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Clinton's Plan to Help the Poor and the Planet With Stoves

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Issue date: 
September 22, 2010
Publisher Name: 
The Atlantic Wire
Heather Horn
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On Tuesday, Secretary Clinton announced the U.S. plan to contribute $50 million to help send fuel-efficient stoves to developing countries. According to the UN, smoke from more primitive stoves kills 1.9 million people per year, mostly women and children, while also contributing to global warming through emissions and deforestation. Thus, the push to replace them through a public-private partnership called the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves. Can replacing stoves really do all that much? Apparently so, according to Clinton's speech, and some impressive supporting numbers. It's a big task, though. Here's some of the reaction.

  • 'Sounds a Bit Wacky,' But Could Make a Big Difference, notes P. J. Aroon at Foreign Policy. He quotes Clinton, who explained that "The World Health Organization considers smoke from dirty stoves to be one of the five most serious health risks that face people in poor, developing countries. In addition, "the journeys that women must take to find scarce fuel [such as firewood] put them at increased risk of violent and sexual assault." These replacement cookstoves "cost as little as $25," explains Aroon.

The Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves aims for 100 million households getting clean cookstoves by 2020. The initiative will involve research and development for improved designs and lower costs, an effort to create a market for the stoves (which will include lowering trade barriers and fostering public awareness), and weaving clean stoves into international development programs, including women-owned microfinance networks.

  • Is This About Helping Poor People or Global Warming?  William Teach at conserviatve blog Stop the ACLU interprets it as the latter. "Instead of giving them climate change friendly stoves, how about bringing them electricity? Oh, wait, sorry, I forgot that our modern life is killing Gaia."
  • The Case by the Numbers  "Black carbon, a component of soot emissions from cookstoves ... happens to be the second-largest cause of global warming right now," explains Jess Leber at Change.org. Eliminating those emissions "would shave eight-years right off the ticking global warming clock and slow the pace of glacial melt, according to a recent study." In addition, "indoor smoke kills as many people as HIV/AIDS and more than two times more people than malaria," annually.
  • How Has It Taken This Long to Get Attention?  "Finally, this huge story is percolating through to the mainstream," writes Madeleine Bunting at The Guardian, who points out that deaths from smoke inhalation are on par with childbirth or HIV/AIDS as a risk to women and children, and gets far less press. In Africa in particular, "the pace of deforestation and population growth is such that experts predict that within 25 years, supplies of firewood--the main source of cooking fuel--will have largely run out," she adds, and "as the supplies become more scarce, [women and children] have to walk further and further to collect what they need," increasing the risk of rape in certain areas. "We know exactly how to make these stoves at relatively low cost. The challenge is to distribute them fast enough to pre-empt the kind of crisis predicted for east Africa."
  • A No-Brainer, but Just the Beginning  This sort of project is "low-hanging fruit, a relatively simple and low-cost way to mitigate climate change," declares The New York Times' Elisabeth Rosenthal. "But richer countries like the United States are going to be expected to pay a lot more than this to help poor countries mitigate climate change and adapt to its consequences."
  • It's Something, but It May Not Be Enough  Discover's Andrew Moseman points out that the promised $50 million is "seed money," and that "we're talking about baby steps here," as Clinton in fact admits. "We don't know yet whether the organization will have the support to reach its goal of 100 million replacement stoves, or how efficient those stoves will be." To get a sense of the scale of the task:

Even if 100 million new stoves are provided to the world’s poor, it would account for just one-fifth of the alliance's estimate for stoves that could be swapped out. Plus, even fancy new low-emission stoves don’t last forever, Clinton acknowledges, so installing them isn’t a one-time deal.


Extpub | by Dr. Radut