Cooking up solutions to climate change
I never have to think twice about my response to ‘What keeps you awake at night?’ For the last ten years it is always the same. How can we reduce emissions as quickly as the scientists tell us we need to? Multi-billion technology based innovations often grab the headlines every time business talks about reducing emissions, but often it’s smaller, more conventional steps, applied at scale that have the biggest impact.
While there is no doubt, we need to transform our energy infrastructure and rethink transportation, the problem with this is that too many businesses don’t see what role they can play beyond energy efficiency – so they wait on these large scale transformations to happen. And while they wait, emissions continue to rise.
I am more hopeful by increasing efforts to significantly scale up adoption of best practices in agriculture such as Better Cotton Initiative or clean cookstoves to millions more people. Finally it seems that cookstoves are rising up the agenda thanks to the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves (GACC) which was established in 2010 with the ambition to reach 100 million households by 2020. They’re already well on the way with over 20 million households reached already and have scaled up from 19 partners to over 1000, who last week pledged an additional $400m in investment at a summit chaired by Hillary Clinton and Baroness Northover.
So what’s the big deal with cookstoves?
- Around 3 billion people cook and heat their homes using open fires and simple stoves burning biomass (wood, animal dung and crop waste) and coal.
- Over 4 million people die prematurely from illness attributable to the household air pollution from cooking with solid fuels. More than 50% of premature deaths among children under 5 are due to pneumonia caused by particulate matter (soot) inhaled from household air pollution.
- Black carbon and methane emitted by inefficient stove combustion are powerful climate change pollutants and the unsustainable collection of wood for charcoal production can contribute to mud-slides, loss of watershed, and desertification, which places further pressures on regional food security and agricultural productivity.
So the adoption of cleaner cookstoves will reduce the number of children dying from indoor air pollution (greater than malaria or tuberculosis in South Asia), reduce the time that girls spend sourcing fuel so they are more free to go to school, reduce deforestation and each stoves saves about 1 tonne of CO2e emissions per year.
I’m not sure of any other interventions that deliver greater ‘bang for buck’ than this. And the challenge is not one of technology but rather scaling up, meaning the potential for significant impact quickly is huge!
In Bangladesh alone, about 90 per cent of households depend on biomass such as wood, forest cuttings and cow dung for fuel, yet less than two per cent of those households are using fuel efficient stoves. That is why we kickstarted UNICEF’s first carbon offset project by providing funds for 40,000 fuel efficient, low pollution cook stoves to be manufactured, sold and maintained by local entrepreneurs in Bangladesh. These stoves are around 50% more efficient than traditional stoves. Our next steps are to work with UNICEF to encourage other companies to fund these life-saving stoves in Bangladesh.
We’re also working more closely with the Department for International Development (DFID) and the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves to scale up uptake of clean cookstoves in our supply chains in Kenya, Ghana and Uganda. And we look forward to playing our role in raising awareness in the business community on one of the lesser known solutions to tackling climate change.
Interested in finding out more about how we're reducing our carbon? Have a look at our earlier blogs on;
- Silver and Beyond – Foods Sustainable Factory Programme
- The business of reducing emissions
- M&S Cheshire Oaks Store - Energy
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