Can a simple thing like a $25 clean-burning cookstove save lives, combat climate change, and improve our global economy? The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), United Nations Foundation, U.S. State Department, and the Clinton Global Initiative think so. They, and other partners, have formed a public-private partnership to develop and distribute cookstoves in developing countries. The EPA has committed $6 million over the next five years, and the U.S. government promised $53.3 million. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson announced the formation of the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York on September 21.
An estimated 3 billion people – nearly half the world’s population – use indoor fires and poorly ventilated, fuel-inefficient cookstoves to prepare their meals. In doing so, they inhale smoke and poisonous greenhouse gas emissions, sometimes for many hours each day. Prolonged exposure to these toxins cause nearly 2 million deaths each year – as many as HIV/AIDS, more than tuberculosis, and twice as many as malaria. These victims are mostly women and children. It’s the twenty-first century, and still, half our population lives in such stark conditions that simply cooking meals for their family could eventually kill them. In some regions, like the Congo, the journey women must make to gather wood for the stove also puts them at risk for rape and assault. Efficent cookstoves that use alternate fuel could keep women safer, keep their children healthier, and turn the time they previously spent cooking and gathering wood, into time spent with family, tending crops, learning a skill, or running a business.
Although slaving over an open fire daily just to eat seems far removed from our industrialized lives, the smoke created by these fires reaches clear around the world to affect everyone. Wood fires and inefficient cookstoves pump greenhouse gases into our atmosphere, contributing heavily to carbon buildup, while deforestation caused by people cutting down trees for fuel only exacerbates the problem. Cleaner burning cookstoves could be a significant step toward mitigating climate change. Although the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves has set a goal to help 100 million households adopt clean cookstoves by 2020, Clinton states that the long-term goal is universal adoption around the world.
As if saving lives and helping the environment weren’t strong enough benefits, the Alliance vows to implement an entire clean cookstove supply chain on a global level, creating thousands of jobs in developing countries and strengthening local economies. It’s not just a matter of pulling up to a village and dropping off some basic, utilitarian cookstoves. Clinton herself admitted that the needs of each community and its members would vary, so each regional supply chain will embrace the first rule in business around the world – know your customers. Otherwise, these health- and environment-saving tools might be simply tossed aside, unused.
In the next five years, the EPA plans to work with partners around the world to test and develop innovative cookstove designs and evaluate the health impact of cleaner cookstoves. Hopefully 50 million households will be breathing cleaner air by 2015, and the number of smoke-related deaths will drop, our carbon emissions will be reduced, and a thriving cookstove industry will have provided much-needed economic stimulus to struggling communities.