When good intentions don’t mix: designing policy to stop global warming and improve clean cookware access


Stringent climate policies are gaining traction in countries around the world to meet promised greenhouse gas reductions. But these policies can severely limit the humanitarian progress to transition families in developing countries away from cookware that causes severe indoor pollution. Resolving the conflict between these two important causes is the aim of a new paper1 in Nature Energy. The authors propose a policy solution that can balance the importance of climate mitigation with helping reduce one of the greatest health burdens affecting developing nations.

Conflicting goals

In the wake of the Conference of Parties in Paris last year, countries around the world have declared their intended greenhouse gas reductions and are now finding policy strategies to meet these promises. One of the most efficient methods to send market signals that promote low-carbon technologies is the carbon price or tax, which sets a particular dollar amount companies must pay per ton of CO2 equivalent burned (read about Citizens Climate Lobby, a group pushing Congress to enact this type of policy!).

This policy is necessary for the global community to move toward a low-carbon economy, but it can create an unequal burden on citizens in developing countries that are switching to fossil fuels to reduce indoor pollution. Three billion people around the world still use solid fuels like wood, coal, and dung for cooking and heating. However, burning these fuels releases toxic contaminants into the air (known as incomplete combustion), leading to 4.3 million premature deaths worldwide. Forty percent of these deaths occur in South Asia, where most solid fuels are still used, and women and children are disproportionately affected. This is a greater health threat than almost any other environmental risk other than tobacco smoking and climate change.2,3 In response, global humanitarian efforts have distributed more efficient and cleaner stoves powered by liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) or kerosene, but 72% of Indians still rely on dirty, solid fuels as of 2012.4

Unfortunately, implementing a carbon price will increase the costs of these cleaner fossil fuel replacements, limiting the ability for poorer families to pay for LPG or kerosene stoves and slowing progress toward the UN Sustainable Development Goal of universal access to clean cookware by 2030. I am sure that most advocates of climate policy would also like to see the overall health of developing countries improved through cleaner cooking. So how can we develop policies to progress both important missions?

Helpful policies for all

To explore this apparent conflict, Austrian researchers modeled how various levels of carbon pricing would affect clean cookware use and pollution-related deaths from 2010-2100 in South Asia. Clean cooking included the use of LPG, electricity, piped gas, or kerosene to power stoves. A scenario modeling the use of clean cookware with no new climate policy (NNP) was compared to four different levels of carbon pricing starting from $10/CO2 (C10) to $40/CO2 (C40). Consistent with current policy proposals, this price would increase annually through 2100 to create a continually greater emissions penalty.

The different model predictions for greenhouse gas emissions and solid fuel use in South Asia are shown in the figure below. Without any policies to mitigate climate change through carbon prices (NNP, red line), greenhouse gas emissions would double about every 20 years. Although this means trouble for the rest of the world, this lack of carbon fee would allow 1 billion people, or 63% of the South Asian population, to transition to clean cooking fuels by 2050.


In contrast, implementing a $30 or $40 carbon fee (C30 and C40, dark and light blue lines) would limit the increase of greenhouse gas emissions to about 130% from 2010 to 2050. However, this would increase the cost of clean cookware by about 30%, making it unaffordable for 336-433 million people and leading to an estimated 173,000-350,000 deaths in 2030.

These model predictions demonstrate the conflict between the climate and cookware goals – as the carbon fee increases to provide better climate change mitigation, more and more South Asians will suffer from the effects of indoor air pollution because they couldn’t afford the cleaner stoves. Are there policies that can be combined with the carbon fee to change this fatal outcome?

More subsidies

One possible solution is to use a policy already in place to improve clean cookware use – implement more subsidies for clean-fuel stoves and for the clean fuels themselves! The price of the stove is usually the primary barrier because of its higher capital cost upfront compared to the continual purchase of fuels. This type of subsidy would allow for carbon fees to still motivate companies to move toward low-carbon technology while not punishing poorer families feeling disproportionate hardship from the fee. This strategy is in line with similar proposals for developed countries to provide financial mitigation to developing countries, based on per capita emissions. Since it is the developed countries that have created the problem of global warming in the first place, these financial transfers would reduce the burden in developing countries to cope with rising carbon prices.

Including this type of policy in the same models used above, the authors found that clean stove and fuel subsidies could be a solution to both invoke a carbon fee and still work toward universal access to clean cookware. However, the results suggest that governments would need to increase current levels of stove subsidies. For example, India currently has budgeted 3.5 billion US dollars for this type of subsidy. However, the model predicts that, with a $30 carbon fee, 17-42 billion US dollars would be required to achieve universal clean cookware access by 2030.

This may seem like to large a gap to close, but financial transfers from developed countries could be the answer. If levels of financial aid were proportional to per-capita emissions, then South Asian countries would receive 34-166 billion dollars, more than enough to cover the stove subsidies.

The renewable possibility

These type of analyses are extremely important to understand how two important policy missions can develop cooperatively. Although carbon fees will create barriers for poorer families to buy cleaner forms of cookware, additional policies can be implemented to provide subsidies to alleviate this burden. Such an example is a reminder of how important it is to examine how policies work together.

There is another potential solution. Instead of pushing for clean cookware powered by fossil fuels, efforts could be made to install renewable-based cookware, leapfrogging the fossil fuel technology while still reducing indoor air pollution. Such a solution would require creative, cost-effective technologies – a mix of solar, wind, and others – tailored for specific areas, but the potential benefit would be the provision of clean cooking without the need for expensive subsidies.

The authors did not discuss this alternative, and the barriers are clear. Proven fossil fuel technologies are already in place to provide to billions of families in need if they have enough money. The renewable alternative would likely require a solar-powered, centralized grid or distributed generation. Both of these require significant investment, but it’s a long-term solution being considered in African countries and could also be considered here.


  1. Cameron, C. et al. “Policy trade-offs between climate mitigation and clean cook-stove access in South Asia.” Nature Energy, 1, 1-5, 2015.
  2. Smith, K.R. et al. “Millions dead: how do we know and what does it mean? Methods used in the comparative risk assessment of household air pollution.” Ann Rev Public Health, 35, 185-206, 2014.
  3. Smith, K.R. And Sagar, A. “Making the clean available: escaping India’s Chulha trap.” Energy Policy, 75, 410-414, 2014.
  4. Bonjour, S. et al. “Solid fuel use for household cooking: country and regional estimates for 1980-2010.” Environ Health Perspect, 121, 784-790, 2013.Photo Credits

Figure of Indian stove (chulha) courtesy of Info-farmer via Wikipedia

Graphs of emissions and solid fuel use over time courtesy of Reference 1



Cameron, C., Pachauri, S., Rao, N., McCollum, D., Rogelj, J., & Riahi, K. (2016). Policy trade-offs between climate mitigation and clean cook-stove access in South Asia Nature Energy, 1 (1) DOI: 10.1038/nenergy.2015.10

This entry was posted in Article Reviews, Climate Change, Energy, Energy and Society, Environment and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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