Collins: 'Clearing the Air’
by Sen. Susan Collins, Special to the Valley Times
Aug 14, 2012 | 1522 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
- Contributed photo
- Contributed photo
EXCLUSIVELY ONLINE: We call it "soot," but it is officially known as "black carbon." Soot is the fine, black residue that can be found inside our fireplaces and on the outside of our car's tailpipe. Though, on the surface, it might appear to be little more than a dirty nuisance, the truth is black carbon is a potent source of pollution around the world. It is also a health risk.

The primitive cookstoves used in developing countries are a major source of the black carbon contributing to this serious global environmental and public health issue. Nearly half the world's population cooks food over open fires or inefficient, polluting, and unsafe cookstoves. Smoke from these traditional cookstoves and open fires is associated with a number of chronic and acute diseases, affecting women and young children disproportionately. The World Health Organization estimates cookstove smoke to be one of the top five threats to public health in poor, developing countries. This smoke may account for nearly two million deaths annually in the developing world, which is more than the deaths from malaria, tuberculosis, or HIV.

Traditional cookstoves also create serious environmental impacts. The amount of biomass cooking fuel required each year can reach up to two tons per family. This can strip the environment of natural resources. Recent studies show that emissions of black carbon from biomass cookstoves significantly contribute to climate change, second only to carbon dioxide in impact.

These stoves should be replaced with modern alternatives to reverse these alarming health and environmental trends. Fortunately, modern stoves, designed to burn fuel efficiently, can eliminate up to 90 percent of the black carbon produced during cooking and home heating. This would be relatively inexpensive and could be done quickly. It is what scientists call the "low-hanging fruit" of environmental fixes.

Through the leadership of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the United Nations Foundation, the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves was formed in 2010. Recognizing the severity of the global health and environmental issues, this public-private partnership aims to save lives, improve livelihoods, empower women, and combat pollution by creating a thriving global market for clean and efficient household cooking solutions. The Alliance partners are working to help overcome the market barriers that currently impede the production, deployment, and use of clean cookstoves in the developing world.

To assist in this important endeavor, several federal agencies, including the Departments of State, Energy, and Health and Human Services, the United States Agency for International Development, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, have committed to contribute to the Alliance in three key areas.

First: support for research and development to improve design, lower costs, and develop global industry standards and testing protocols for cookstoves. Second: diplomatic engagement to encourage a commercial market for clean stoves and promote several strategies, including reducing trade barriers, promoting consumer awareness, and improving access to financing. And third: the launch of international development projects to distribute the clean stoves to targeted areas, including refugee camps, disaster relief efforts, and long-term aid programs, as well as projects aimed at women and girls. These contributions will assist the Alliance in reaching its goal of spurring the adoption of clean cookstoves in one hundred million households by 2020.

Along with Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), I have introduced bipartisan legislation to reinforce the commitment these U.S. agencies have made to the Alliance. It would require the Secretary of State, in consultation with the relevant Federal agencies, and in coordination with relevant international nongovernmental organizations and private and governmental entities, to work to advance the goals of the Alliance. In addition, our bill would formally authorize the agency's funding commitments to ensure that these crucial pledges toward preventing unnecessary illness and reducing pollution around the globe are met.

By supporting the work of the Alliance to replace primitive stoves with modern versions that emit far less soot, this legislation would directly benefit some of the world's poorest people and reduce harmful pollution that affects us all.

Our measure addresses an important global pollutant and would help improve the quality of life for those who live in developing nations.