Household energy, indoor air pollution and health
at the 14th session of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development
The 14th session of the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD-14) took place in New York from 1st to 12th May 2006. Established by the United Nations in 1992 to ensure effective follow-up to the Rio Earth Summit, the CSD is the high-level forum for discussing sustainable development within the UN. Energy for sustainable development is the main theme of CSD-14 and CSD-15.
On 11 May, WHO, GTZ, the Partnership for Clean Indoor Air, Practical Action and the US Environmental Protection Agency organised a joint side event entitled 4000 deaths a day from cooking fires? Lets prevent them! By drawing attention to the severe risks of using biomass and coal for cooking and heating in developing countries, the side-event made the case for the urgent need to improve access to household energy among the poor.
Arno Tomowski, Director of the Department of Environment and Infrastructure at GTZ, who moderated the panel discussion, and Susanne Weber-Mosdorf, Assistant Director General, Sustainable Development and Healthy Environments at WHO, welcomed more than 70 participants. Drawing on the new WHO report "Fuel for life: household energy and health", Maria Neira, Director of Public Health and Environment at the WHO, laid out the challenge: Every year, indoor air pollution is responsible for more than 1.5 million deaths, mostly among children and women. To achieve the Millennium Development Goals nearly 500 000 people will need to gain access to cleaner fuels or modern cooking technologies every day between now and 2015.
High-level panellists from different countries were asked to respond to the challenge. Jafrul Islam Chowdhury, State Minister of Environment and Forests in Bangladesh, Paul Mubiru, Commissioner for Energy in Uganda, and Surya Sethi, Energy Advisor in the Planning Commission of the Government of India, gave an overview of the situation in their countries as well as efforts to address the problem. Notably, Uganda has successfully reached more than 150 000 households with improved stoves over the past 18 months. Based on the Indian experience, subsidies on liquefied petroleum gas or other cleaner fuels are essential if the poorest households are to be reached.
Andrew Scott, Director of Policy and Programmes with Practical Action, highlighted the various low-cost technologies which successfully reduce indoor air pollution levels, but emphasized the need for building capacity at the country level, both with respect to supply chains for the delivery of improved cooking technologies and with respect to raising awareness about the dangers of smoke. Finally, the representative of the Dutch Directorate General for International Cooperation (DGIS), Ton van der Zon, stated that household energy was a key element of Dutch development policy. He argued that donors will need to restructure their development aid by setting concrete targets for providing modern energy services to poor families in developing countries.
Following the statements, a lively discussion ensued and further highlighted the significance of the health burden as well as difficulties in scaling up effective solutions. Notably, a Danish Member of the European Parliament, Britta Thomson, argued for increasing the attention given to household energy and health in the framework of European development assistance, and pledged to raise this issue in the European Parliament. In his closing remarks, Arno Tomowski reiterated the daunting challenge ahead, but showed himself confident that through working together existing knowledge and experiences can be translated into real changes to transform people's lives on a large scale.
Overall, household energy, indoor air pollution and health featured prominently at CSD-14. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan called attention to the problem in his welcome address, and the issue was raised in the statements of several governments throughout the two weeks. The commitment of the European Commission as well as European Union member countries, in particular the UK and the Netherlands but increasingly others, such as Germany, is clear.
UN Commission on Sustainable Development 15
Practical Action is currently preparing for the 15th session of the CSD, which will take place in New York from 30 April – 11 May 2007. Continuing its partnership with the WHO, GTZ and the PCIA, Practical Action will be lobbying delegates to commit to tackle indoor air pollution.
|Small is beautiful: Making decentralised energy a reality 8 May 2006, New York
Practical Action and GVEP also hosted a side event at the Commission for Sustainable Development on decentralised energy services in developing countries.