires – more than the number of people who die each year from malaria.

Firewood's vicious cycle

Almost half the world's population – around three billion people – cooks over open fires. Wood is the main fuel source but crop residue, dung, and charcoal are used as well. It's an economic and environmental vicious cycle. Forests are chopped down for firewood, resulting in an increase of erosion. Rain sweeps fertile topsoil from the fields, and harvests get smaller. And the weather becomes drier, because the absence of forests changes the regional climate.

Those who cook over open fires also lose valuable working time in the gathering of firewood – another factor that contributes to poverty. And it's a well-known fact that wood burning fires damage the climate, causing some 17 percent of carbon dioxide emissions globally.

A Bolivian woman cooks on a traditional stove

A large pot over an open fire - many poor people still cook this way

Because of all these problems, development aid workers are pushing for greater availability of efficient stoves and ovens worldwide.

"They are a key factor in rural development, because they reduce poverty and illness and they help protect the climate," said Verena Brinkmann, who works on the household energy program for Germany's technical aid organization, GTZ.

Used optimally, a new stove can help a family cut their annual fuel consumption in half, saving 1.5 tons of carbon dioxide.

Clean cooking with the "rocket stove"

Efficient stoves and ovens are easy to build, says Svane Bender of the German environmental organization, NABU, which is working on a project to provide stoves to families in Ethiopia.

"That's the advantage they have in comparison to solar ovens, for example, which need a lot of imported parts," Bender said.

Due to different regional factors such as fuel methods and what kind of food is commonly prepared determine which kind of oven meets the populations' needs, a wide variety of efficient ovens are available

"Ethiopians eat a kind of flat, round bread known as injera, so an oven was developed for that purpose," said Bender.

In many projects, people learn how to build their own ovens out of clay, metal, or bricks. Well-insulated combustion chambers and wind protection that keeps cool air away from the cooking pot ensure efficiency.

Cooking over an open fire in Uganda

In Africa, 90 percent of all food is cooked - mainly the traditional way, over an open fire

Emerging economies like China and India currently have the most modern efficient stoves, thanks to strong government support for their expansion.

"Purchasing power is important for success – and there's plenty of purchasing power in both of these booming emerging nations," said Brinkmann.

But the new stoves are also becoming more popular in developing countries, especially in eastern Africa. In addition to Ethiopia and Kenya, Uganda is considered to be a model example. There, half a million households are cooking with the clay oven known as the Rocket Stove, which emits hardly any smoke.

According to the GTZ, this particular model saves households a ton of wood each year. The organization is training villagers to become professional stove builders. Without such commitment on the ground, even such well-intentioned projects can often fail after a very short time.

Climate protection and profit

Modern cooking methods are also increasingly becoming important in South America, particularly in Bolivia and Peru. The Peruvian government aims to distribute some 500,000 efficient stoves among its people, with the help of companies such as Microsol.

After all, they can earn money with efficient stoves, thanks to the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) within the framework of the Kyoto Protocol on climate protection. It allows companies from the signatory nations to buy emissions credits for climate protection projects in developing countries. They can either sell them, or use them to offset their own CO2 reduction goals. Companies buy the certificates from firms such as Microsol, which develop their own climate projects specifically for this purpose.

Emissions certificates from projects which have achieved the so-called "gold standard" are especially expensive. Companies commit to such projects voluntarily, as they get a huge image boost from the standard's rigorous criteria.

Cooking with an efficient oven in Uganda

In Uganda, the Rocket Stove has become popular. It's built out of clay and has a chimney

Until now, only four stove projects have registered globally for emissions trading; 13 others projects are currently being evaluated by independent bodies on behalf of the CDM advisory board. But many more projects are needed because, as the GTZ has noted, efficient stoves and ovens have not yet achieved the global breakthrough that the United Nations once hoped for.

The UN millennium development goals agreed on in 2000 aimed to reduce the number of people still using traditional cooking methods by half. But in order to reach this goal, some 500,000 modern stoves would have to be introduced each day – a utopian number.

Despite this, development workers are hopeful. Through the measures put in place by the CDM, large sums of money from private investors can finally be made available, turning efficient stoves and ovens into mass market products.

"We have to see now, what the effects of the latest CDM business have been," said Brinkmann. "But it seems clear that it offers new development potential to efficient cooking methods."

That's also the goal of the private UN foundation that will found the "Global Alliance for Clean Ovens" at the end of March. It aims to provide 50 million new units to developing countries in the next five years.

Author: Torsten Schäfer (dc)
Editor: Mark Mattox

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