Roughly one-third of the world’s population lacks access to clean cooking fuels and technologies. Cooking with biomass – such as wood and charcoal – causes over 3 million premature deaths  each year through household air pollution (HAP), contributes 1–2% of climate-forcing emissions each year and is also associated with localized environmental damage and gender inequities.

The study finds that full transitions to LPG or electricity would cut cumulative emissions of greenhouse gases by 10–14%, or 2.63.4 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e), by 2040, which is equivalent to the annual emissions of 500900 million cars. Such changes would also slash emissions of health-damaging pollutants like particulate matter by over 99% and carbon monoxide by over 95%, reducing the risk of illness and premature death linked to exposure to HAP. These findings were published today in an article in Environmental Research Letters.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines clean household fuels and technologies based on users’ exposures to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and carbon monoxide (CO). WHO’s 2021 Guidelines Defining clean fuels and technologies  provide PM2.5 and CO emission rate targets.

A full transition to renewable electricity would offer the greatest health and climate benefits; however, this is not a realistic near-term option. This study focused on LPG because it is the most likely realistic clean cooking option for many LMICs. Indeed, according to the WHO, over one billion people in LMICs adopted LPG between 2010 and 2020. LPG is well-suited to rapid scale-up and many LMIC governments have set ambitious targets promoting its adoption. Some are also developing longer-term electrification plans, but it is unclear if these plans will affect people’s cooking options in the foreseeable future.

“There are concerns that a transition to LPG or grid-based electricity, which are both fossil-intensive options, would increase emissions that contribute to climate change. However, we find that even when we account for ‘upstream’ emissions from extraction, processing, long-distance transportation and last-mile distribution, both LPG and grid-based power result in lower emissions of all the major pollutants that contribute to climate change. Equally important, the transitions also result in dramatically lower health risks.”

— Rob Bailis, Senior Scientist at Stockholm Environment Institute and the researcher who led the study

The research demonstrates how cleaner cooking solutions can mitigate short- and long-term climate change while bringing large co-benefits, including reduced health risks, time savings, and other social benefits, and are essential to ensuring no one is left behind in a just energy transition. It is the first known analysis of the health and climate consequences of large-scale transitions from the business-as-usual pathway to LPG or electricity.

While global use of biomass fuels is on a downward trajectory, especially in Asia, Africa’s dependence on polluting household fuels is expected to increase alongside its growing population. To date, investment in clean cooking solutions – that is, fuels and cooking technologies that pose fewer health risks at the point of use – has been slow, in part because donors and investors fear that financing expanded access to fossil-derived LPG will harm the climate. Indeed, electricity in LMICs is also largely connected to a fossil-powered grid. But this analysis shows that a concerted roll-out of electricity, LPG, or both in tandem would not only cut harmful emissions but also lead to a net cooling of the climate.

This analysis was performed by researchers from North Carolina State University Stockholm Environment Institute University of Liverpool  and University of California-Berkeley.

Interviews and more information

Lynsi Burton, Communications officer, Stockholm Environment Institute, [email protected].

Ulrika Lamberth, Senior Press Officer, Stockholm Environment Institute, [email protected], +46 8 73 801 70 53