Cookstove credits, a type of carbon credit used by companies to offset their harmful emissions, may be overstating their impact by about 1,000%, according to a new study published in Nature Sustainability. These projects aim to address issues related to household air pollution and deforestation caused by traditional cooking methods, and have gained popularity as a way to achieve UN sustainable development goals. However, the study reveals that 9 out of 10 of the 96 million certified cookstove credits do not actually avoid the emissions they claim.
Household air pollution caused by burning wood for cooking contributes to around 3.2 million premature deaths annually and about 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The Clean Cooking Alliance (CCA), backed by governments including the Netherlands, Canada, and the United States, is working on an improved methodology for cookstove credits to address the challenges associated with accurately measuring emissions reductions from these projects. The CCA believes that the carbon market can play a significant role in addressing this issue with carbon credits.
Carbon credits represent one tonne of carbon emissions in theory, and companies buy them to offset their emissions and neutralize their carbon footprint. Cookstove credits have become one of the fastest-growing project types on the voluntary carbon market, as they address multiple sustainable development goals. However, the study conducted by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, challenges the accuracy of the claimed climate benefits of these projects. The researchers argue that many offsetting schemes claiming to support “clean” cookstoves fail to meet World Health Organization standards, raising concerns about their impact on air quality, deforestation, and overall environmental and social benefits.
The study suggests that reforms to the rules governing carbon credits could make them a meaningful source of climate finance if properly implemented. The researchers also offer a method for clean cookstove projects to avoid overstating their impact, which some companies have reportedly adopted during the paper’s peer-review process. However, the study has faced criticism from carbon project developers and researchers, who argue that the researchers focused on larger cookstove projects that issued more credits, and that the conclusions are not supported by the evidence.
Carbon credit registries Verra and Gold Standard have also disputed the findings. Gold Standard, a major carbon credit certifier, stated that the study’s conclusions were not supported by the evidence and were at odds with wider academic literature. Verra, the world’s largest carbon standard, expressed disappointment in the continued attention on the study and emphasized that the findings did not directly relate to its current methods. Verra is developing a new methodology for cookstoves that reflects best practices and includes measuring techniques to verify stove usage.
The study’s findings raise critical concerns about the accuracy of cookstove carbon credits and the effectiveness of carbon offset markets. Improved regulations and accurate measurements are necessary to ensure transparency and the credibility of these markets.