The carbon footprint of traditional woodfuels


Over half of all wood harvested worldwide is used as fuel, supplying 9% of global primary energy. By depleting stocks of woody biomass, unsustainable harvesting can contribute to forest degradation, deforestation and climate change. However, past efforts to quantify woodfuel sustainability failed to provide credible results. We present a spatially explicit assessment of pan-tropical woodfuel supply and demand, calculate the degree to which woodfuel demand exceeds regrowth, and estimate woodfuel-related greenhouse-gas emissions for the year 2009. We estimate 27–34% of woodfuel harvested was unsustainable, with large geographic variations. Our estimates are lower than estimates from carbon offset projects, which are probably overstating the climate benefits of improved stoves. Approximately 275 million people live in woodfuel depletion ‘hotspots’—concentrated in South Asia and East Africa—where most demand is unsustainable. Emissions from woodfuels are 1.0–1.2 Gt CO2e yr−1 (1.9–2.3% of global emissions). Successful deployment and utilization of 100 million improved stoves could reduce this by 11–17%. At US$11 per tCO2e, these reductions would be worth over US$1 billion yr−1 in avoided greenhouse-gas emissions if black carbon were integrated into carbon markets. By identifying potential areas of woodfuel-driven degradation or deforestation, we inform the ongoing discussion about REDD-based approaches to climate change mitigation.

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Figure 1: Mapping of a high-deficit zone in East Africa.
Figure 2: Pan-tropical expected fNRBB2.
Figure 3: Distribution of regional population by expected fNRBB2 decile.
Figure 4: Annual emissions and emission reductions resulting from fulfilling GACC’s objective of 100 million stoves disseminated through interventions with different priorities.
Figure 5: Countries with highest per capita woodfuel demand, highest expected fNRBB2, and highest burden of disease from HAP exposure.


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This research was funded by the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, an initiative supported by the UN Foundation.

Author information

R.D., R.B., A.G. and O.M. designed the study; R.D. conducted the pan-tropical WISDOM analysis and constructed the NRB model; R.B. calculated GHG emissions and emission reductions; R.D., R.B., A.G. and O.M. wrote the paper.

Correspondence to Robert Bailis.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Bailis, R., Drigo, R., Ghilardi, A. et al. The carbon footprint of traditional woodfuels. Nature Clim Change 5, 266–272 (2015).

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