The booming offset category in the global carbon market, aimed at subsidizing efficient cookstove distribution in developing nations to curb greenhouse gas emissions, faces a significant setback. A new study reveals that the credits associated with this initiative substantially overstate the carbon savings of the stoves by a factor of 10.
This overestimation poses a challenge to combating carbon emissions and mitigating climate change. Companies rely on these offsets to fulfill climate targets and market products as “carbon neutral,” diverting attention from actual reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. It also erodes trust in the carbon market, potentially hindering long-term financing for efficient stoves.
The study, conducted by researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, represents the first comprehensive, quantitative quality assessment of any offset project. They compared five methodologies for assessing cookstove emission reductions against published studies and independent analyses. Published in the journal Nature Sustainability, the findings highlight the need for a reevaluation of clean cooking initiatives.
Daniel Kammen, the James and Katherine Lau Distinguished Professor of Sustainability at UC Berkeley, emphasized the critical role of clean cooking in global sustainability and development goals, linking science, human rights, and economics to social justice and climate strategies worldwide.
Barbara Haya, director of the Berkeley Carbon Trading Project, stressed the urgency of revising cookstove offset methodologies. If the study's recommendations are implemented, cookstove projects could become a trustworthy offset type in the market.
Efforts to promote efficient cookstoves stem from the fact that around 2.4 billion people globally rely on smoky solid fuels or kerosene for cooking, contributing to millions of premature deaths annually and approximately 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Despite the popularity of cookstove offsets, their quality issues need addressing, with the study offering specific recommendations aligned with current science and Sustainable Development Goal progress.
Annelise Gill-Wiehl, a UC Berkeley Ph.D. candidate involved in the study, highlighted the potential of accurately estimated carbon offsets to support the distribution of efficient stoves, improving health and reducing environmental impact. The study not only identifies quality concerns but also provides guidance for buyers and developers on trading in quality credits for tangible health and environmental benefits.