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Pervasive over-crediting from cookstove offset methodologies

Abstract

Cookstove carbon offset projects can progress multiple Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including climate, energy, health, gender, poverty and deforestation. However, project emission reductions must be accurately or conservatively estimated to avoid undermining climate action and long-term SDG financing. Here we conduct a comprehensive, quantitative, quality assessment of offsets by comparing five cookstove methodologies with published literature and our own analysis. We find misalignment, in order of importance, with fraction of non-renewable biomass, firewood–charcoal conversion, stove adoption, stove usage, fuel consumption, stacking (using multiple stoves), rebound and emission factors. Additionality, leakage, permanence and overlapping claims require more research. We estimate that our project sample is over-credited 9.2 times. Gold Standard’s metered methodology, which directly monitors fuel use, is most aligned with our estimates (1.5 times over-credited) and has the largest potential for emission abatement and health benefit. We provide recommendations to align methodologies with current science and SDG progress.

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Fig. 1: Transitions from baseline to project fuels by cookstove carbon offset projects.
Fig. 2: Issued credits across the VCM and our sample.
Fig. 3: Over/under-crediting across factors.

Data availability

All data and code are publicly available online at https://github.com/agillwiehl/GillWiehl_et_al_Pervasive_over_crediting.

Code availability

All data and code are publicly available online at https://github.com/agillwiehl/GillWiehl_et_al_Pervasive_over_crediting.

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Acknowledgements

The research that led to these results received funding from the Center for African Studies, University of California, Berkeley (A.G.-W.), Carbon Direct (B.K.H.), Google.org (D.K.), Katherine Lau Family Foundation (A.G.-W. and D.K.), the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Researcher Fellowship Program (A.G.-W.), the Mulago Foundation/Better Cooking Company (A.G.-W.) and the Zaffaroni Family Foundation (D.K.). We thank A. Haya for help with initial data collection. We also thank Calyx Global and D. Lee. A.G.-W. thanks I. Ray and A. Hubbard for additional advising support.

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A.G.-W. and B.K.H. co-led the research design. A.G.-W. compiled the data, conducted the analysis and co-led the write up of the paper. B.K.H. originated the idea and co-led the write up of the paper. D.K. contributed to the research design and write up, as well as funding the work.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Annelise Gill-Wiehl.

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A.G.-W. has received research support from Better Cooking Company Limited, whose leadership also provided comments on a draft of the manuscript. B.K.H. has received research support from Carbon Direct. D.K. declares no competeing interests.

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Nature Sustainability thanks Philippe Delacote, Ben Groom and Bruno Marino for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary extended methods, Figs. 1–3, Tables 1–23, discussion of health benefits, co-benefits, methodology equations and methodology surveys; our sample of projects; studies included in our adoption, usage, stacking, additionality and leakage investigations; overview of monitoring types; additional results: all over-crediting results; sensitivity analysis; MCM histogram; location analysis.

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Gill-Wiehl, A., Kammen, D.M. & Haya, B.K. Pervasive over-crediting from cookstove offset methodologies. Nat Sustain 7, 191–202 (2024). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-023-01259-6

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