Clean cooking can reduce Kenya’s CO2 emissions enormously

Children carrying firewood to their respective homes after being picked up by Mumias Nuclear on June 14, 2020. [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

One of the main effects of the widespread use of solid fuels is their significant impact on climate change. On average, 25 percent of all soot is caused by inefficient cooking and lighting. High levels of indoor air pollution increase the risk of acute respiratory infections and cause 4.3 million deaths worldwide each year.

Household fuel consumption in Kenya currently contributes 22 to 35 million tons of CO2 per year and is equivalent to 30 to 40 percent of Kenya’s total greenhouse gas emissions. In order to achieve the goals, large investments are required to expand the clean cooking area.

The demand for firewood and charcoal has long been associated with increasing deforestation, forest degradation and lower carbon uptake by forests. More than half of the wood harvested worldwide is used as fuel.

Burning solid fuel for cooking emits some of the major contributors to global climate change; Carbon dioxide, methane and other ozone-forming gases such as carbon monoxide as well as short-lived climate drivers such as soot. The 2013 Stockholm Environment Institute report states that the global potential for reducing greenhouse gas emissions through improved cooking stove projects is estimated at one gigatonne of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) per year. CO2 markets can provide incentives to reduce these emissions.

One of the main causes of household air pollution (HAP) is the use of solid fuels and kerosene in traditional and inefficient stoves such as open fires, which lead to the emission of large amounts of pollutants such as fine dust, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, oxygenated and chlorinated organic compounds. With fossil fuels like kerosene, all emissions contribute to climate change. With biomass fuels such as crop residues, firewood, and charcoal, some of the CO2 emitted when the fuel is burned can be recovered as new biomass grows.

Acute lower respiratory infections are considered the second leading cause of death and are associated with 26 percent of all deaths reported in hospitals in Kenya. Other diseases associated with HAP exposure are ischemic heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and stroke. Lower respiratory tract infections such as pneumonia and acute bronchitis have been the major contributors to HAP-related deaths in Kenya. According to the Clean Cooking Sector Study, HAP claims up to 21,560 lives every year.

Women and children are hardest hit as they spend a lot of time in poorly ventilated kitchens. Annually, at least 50 percent of global pneumonia deaths among children under five are attributed to indoor air pollution, and 4.3 million people die from diseases related to indoor air pollution.

Clean cooking solutions are the second powerful way for Kenya to reduce emissions. Increased fuel efficiency and the introduction of alternative fuels using renewable fuel sources can reduce the climate emissions caused by cooking. To have a significant impact on the climate, clean and efficient ovens should be used on a large scale.

In the recent past, the government has invested significant resources in the energy sector to stimulate economic growth, although this has been skewed mainly on energy for lighting at both national and county levels. Still, clean cooking has not received similar attention in the energy sector, and donors have always sought to fill the clean kitchen funding gap by shifting their energy priorities to clean cooking.

The government’s pledge to ensure universal access to clean and modern clean cooking solutions by 2028 will be largely influenced by adequate investment in the sector. Kenya is committed to reducing its CO2 emissions by 30 percent.

Kenya has submitted its Intended National Contribution (INDC) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The document sets total greenhouse gas emissions in 2010 at 73 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent land use, land use change and forestry. Cooking at household level therefore makes a significant contribution to total national emissions. The National Action Plan on Climate Change (2018-22) notes that the introduction of improved cooking stoves with higher conversion efficiency holds the greatest potential for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, highlighting the importance of the cooking sector in Kenya’s efforts to achieve its NDC.

Many of today’s more efficient stoves have been shown to reduce fuel consumption by 30-60 percent and provide cleaner, more complete combustion, which can lead to fewer greenhouse gas and soot emissions and reduce the impact on forests. The latest findings show that modern stoves and fuels can reduce soot emissions by 50-90 percent.

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