From the US pledging $50 million for cleaner cookstoves to rocket stoves aiding relief in Haiti, much has been made of the potential for more efficient wood burning to both reduce carbon emissions and improve the health and economic well-being of some of the poorest communities on the planet.
But it's not just about what you burn your fuel in. Rethinking how you burn wood can also have a huge impact on efficiency and emissions.
Interestingly, while carbon offsets have traditionally been used to finance reforestation and/or technological investments, the same approach is also now being used to fund training and behavior change initiatives. The Carbon Neutral Company, for example, is funding a program called Basa Magogo, or "Light It Up!", in South Africa to teach coal-burning households to stack their stoves more efficiently. The project claims to cut coal use by over 50%,as well as greatly improving indoor air quality and particulate emissions:
By changing behaviour to encourage adoption of the Basa Magogo ignition technique for cooking, heating space and water and ironing, approximately 50% less coal is used to produce the same amount of heat as previously created by the old technique. One of the first monitoring reports from the project, which began in 2009, showed that a household which converts to Basa Magogo saves on average 300.7kg of coal a year. Monitoring of household coal use and coal merchant surveys are used to assess emission reductions. Studies by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in South Africa also show that the time needed to reach cooking temperature using Basa Magogo was 10 minutes compared to 60 minutes for the conventional heating method.
Exactly how to measure those reductions and sell "credit" for them seems a little murky to me—if a program alumni teaches their neighbor about Basa Magogo, for example, can that be counted as a "carbon credit" too? But given my own musings on whether carbon offsets should be reframed to be about positive technological and cultural change, rather than simply a way to atone for our own "sins", it's good to see that rapidly deployable, low-cost options are also being enabled by carbon financing.
Cultural change is what we need most. Let's hope it catches on.