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United States Joins Alliance to Promote Clean Cooking in Developing Countries

SOURCE: AP/Gurinder Osan

Indian men sell dung cakes to residents in New Delhi that are commonly used as cooking fuel in rural India. Cookstoves that use dung and other biomass as fuel give off toxic smoke and are believed to contribute to climate change.

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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced Tuesday an impressive collaboration at the Clinton Global Initiative that brings together U.S. agencies and the United Nations Foundation to form the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves. The aim is to bring 100 million households around the world clean and efficient stoves and fuel by 2020.

The new alliance takes a significant step toward preventing the estimated 2 million premature deaths caused by cooking smoke every year while encouraging the deployment of basic low-carbon energy infrastructure and addressing women’s security issues in poor communities around the world. This initiative also adds to the U.S. commitment to contribute a fair share to the $30 billion “fast-start” funding promised at last year’s U.N. climate summit in Copenhagen to help developing countries adapt to global warming and mitigate their emissions from 2010 to 2012.

Traditional cookstoves in developing nations rely on biomass, including wood, dung, and coal. They produce unfiltered toxic smoke that harms the nearly 3 billion people who have no alternatives for cooking fuel. According to the World Health Organization these unintentionally toxic cookstoves affect women and children the most because they are primarily responsible for cooking and gathering fuel, often having to walk far distances in dangerous barren areas to scrape together the minimal amounts of fuel available.

Biomass cooking also accounts for 20 percent of the world’s emissions of black carbon, which some scientists believe is the second largest contributor to climate change after carbon dioxide. The alliance’s intention is to develop clean cookstoves and shift fuel sources to low-carbon or no-carbon alternatives for millions with the communal support and expertise of agencies and organizations around the world.

The $50.82 million pledge by U.S. agencies comes from the Department of State, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Department of Energy, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control, and the Environmental Protection Agency. The variety of agencies reveals the complexity of an undertaking aimed at tackling a problem spanning the climate-health nexus.

These agencies, along with cooperation from international nonprofits, foundations, U.N. agencies, governments, local NGOs, women’s groups, and corporate leaders, create an alliance with a unique blend of diplomacy, technology, research, advocacy, and economic opportunity.

The alliance will draw on the expertise of each stakeholder to create market-based solutions that will simultaneously reduce health problems, provide security for women, and lessen the impact of traditional stoves on the environment. The initial goal is to provide stoves to 100 million homes but the broader aim is to establish a sustainable market for clean cookstoves and cleaner fuel that would provide new economic opportunities for sustainable communities.

Collaborators, including Morgan Stanley and Royal Dutch Shell Plc’s Shell Foundation, back a revolving loan fund for financing development of advanced stoves and fuels. The key will be to create local development and deployment infrastructures so that communities needing cookstoves will eventually have their own local market for producing, selling, and fixing stoves and providing clean fuel that lasts far beyond the alliance’s reach. The foundation the alliance builds can be transformative in developing local low-carbon economies throughout the world, with the hope that women lead the charge in these markets.

As background to this initiative, the United States committed between $1 billion and $1.3 billion in fiscal year 2010 in climate-related appropriations depending on how one counts the allocations. This was the government’s first payment toward $30 billion in fast-start financing committed to last year in Copenhagen by developed countries to developing countries to encourage the latter to move in the right direction on carbon mitigation and protecting their vulnerable populations.

The government’s requests for FY 2011 are $1.4 billion to $1.9 billion, and the total expected by the end of the fast-start period in 2012 is between $4 billion and $5.2 billion. The international community is closely scrutinizing all contributions by all countries to this global fund to make sure these funds truly are over and above existing development commitments and aimed at solving climate-related problems. Yesterday’s announcement demonstrates at least one clear example of a focused commitment by the United States that may satisfy this scrutiny. It is a new and credible pledge to both carbon mitigation and climate adaptation in the developing world.

The question is: Will this fund alone be enough? Most likely not, but $50 million is a good start. Different estimates of these programs range from $3.00 per unit to $20.00, which will make the initial outlay of funds insufficient to meet the goal of 100 million distributed stoves. What’s more important now, though, is getting the program off the ground and making sure that pledged commitments are followed up by an open and transparent system that gets the stoves on the ground quickly and ensures they’re effective. In the medium to long term the alliance partners aspire to committing an additional $250,000 each per year to ensure a consistent funding stream for the initiative.

The Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves is a great example of how low-carbon technologies can simultaneously reduce health problems from pollutants, spur economic growth, create markets, and lower carbon emissions from unsustainable energy sources. Hopefully it serves as a model for how multiple parties can join forces to find solutions that work for everyone. The challenge now is to scale examples like this up to meet the needs of those who must develop in a carbon-constrained world.

Arpita Bhattacharyya is an intern and Andrew Light is a Senior Fellow on the Energy and Climate team at American Progress. To read more of our analysis and recommendations on climate please go to the Energy and Environment page of our website.

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