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.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution
Open Access articles citing this article.
Nature Open Access 05 July 2023
Human Ecology Open Access 24 June 2023
Nature Sustainability Open Access 12 January 2023
Subscribe to this journal
Receive 12 print issues and online access
$209.00 per year
only $17.42 per issue
Rent or buy this article
Prices vary by article type
Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout
FAOSTAT Forestry Production and Trade (UN FAO, 2013); http://faostat3.fao.org/faostat-gateway/go/to/download/F/*/E
Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st century (REN21) Renewables Global Status Report: 2013 Update Report No. 177 (REN21 Secretariat, 2013)
Bonjour, S. et al. Solid fuel use for household cooking: Country and regional estimates for 1980–2010. Environ. Health Perspect. 121, 784–790 (2013).
Lim, S. S. et al. A comparative risk assessment of burden of disease and injury attributable to 67 risk factors and risk factor clusters in 21 regions, 1990–2010: A systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010. Lancet 380, 2224–2260 (2012).
Rudel, T. K. The national determinants of deforestation in sub-Saharan Africa. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 368, 20120405 (2013).
Bailis, R., Ezzati, M. & Kammen, D. M. Mortality and greenhouse gas impacts of biomass and petroleum energy futures in Africa. Science 308, 98–103 (2005).
Bond, T. C. et al. Bounding the role of black carbon in the climate system: A scientific assessment. J. Geophys. Res. 118, 5380–5552 (2013).
Ramanathan, V. & Carmichael, G. Global and regional climate changes due to black carbon. Nature Geosci. 1, 221–227 (2008).
Eckholm, E. The Other Energy Crisis: Firewood Report No. 22 (Worldwatch, 1975)
Eckholm, E. Fuelwood: The Energy Crisis That Won’t Go Away (Earthscan, 1984).
Leach, G. & Mearns, R. Beyond the Woodfuel Crisis: People, Land, and Trees in Africa (Earthscan, 1988).
Arnold, J. M. & Dewees, P. A. Farms, Trees and Farmers: Responses to Agricultural Intensification (Earthscan, 1997).
Hansfort, S. & Mertz, O. Challenging the woodfuel crisis in West African woodlands. Hum. Ecol. 39, 583–595 (2011).
Singh, G., Rawat, G. S. & Verma, D. Comparative study of fuelwood consumption by villagers and seasonal “Dhaba owners” in the tourist affected regions of Garhwal Himalaya, India. Energy Policy 38, 1895–1899 (2010).
Mayaux, P. et al. State and evolution of the African rainforests between 1990 and 2010. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 368, 20120300 (2013).
Hosonuma, N. et al. An assessment of deforestation and forest degradation drivers in developing countries. Environ. Res. Lett. 7, 044009 (2012).
Smith, P. et al. in Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change (eds Edenhofer, O., Pichs-Madruga, R. & Sokona, Y.) 811–922 (IPCC, Cambridge Univ. Press, 2014).
Drigo, R. WISDOM Case Studies (2014); http://www.wisdomprojects.net/global/cs.asp
Statistics Balances (International Energy Agency, 2012); http://www.iea.org/stats/index.asp
Rogner, H-H. et al. in Climate Change 2007: Mitigation of Climate Change (eds Metz, B. et al.) 95–116 (IPCC, Cambridge Univ. Press, 2007).
Alliance Mission and Goals (Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, 2014); http://www.cleancookstoves.org/the-alliance
Angelsen, A. et al. Realising REDD+: National Strategy and Policy Options (Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), 2009).
Subramanian, M. Global health: Deadly dinners. Nature 509, 548–551 (2014).
Johnson, M., Edwards, R. & Masera, O. Improved stove programs need robust methods to estimate carbon offsets. Climatic Change 102, 641–649 (2010).
IEA World Energy Statistics and Balances (International Energy Agency, 2013); http://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/statistics
UN Statistics Division Energy Statistics Database (United Nations, 2013); http://data.un.org/Explorer.aspx
Drigo, R. & Salbitano, F. WISDOM for Cities: Analysis of Wood Energy and Urbanization Using WISDOM Methodology (FAO Forestry Department Report, 2008)
Bailis, R. Modeling climate change mitigation from alternative methods of charcoal production in Kenya. Biomass Bioenergy 33, 1491–1502 (2009).
