Indoor air pollution

Household energy and health at CSD-15

Energy for sustainable development is the main theme of the 14th and 15th session of the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD). The Intergovernmental Preparatory Meeting (IPM) took place at the United Nations in New York from 26 February to 2 March 2007 at a technical level, deciding on policy recommendations for negotiations during CSD-15.

The World Health Organization, jointly with the German Technical Cooperation (GTZ), Practical Action, the HEDON Household Energy Network, Winrock International and the Partnership for Clean Indoor Air, prepared a position statement for CSD-15.

During the IPM, WHO, GTZ, Practical Action, the US Environmental Protection Agency and the Partnership for Clean Indoor Air organized a side-event entitled "Healthy and affordable household energy - let's scale up what works!". Stephan Contius, the head of the German delegation that is representing the European Union at the IPM and CSD-15 opened the event, followed by an introductory presentation by Eva Rehfuess from WHO. David Otieno from GTZ and Xia Zuzhang from the Nature Conservancy China shared their experiences with scaling up improved stoves in Uganda and China respectively. Kimball Chen contributed the perspective of the World Liquefied Petroleum Gas Association. The side-event was attended by approximately 40 participants almost all of whom engaged in the subsequent discussions.

During CSD-15, on 7 May 2007, WHO, the German Technical Cooperation (GTZ), Practical Action, the Partnership for Clean Indoor Air, the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development and the Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS) held a side-event on indoor air pollution. To ensure a lively discussion right from the beginning, the event was set up as a "TV-style debate on healthy and affordable household energy". Each panellist was given three minutes to make a short proposition on how to solve the problem of access to clean cooking energy among the poor and to prevent associated health problems.

Carlos Corvalan, WHO, set the scene for the discussions stressing that the world faces a double energy crisis: At the global level, climate change is receiving much needed attention, including on the health consequences. At the local level, 1.5 million people die each year as they wait to gain access to affordable cleaner fuels or cooking technologies. Action is required on many fronts, including commitment by government to endorse a target to reduce dependence on unhealthy household energy.

From left to right: Jyoti Parikh, Wisdom Ahiataku-Togobo, Arno Tomowski
All photographs courtesy of IISD/Earth Negotiation Bulletin
From left to right: Jyoti Parikh, Wisdom Ahiataku-Togobo, Arno Tomowski

Building on her research on the health impacts of indoor air pollution and a large-scale Indian household survey on perceptions, Jyoti Parikh from Integrated Research and Action for Development, India stressed the need for capacity-building in energy management and pollution management as well as the need to sensitize health centres. A mitigation of the indoor air pollution problem on a large-scale will require measures at micro-, meso- and macrolevels.

Wisdom Ahiataku-Togobo, Energy Commission, Uganda emphasized that extensive public awareness campaigns on the health impacts of indoor air pollution are critical in achieving uptake of improved stoves: being aware of the personal investment they can make in health, households are willing to pay more for cooking technologies. He also highlighted the need for a long-term government commitment through policies, targets and strategies addressing household energy and biomass energy.

"How much does health cost?" was the question raised by Kimball Chen, who represented the World Liquefied Petroleum Gas Association but also drew on his experience in working with the public sector in China and other countries. A switch to liquefied petroleum gas not only requires an increased purchasing power among households, but also physical access to cleaner fuels. Consistent national energy policies over time are essential if the private sector is to invest in setting up the infrastructure to deliver cleaner fuels.

Drawing on the many similarities between the sanitation and the household energy sector, Arno Tomowski from the German Technical Cooperation, Germany highlighted the cross-sectoral nature of the problem as well as the major investment need. His wishlist for moving ahead included (i) more attractive and modern cooking technologies, (ii) awareness about the damaging impacts of current practices and social marketing to generate demand for change, (iii) capacity development among entrepreneurs, (iv) more sustainable wood fuel production, and (v) the need to develop national or regional biomass energy strategies.

Moderated by Chris Powell, WHO, many of the more than 60 people in the audience challenged the panellists with questions and offered their views on how to increase access to cleaner cooking energy.

Since numerous issues in the energy and climate change sections of the negotiated text remained unresolved until late on the last day of CSD-15, the Chair produced his compromise text which he presented to delegates on a “take it or leave it” basis. The European Union rejected the text, stating that it neither addresses the identified challenges nor meets international expectations. This means that the outcome of CSD-15 is not an agreed policy document. The chair's summary contains several clear recommendations with respect to indoor air pollution and health. The most relevant include to take action to:

  • Improve information dissemination of, and the knowledge base on, sources and health impacts of indoor air pollution, in particular on women, children and workers. Provide financial and other resources to support programmes and other activities that address adverse health impacts including public awareness campaigns on indoor air pollution from all sources in developing countries.
  • Replicate and increase, as appropriate, successful approaches and best practices and partnerships to reduce indoor air pollution, such as the Partnership for Clean Indoor Air, with a priority focus on practical initiatives that improve air quality.
  • Accelerate the transition from inefficient utilization of biomass to cleaner energy sources, technology, and appliances for cooking and heating and support efforts to disseminate improved biomass-based technologies and provide incentives for switching to cleaner fuels and technologies.

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