Document Type



East African Institute


Household energy in sub-Saharan Africa is largely derived from woodfuels burned in simple stoves with poor combustion characteristics. These devices emit products of incomplete combustion [PICs] that both damage human health and negatively impact the atmospheric radiation budget. We use empirical studies and published emission factors to estimate the pollution associated with production, distribution and end-use of common household fuels and assess the impacts of these emissions on public health and the global environment. We find that each meal cooked with charcoal has 2-10 times the global warming effect of cooking the same meal with firewood and 5-16 times the effect of cooking the same meal with kerosene or LPG depending on the gases that are included in the analysis and the degree to which wood is allowed to regenerate. However, although charcoal is worse than other fuels with respect to GHG emissions, it can lead to reductions in concentrations of pollutants like particulate matter (PM). Concentrations of PM in households using charcoal were found to be 88 percent lower than households using open wood fires (charcoal: 465±387 µg/m3 ; open wood fires: 3764±714 µg/m3 (mean±95% CI)). Two years of health data collected from Kenyan families using wood and charcoal shows that charcoal users experienced 44-65 percent fewer cases of acute lower respiratory infection (ALRI) compared to wood users. Understanding the costs and benefits of household energy options is an important step in designing effective energy policies.


This work was published before the author joined Aga Khan University.


Berkeley, CA: Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory