The World Health Organization’s Health in the Green Economy series, to be published in 2011, is reviewing the evidence about expected health impacts of greenhouse gas mitigation strategies in light of mitigation options for key economic sectors, considered in the Contribution of Working Group III to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2007 (IPCC).
The aim is to propose important health co-benefits for sector and health policy-makers, and for consideration in the next round of IPCC mitigation reviews (Working Group III – Fifth Assessment Report [AR5]). Opportunities for potential health and environment synergies are identified here for household energy in developing countries.
IPCC assessment notes that the residential and commercial building sector has the highest immediate mitigation potential to reduce climate change pollutants. In comparison with other sectors, larger absolute reductions in CO2-equivalent emissions of climate change pollutants addressed in the Kyoto protocol are possible by the year 2030 – at a cost of less than US$ 100 per ton of CO2-equivalent. This arises from opportunities to markedly reduce energy consumption in buildings, to switch to low-carbon and renewable fuels and to control emissions of climate change pollutants other than CO2 (e.g. methane).
Particularly in developing countries, household solid fuel use also results in a substantial disease burden. Close to three billion people obtain their household energy for cooking and heating from solid fuels (wood, coal, charcoal, dung and crop wastes) burned in open fires and traditional stoves.
Such indoor air pollution is a major risk factor for childhood pneumonia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and also lung cancer where coal is used. Recent evidence has also shown associations with an increased risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes, cardiovascular disease, cataracts and tuberculosis, as well as other cancers. In low-income countries, indoor smoke was responsible for an estimated 4.0% of the overall disease burden in 2004, making it the most important cause of death and illness after childhood underweight, unsafe sex, lack of safe water and sanitation and suboptimal breastfeeding.
Women and children are most directly exposed to indoor air pollution, as well as being more at risk for burns and scalding, and vulnerable to attack and injury during fuel collection.
But new technologies for more efficient household fuel use in developing regions hold some of the greatest potential co-benefits for both health and climate in the household energy sector because they greatly reduce emissions. These interventions offer other co-benefits to health, gender equity and sustainable development for billions of people.
For example, in India, household and community-level photovoltaic systems are already being widely used to power domestic lights. Photovoltaic (PV) electricity also offers potential for expanded use and development of other low-power direct current (DC) devices, including for communications and refrigeration.
Read the full WHO brief from here