Mwampamba, T. H., Ghilardi, A., Sander, K. & Chaix, K. J. Dispelling common misconceptions to improve attitudes and policy outlook on charcoal in developing countries. Energy Sustain. Dev. 17, 75–85 (2013).
Global Forest Resources Assessment 2010 (UN FAO, 2010)
Hansen, M. C. et al. High-resolution global maps of 21st-century forest cover change. Science 342, 850–853 (2013).
EDGAR Database (European Commission—Joint Research Centre, 2014); http://edgar.jrc.ec.europa.eu/overview.php?v=GHGts1990-2010
Simon, G. L., Bailis, R., Baumgartner, J., Hyman, J. & Laurent, A. Current debates and future research needs in the clean cookstove sector. Energy Sustain. Dev. 20, 49–57 (2014).
Bazilian, M., Cordes, L., Nussbaumer, P. & Yager, A. Partnerships for access to modern cooking fuels and technologies. Curr. Opin. Environ. Sustain. 3, 254–259 (2011).
Peters-Stanley, M., Yin, D., Castillo, S., Gonzalez, G. & Goldstein, A. Maneuvering the Mosaic: State of the Voluntary Carbon Markets 2013 Report No. 105 (Ecosystem Marketplace and Bloomberg New Energy Finance, 2013)
Masera, O., Ghilardi, A., Drigo, R. & Trossero, M. A. WISDOM: A GIS-based supply demand mapping tool for woodfuel management. Biomass Bioenergy 30, 618–637 (2006).
European Space Agency GlobCover Portal (European Space Agency, 2011); http://due.esrin.esa.int/globcover/
Global Ecological Zones (UN FAO, 2011); http://www.fao.org/geonetwork/srv/en/metadata.show?id=1255
Baccini, A. et al. Estimated carbon dioxide emissions from tropical deforestation improved by carbon-density maps. Nature Clim. Change 2, 182–185 (2012).
Saatchi, S. S. et al. Benchmark map of forest carbon stocks in tropical regions across three continents. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. 108, 9899–9904 (2011).
Duku, M. H., Gu, S. & Hagan, E. B. A comprehensive review of biomass resources and biofuels potential in Ghana. Renew. Sustain. Energy Rev. 15, 404–415 (2011).
Ajoku, K. in Bioenergy for Sustainable Development in Africa (eds Janssen, R. & Rutz, D.) Ch. 12, 131–146 (Springer, 2012).
Wheeler, D., Kraft, R. & Hammer, D. Forest Clearing in the Pantropics: December 2005-August 2011 Working Paper 283 (Center for Global Development, 2011)
Carlson, K. M. et al. Committed carbon emissions, deforestation, and community land conversion from oil palm plantation expansion in West Kalimantan, Indonesia. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. 109, 7559–7564 (2012).
Gatti, L. et al. Drought sensitivity of Amazonian carbon balance revealed by atmospheric measurements. Nature 506, 76–80 (2014).
An, L., Linderman, M., Qi, J., Shortridge, A. & Liu, J. Exploring complexity in a human–environment system: An agent-based spatial model for multidisciplinary and multiscale integration. Ann. Assoc. Am. Geogr. 95, 54–79 (2005).
Bhatt, B. P. & Sachan, M. S. Firewood consumption along an altitudinal gradient in mountain villages of India. Biomass Bioenergy 27, 69–75 (2004).
Jetter, J. et al. Pollutant emissions and energy efficiency under controlled conditions for household biomass cookstoves and implications for metrics useful in setting international test standards. Environ. Sci. Technol. 46, 10827–10834 (2012).
This research was funded by the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, an initiative supported by the UN Foundation.
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
About this article
Cite this article
Bailis, R., Drigo, R., Ghilardi, A. et al. The carbon footprint of traditional woodfuels. Nature Clim Change 5, 266–272 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2491
This article is cited by
Nature Sustainability (2023)
Environment, Development and Sustainability (2023)
Environment, Development and Sustainability (2023)
Human Ecology (2023)