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SCIENCE: Facts & Fiction About Charcoal in Developing Countries

We forgive the good men and women of the Nobel committee for inadvertently overlooking this contribution to science.

We forgive the good men and women of the Nobel committee for inadvertently overlooking this contribution to science.

Last year The Charcoal Project co-sponsored the publication of a special issue of Energy for Sustainable Development dedicated to — what else? — charcoal.

I had the pleasure of co-authoring with Tuyeni H. Mwampamba, Adrián Ghilardi, and Klas Sander, the paper “Dispelling Common Misconceptions to Improve Attitudes and Policy Outlook on Charcoal in Developing Countries.”

We felt it was important to take on fictions that are often repeated whenever the discussion turns to using wood energy as a source of clean energy for the developing world. The myths are:

1. Myth 1: Charcoal is an energy source for the poor.

Fact: Regardless of how one defines “poverty”, charcoal is consumed along a wide range of income categories without a lot of variation in per capita consumption.

2. Myth 2: Charcoal use for cooking will decrease.

Fact: Contrary to the energy ladder hypothesis, decrease in per capita use of biomass for cooking with increased urbanization and income has not been demonstrated for many developing countries.

3. Myth 3: Charcoal production causes deforestation.

Fact: Charcoal’s link to deforestation has been rebuked by several studies and reviews since the early 90s.

4. Myth 4: The charcoal sector is economically irrelevant.

Fact: The contribution of charcoal to the formal economy is small because the sector is largely informal. In SSA, charcoal is a multi-billion dollar a year industry that employs about 10 million people.

5. Myth 5: Improved charcoal cookstoves mitigate deforestation and GHG emissions

Fact: A) the link to deforestation is doubtful, b) ICS sometimes increase fuel consumption, c) the GHG impact of charcoal stoves is insufficiently understood, d) the impact on poverty is misguided.

You can read the full article here to learn how the facts debunk the myths.

And as an extra bonus, for those who manage make it to the end, The Charcoal Project will happily mail you a hard copy of the magazine which contains more interesting articles on this fascinating subject. But you will be required to answer three questions to test your knowledge. 😉 If you want to participate, you will need to write to us directly at info@charcoalproject.org

— J. Kim Chaix

The Charcoal Project


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