Beyond fire: how to achieve sustainable cooking

The difficulty of finding cost-effective substitutes for traditional cooking fuels, and of fostering their adoption among communities whose citizens have limited incomes and have rarely if ever known anything else, poses a formidable challenge, notes this report.

According to a report by World Future Council, 3 billion people worldwide rely on traditional biomass fuels, such as firewood, charcoal or animal dung to meet their energy needs for cooking. Thus, causing serious adverse consequences for the environment, health, and economic development of the population.

The report ‘Beyond fire: how to achieve sustainable cooking’  published in November 2016, notes that reliance on wood and charcoal for cooking has a number of well-recorded negative effects, including deforestation, soil erosion or loss of biodiversity. Exposure to household air pollution from cooking with solid fuels causes 4.3 million premature death according the World Health Organisation.

In order to inform and push the discussion beyond wood and charcoal-based solutions, this broad analysis on sustainable cooking suggests how the various renewable energy technologies could help accelerate this transition. The goal of this report is not to prove that a particular pathway will ever fully or exclusively replace the use of traditional biomass for cooking purposes: rather, the goal of the report is to critically evaluate the various different technological pathways and the barriers along the way.

According the authors, much of the present debate and solutions revolve around the generation of electricity. While we witness the global uptake and enormous cost reduction of renewable electricity, it would be a mistake not to embark the cooking sector on this journey. Otherwise, there is a real risk of leaving untouched much of the energy supply mix, as well the challenges it entails.

So far, the majority of governments and international donors seeking to step up their involvement in addressing the problem have focused their efforts towards improved cook stove technologies. These technologies can certainly play a crucial role in addressing the challenge of sustainable cooking. However, they are, at best, an interim solution. The harvesting of wood and production of charcoal continue to have significant negative impacts on the environment and on human health.

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(World Future Council/Ob)

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