Gas stoves might be even worse for health and planet than we thought

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Charlotte Edmond, Senior Writer, Formative Content


  • Stanford study highlights lesser-known dangers of pollution from cooking processes.
  • Methane produced from domestic cooking in the US has a similar environmental impact as 500,000 cars, according to researchers
  • But this is a global problem and not enough is being done to enable access for all to clean cooking.
  • Around 4 million people die prematurely from household pollution, while a third of the world are still cooking on open fires and basic stoves.
  • Global clean-fuel programmes are helping improve access, but progress is slow.

As anyone who’s ever had a slip with a knife or felt the splash of hot oil will tell you, cooking can be a risky business. But away from injuries and accidents there is one thing in your kitchen that poses a particular risk – the stove.

A new study from Stanford University suggests that the pollutants from natural-gas-burning stoves are an underestimated source of greenhouse gas emissions. The methane leaking from domestic cooking in the US has the equivalent climate impact of 500,000 cars, researchers say.

This methane – released in addition to the carbon dioxide emitted as the gas burns – contributes about a third as much warming again as the CO2 alone. Methane is a much shorter-lived but significantly more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

Natural-gas-fired home cooking can also expose users to other respiratory disease-causing pollutants. As well as affecting indoor air quality, it contributes to the production of ozone, which is linked to 1 million premature deaths each year through respiratory disease, the Stanford research suggests.

Methane contributes to the production of ozone, which is toxic to plant and animal life.
Methane contributes to the production of ozone, which is toxic to plant and animal life. Image: Climate and Clean Air Coalition

Cooking pollution is a global problem

It’s not just natural-gas stoves that are causing a problem. Gases released from cooking are a significant source of air pollution.

Around a third of the world’s population cook using open fires or simple kerosene, coal- or biomass-burning stoves, according to the World Health Organization. And each year close to 4 million people die prematurely from illnesses linked to household air pollution caused by cooking on inefficient heat sources like these.

Is the fuel you use clean or polluting?
Is the fuel you use clean or polluting? Image: Nature Communications

One of the major problems are small soot particles that can penetrate deep into the lungs – in poorly ventilated areas they can be up to 100 times above the safe limit for fine particulate matter.

It can be a particular problem for women and children, who typically spend a lot of time at the hearth. Close to half of global pneumonia deaths in children under five are as a result of soot inhalation.

Other illnesses that can be caused by household air pollution include stroke, ischaemic heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer.

What’s the World Economic Forum doing about the transition to clean energy?

Moving to clean energy is key to combating climate change, yet in the past five years, the energy transition has stagnated.

Energy consumption and production contribute to two-thirds of global emissions, and 81% of the global energy system is still based on fossil fuels, the same percentage as 30 years ago. Plus, improvements in the energy intensity of the global economy (the amount of energy used per unit of economic activity) are slowing. In 2018 energy intensity improved by 1.2%, the slowest rate since 2010.

Effective policies, private-sector action and public-private cooperation are needed to create a more inclusive, sustainable, affordable and secure global energy system.

Benchmarking progress is essential to a successful transition. The World Economic Forum’s Energy Transition Index, which ranks 115 economies on how well they balance energy security and access with environmental sustainability and affordability, shows that the biggest challenge facing energy transition is the lack of readiness among the world’s largest emitters, including US, China, India and Russia. The 10 countries that score the highest in terms of readiness account for only 2.6% of global annual emissions.

To future-proof the global energy system, the Forum’s Shaping the Future of Energy and Materials Platform is working on initiatives including, Systemic Efficiency, Innovation and Clean Energy and the Global Battery Alliance to encourage and enable innovative energy investments, technologies and solutions.

Additionally, the Mission Possible Platform (MPP) is working to assemble public and private partners to further the industry transition to set heavy industry and mobility sectors on the pathway towards net-zero emissions. MPP is an initiative created by the World Economic Forum and the Energy Transitions Commission.

Is your organisation interested in working with the World Economic Forum? Find out more here.

The pace of change is slow

Clean energy provision is one of the United Nation’s key Sustainable Development Goals for 2030. But without significant policy intervention, the number of people lacking access to such fuels is unlikely to change significantly in the next few years.

Many people in sub-Saharan Africa continue to rely on polluting fuel sources for cooking.
Many people in sub-Saharan Africa continue to rely on polluting fuel sources for cooking. Image: WHO

The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that the number of people without the use of clean cooking fuels has been decreasing slowly and now sits at around 2.6 billion. In India and China, more than 450 million people have gained access to clean cooking fuels since 2010 – as a result of liquified petroleum gas programmes and clean-air policies, the agency notes.

But the problem in sub-Saharan Africa remains particularly acute, with only 17% of people having access to clean cooking. And the situation is worsening, as efforts lag population growth.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also caused progress to falter, the IEA says, but adds that the use of other technologies is being explored. Solar PV and battery powered electric pressure cookers, for example, could provide a clean, standalone solution that can be used anywhere and won’t put pressure on local distribution grids.

Comments

  1. I agree with your point that gas stoves can be harmful for environment as gas stoves produce carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, and formaldehyde. These compounds are harmful to the environment and your health. But unlike their alternate that is electric gas stove they are more on a high risk for the lives of people, electric stoves do not eliminate risks of burns or fires. it’s a more environmentally conscious move to ditch your gas stove when it breaks or when you’re renovating, and to switch to one that runs on electricity (including induction). Ventilation is really important, too.

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