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ENVIRONMENT: For Three Dollars More

Sanjay Suri

LONDON, Mar 28 2010 (IPS) - A high-level meeting in London of political and business leaders will consider this week ways of raising 100 billion dollars to fight climate change. And yet another one in Washington will search for ways of finding, and funding, more three-dollar stoves around the world.

The second one is more ambitious than it sounds; it aims to get more than half a billion clean stoves around the world. But working with the little and the tangible, it might just be more effective than the London meet. And, it brings simultaneous health benefits.

The Britain-based Ashden Awards for Sustainable Energy is pushing strongly for cleaner stoves around the world. “Fighting climate change and improving the health of the world’s poorest people are often seen as competing priorities,” says a report from the Ashden Awards. “Yet some technologies address both tasks at the same time.” For example, the cooking stove.

“Almost half the world’s households, some three billion, eat food cooked on fires and stoves burning wood, dung, coal, straw, husks and charcoal,” says the report released in London Sunday evening. “Pollution levels from smoke and gases such as carbon monoxide are typically hundreds of times those that would be tolerated in the streets or a factory.

“An estimated 1.6 million people die annually as a result, including around a million children under five, mostly victims of childhood pneumonia.”

Getting half a billion stoves to these households will begin to address the problem substantially. But that’s a lot of stoves, and it’s not clear how these households will get them.

“That’s the big question which the United Nations Foundation/Shell Foundation meeting in Washington DC will be looking at next week, so we may have some detailed strategies after that,” Dr Anne Wheldon, technical director of the Ashden Awards, tells IPS in an interview.

The clean stoves certainly exist, and at that price. “For instance, in Cambodia traditional stove-makers have been trained to produce an improved version which sells for only three dollars,” says Wheldon.

“We are also starting to see the factory-scale production that can make cheap stoves available more readily on a global basis. A very basic stove produced by the Shengzhou Stove Manufacturer has an ex-factory price of 3.50 dollars, with other models at eight to 12 dollars. Envirofit has also started mass manufacture, with some higher price range models with more features to them.”

Success on scale has been achieved in China. An estimated 180 million improved stoves were introduced from 1983 to 1995, and cook for most of the population, the Ashden report says. China has recently renewed efforts to provide a new generation of yet more efficient stoves.

But scaling up is now feasible elsewhere too, says Wheldon. “Provided that a stove is developed that people really like to use, it is quite feasible to get to the 100,000s scale, and there are a range of ways of doing this that work well in different circumstances – for instance, a government-led programme in Eritrea, an NGO-led programme in Bangladesh, upgrading of existing commercial production in Cambodia. Such programmes could probably grow to the 1-10 million scale.”

The Ashden calculations suggest that a global programme to manufacture the half-billion improved stoves needed to convert the world’s poor to safer cooking could save hundreds of thousands of young lives a year – and at the same time cut global greenhouse gas emissions by the equivalent of up to one billion tonnes of CO2 a year.

“Such investments ought to attract large sums through the carbon market,” the report says. “We calculate that improved cooking stoves can keep a tonne of CO2 out of the atmosphere for as little as one to three dollars – an exceedingly good deal in a market where offsets can be sold for 20-30 dollars a tonne.”

The carbon market could fund cleaner stoves in a number of ways, says Wheldon, such as “directly subsidising a government or NGO programme that provides stoves at low cost or sometimes zero cost as with the Eritrea stove programme, directly subsidising commercial sales, or supporting an umbrella organisation that coordinates independent producers, and takes responsibility for quality control and monitoring, as with the Cambodia stove programme coordination.”

Since 2001, 18 stove projects in Africa, Asia and Latin America have won Ashden awards, most of which have gone on to expand and develop, the Ashden report says. Time now, it says, for a scaling up of these successes.

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