Preparing food is at the core of family, culture, and community. Experts debate how long humans have been cooking with fire, but it is likely hundreds of thousands of years. Cooking with heat has a host of benefits: The food is safer, more items become edible, and the taste is richer. Today, we revere chefs such as René Redzepi, Alice Waters, Alain Ducasse, and Madhur Jaffrey for honing the culinary arts and taking them to new heights, yet 3 billion people around the world continue to cook roti, tortillas, and stews hunched over open fires or the most rudimentary of stoves. As human population has swelled, so has the impact of these stoves, with atmospheric repercussions.

The cooking fuels used by 40 percent of humanity are wood, charcoal, animal dung, crop residues, and coal. As these solids burn, often inside homes or in areas with limited ventilation, they release plumes of smoke and soot liable for 4.3 million premature deaths each year. Those most likely to be around the fire are women and the children their side, inhaling toxic particulate matter and suffering from resulting lung, heart, and eye conditions. Globally, household air pollution is the leading environmental cause of death and disability, ahead of unsafe water and lack of sanitation, and it is responsible for more premature deaths than HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis.


Black carbon is especially harmful to the climate, as well as to health. This particulate matter is highly light absorbent, soaking up a million times more energy than an equal amount of carbon dioxide. So while black carbon only remains in the atmosphere for either to ten days, versus decades to centuries for carbon dioxide, it can cause considerable impact during that time. Some researchers point to black carbon as the second-largest drive of climate change, after carbon dioxide. At the same time, its potency, prevalence, and short life span mean that reducing black carbon emissions can have almost immediate impacts on warming. Because household fuel combustion produces roughly a quarter of black carbon emissions, along with other greenhouse gases, clean cookstoves are a key lever for curbing them.


Clean cooking can lead to swift change for the climate. Some researchers place the emission-reduction opportunity in the realm of 1 gigaton of carbon dioxide or its equivalent per year. Scaling the development and adoption of affordable, suitable, and durable cooking technologies is essential to the realization of what is possible. The GACC and leading experts are working to develop international standards that can ensure stoves meet baseline performance, inform government policy and philanthropic initiatives, and help consumers make more informed choices. Even the best technology cannot succeed without strong financing and distribution–areas equally in need of innovation. Funds for research and development, targeted subsidies, distribution support, educational efforts, and special loans are already helping; many millions more are needed. As funding continues to grow, interventions can target priority areas, such as countries where wood-fuel use per capita is highest, to achieve greater impact in the interim. The world’s constellation of efforts to make clean stoves is where the future of cooking matters most.

IMPACT: As of 2014, cookstoves comprised just 1.3 percent of the addressable market. If adoption grows to 16 percent by 2050, reductions in emissions will amount to 15.8 gigatons of carbon dioxide. The additional benefits to the health of millions of households is not calculated here.



March 2024 Update:

Introduction to Project Drawdown

Project Drawdown is a nonprofit organization that seeks to help the world reach “Drawdown” – the future point in time when levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere stop climbing and start to steadily decline, thereby stopping catastrophic climate change.

Founded in 2014, Project Drawdown has emerged as a leading resource for information and insight about climate solutions. The organization has conducted rigorous research and assessment of a comprehensive set of 93 climate solutions, which it has compiled into the Drawdown framework.

The Drawdown framework covers a wide range of solutions across different sectors, including:

– Electricity generation (e.g. renewable energy, energy efficiency)
– Food, agriculture, and land use (e.g. reduced food waste, plant-rich diets, reforestation)
– Industry (e.g. alternative refrigerants, cement production improvements)
– Transportation (e.g. electric vehicles, public transit, high-speed rail)
– Buildings (e.g. energy efficiency, heat pumps, smart thermostats)
– Land and coastal/ocean sinks (e.g. forest restoration, mangrove protection)

Project Drawdown’s mission is to advance these effective, science-based climate solutions and strategies, foster bold new climate leadership, and promote new narratives and voices around climate change.  The organization aims to support a growing constellation of efforts to move climate solutions forward and reach Drawdown as quickly, safely, and equitably as possible.

Through its research, communication, and partnerships, Project Drawdown has influenced university curricula, city climate plans, business commitments, community action, and philanthropic strategy around the world. The organization continues to develop its resources and work to accelerate the deployment of climate solutions globally.