One in three people around the world ‘still using polluting fuel like charcoal to cook’

·2-min read
Smoke rises from burning charcoal oven in a patch of secondary forest that was cut down by men near Andasibe in south west Madagascar on September 18, 2008. For centuries forests in Madagascar have been logged in what is known as Tavy, traditional slash-and-burn agriculture. Experts say that 90% of the native tree cover in this island nation has already been lost and say this loss of habitat is the primary driver of exctinction on Madagascar. The vast majority of Madagascar's 2,300 species are found nowhere else on Earth. Madagascar's native plants and animals evolved in isolation for some 80 million years; as a result, the 587,000-sq-km country, which sits just off the coast of southeastern Africa, has perhaps the highest level of biodiversity per capita in the world. Experts agree that rampant deforestation, a swelling human population and the early effects of climate change have already pushed countless species out of existence.     AFP PHOTO/Roberto SCHMIDT (Photo credit should read ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP via Getty Images)
Smoke rises from burning charcoal oven in south-west Madagascar. (Roberto Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images)

One in three people around the world will still be using polluting fuels like charcoal and wood to cook by 2030, a new report has warned. 

Charcoal and wood fuel not only damage the environment, they can cause severe health issues in people exposed to them. 

The research, conducted with the World Health Organization (WHO), estimates that by 2030, just under 3 billion people worldwide – including more than 1 billion in sub-Saharan Africa – will still be using the dangerous fuels to cook food. 

These "dirty" fuels are a source of major health risk as they produce high levels of household air pollution – chronic exposure to which increases the risk of heart disease, pneumonia, lung cancer and strokes, among other conditions.

Watch: Which countries release the most CO2?

While the overall percentage of the global population mainly using polluting cooking fuels has been steadily decreasing since 1990, this trend is showing signs of stagnation. 

Read more: Why economists worry that reversing climate change is hopeless

Six in 10 people in rural areas are still reliant on biomass fuels such as wood and charcoal.

The lead author of the study, Dr Oliver Stoner, who carried out the research at the University of Exeter but is now at the University of Glasgow, said: "Analysing global trends suggests incremental progress in the direction of clean cooking fuels, but the simple reality is that there can be no global success while the number of people using polluting fuels in sub-Saharan Africa grows by tens of millions every year."

Senior author Heather Adair-Rohani, technical lead on health and energy in the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health at the WHO headquarters in Geneva, said: "Accelerating access to clean cooking solutions must be a developmental priority. 

“Ensuring the sustained adoption of clean cooking solutions can prevent disease and improve the livelihoods of the poorest populations as well as protect our climate.

"While our analysis already paints a bleak picture, we don't yet know the full extent to which the COVID-19 pandemic has threatened or even undone recent progress."

A study released this year analysed the health effects of air pollution (and where it was coming from) in 200 countries. 

Read more: A 1988 warning about climate change was mostly right

The researchers say pollution from cars and industry is only part of the problem as PM2.5 – tiny particles that can go into people’s lungs – can make people ill if they cook every night on a stove. 

Professor Randall Martin of Washington University in St. Louis said, "PM2.5 is the world's leading environmental risk factor for mortality. Our key objective is to understand its sources.”

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