Carbon Credits – The Dirty Word for Clean Cookstoves

Home Appliances and Policymakers Look to Clean Cookstove Programs to Keep Local Communities and Global Climate Sustainable

By: Nicole Kaufman Grubner and James Snodgrass

In the quest to combat climate change, innovative solutions are not only desirable but essential. From clean energy to sustainable agriculture, there are myriad opportunities to mitigate the impacts of climate change while simultaneously fostering a healthier planet and population. However, as we navigate this landscape of climate innovation, it’s crucial to remain vigilant against potential pitfalls, particularly within the realm of carbon markets.

recent article in The Guardian shed light on the overestimation of carbon reduction benefits associated with clean cookstove projects. Indeed the “non-carbon” benefits have always been the goal of initiatives like the Clean Cooking Alliance (formerly the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves). However, progress in Africa has been slow as population growth outpaces the roll-out of clean cooking programs.

However, in more recent times, and specifically in trying to build a business case around clean cookstove initiatives, some of these programs have morphed into something far different from the initial idea of implementing clean cooking in rural communities in Africa to engender sustainable development.

Clean Cookstoves Role in Sustainable Development

Clean cookstoves offer tangible benefits that extend far beyond carbon reduction. They improve air quality, mitigate the chronic respiratory illnesses associated with open cookstoves, and alleviate the burden on women and girls who traditionally bear the responsibility of gathering firewood. This task often takes hours every day — so a lack of clean cooking prevents many women and girls from accessing education, earning a wage or starting a business that would deliver financial autonomy.

Beyond the health, education and economic benefits offered by clean cookstove programs, making this shift preserves forests and woodlands and contributes to biodiversity conservation and climate resilience. However, clean cookstove initiatives need to be genuinely community-driven initiatives, not a top-down imposition.

While the transition to clean cookstoves holds immense promise for improving human health, reducing deforestation, and empowering communities, the incorporation of these initiatives into carbon markets raises significant concerns. There needs to be a clear recognition that the primary benefit of clean cookstoves is people’s health, not carbon reduction. A lack of clean cooking contributes to 3.7 million premature deaths every year, mostly women and children.

When these initiatives are commodified within carbon markets, their focus can shift from genuine impact to profit-driven ventures. The discrepancy highlighted in The Guardian article of what are called “ghost credits” or “phantom carbon credits” underscores the potential for misuse and misrepresentation within the carbon offsetting industry.

While the intention may be to incentivize positive change, there is a risk of prioritizing profit over impact. Indeed, this is why many believe that carbon credits should stay within the community that generate them.

Maintaining the Balance of People, Planet and Profit

The principles of sustainable business, People, Planet, Profit, should remain in balance for any project geared at improving planetary health. True sustainability ventures must prioritize the well-being of communities and ecosystems while also considering economic viability, striking a balance between innovation and accountability. Private sector involvement can drive innovation and scale solutions, but it must be guided by a commitment to genuine impact and the involvement of the communities in which they work.

In the case of carbon markets, transparency and accountability are essential, ensuring that such projects deliver on their promises and prioritize the well-being of communities and ecosystems, and importantly, do not simply take advantage of developing nations to gain profits.

Transparency and Accountability

The journey towards sustainability is not a one-size-fits-all approach. It requires collaboration, innovation, and a deep understanding of the complex interplay between human societies and the natural world.

This does not mean that there is no place for business within climate innovation. On the contrary, private sector involvement can catalyze innovation and scale solutions more rapidly. To achieve this, transparency and accountability are paramount. Robust monitoring and verification mechanisms must be in place to ensure that carbon offset projects deliver on their promises. Additionally, stakeholders should ensure community engagement and empowerment are part of the planning process for these projects, ensuring that the benefits of climate initiatives are equitably distributed.

As we confront the challenges of climate change, we have a collective responsibility to pursue solutions that make a meaningful difference. Clean cookstoves represent just one piece of the puzzle, but their potential to improve lives and safeguard the environment is undeniable. If we can move forward, guided by transparency and accountability and ensuring the benefits and opportunities created by these programs remain in communities, clean cookstoves still offer the potential to drive genuine, lasting change for the well-being of future generations.

Nicole Kaufman Grubner is a Partner at FINN Partner, heading the organization’s Environmental Innovation Group from its Israel-based office. Working with innovators across health and sustainability, Nicole communicates on behalf of world-impacting companies working towards healthier people and planet.

James Snodgrass is an expert with over 20 years’ experience in policy and advocacy issues related to global health and the environment. He has worked with a wide range of clients including multilaterals, bilaterals, philanthropies and the private sector on improving health outcomes in lower income countries. He helped launch the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves in 2010.


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Nicole Grubner
Nicole Grubner
Innovation is core to Israel – it’s part of the national business fabric. With today’s urgent climate challenges ahead of us, it’s no surprise that Israeli entrepreneurs and researchers turned their attention to solutions that help the planet mitigate climate change risks. Interest in health, evolved into a concern for public health and that led to my evolving into the role as the Israel office’s Environmental Innovation Group lead, tapping into the agency’s Global Purpose and Social Impact Practice. My role is to bring groundbreaking technologies from one of the world’s great innovation hubs to the globe and ensure the voices and value of Israeli environmental innovators are recognized by investors, business partners and policy allies.
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