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Carbon Ratings

Sylvera’s approach to Improved Cookstove ratings

May 11, 2023
For a deep dive into improved cookstoves, read the white paper here.

What are cookstoves?

Improved cookstoves are designed to be more efficient and cleaner burning than traditional cookstoves, which are commonly used in many parts of the world, especially in developing countries.

Traditional cookstoves typically burn solid fuels such as wood, coal or agricultural waste, which can produce large amounts of smoke and other harmful pollutants. In addition to their negative health effects, these stoves also contribute to deforestation and climate change.

Improved cookstoves, on the other hand, are designed to use less fuel and burn more efficiently, reducing emissions of harmful pollutants and greenhouse gases. They can also be designed to be safer to use and more durable than traditional stoves.

Why are they popular?

Improved cookstoves are a popular project type in the voluntary carbon markets. They are classified as technology-based avoidance/reduction solutions. 

  • From a user’s perspective: improved cookstoves offer a range of community benefits such as reduced fuel costs, better energy access, time saved in cooking and collecting wood, and empowering women who are often responsible for collecting fuel for cooking in traditional stoves. Employment opportunities can also come via the production and distribution of the improved cookstoves.
  • From a buyer’s perspective: these projects deliver additional benefits beyond carbon avoidance, such as health benefits, reduced deforestation and social and economic benefits for households. These co-benefits make improved cookstove projects an attractive option to investors and buyers.
  • From a developer’s perspective: improved cookstoves present an attractive opportunity for project developers. There is demand for projects especially in  remote or rural areas, where access to energy is limited and traditional cooking methods are still prevalent.

Overall, improved cookstoves projects offer a compelling combination of simplicity, co-benefits and additionality of activities, which makes them a popular option in the voluntary carbon market.

What are the common shortcomings?

While these projects have the potential to provide a positive impact on the environment, they also face several common shortcomings that may result in an overestimation of the effectiveness of the project and therefore over-issuance of carbon credits.

  • Low uptake rate and lack of user acceptance: some cookstove projects fail to consider the cooking practices, cultural preferences and needs of the users. As a result, the stoves may not be used as intended; for example, ‘stove stacking’ can occur when the improved cookstove is used in addition to the traditional cooking method, or in some cases, the new cookstove is abandoned altogether.
  • Limited durability and reliability: some cookstove projects use low-quality materials and lack proper maintenance, repair or replacement of the stoves, resulting in a shorter lifespan and reduced efficiency over time.
  • Challenges in monitoring and evaluation: project developers may not have adequate monitoring and evaluation processes in place to measure the impact of the stoves on reduced deforestation, usage rates, health and other factors.

Sylvera’s Cookstoves Framework

While cookstove projects face valid criticism regarding their effectiveness, Sylvera has developed a proprietary framework so that we can accurately assess the quality and risks of these projects.

We have been dedicating significant time and resources to the development of the Improved Cookstoves rating framework (since November 2022) with the goal of creating a comprehensive framework that addresses key aspects of cookstove projects. 

We are using a variety of sources to generate our ratings. We utilize policy and regulatory datasets and country level market assessments to account for the level of financial additionality and common practice. We use WHO cooking fuel data and GIS data to estimate the risk of over-crediting. 

We also run a climatic risk model to assess the level of permanence of the biomass carbon stock that is being saved as a result of the project activity. This ensemble of methods allows us to rate the project’s performance from many different angles.

To ensure that our framework is rigorous and well-informed, we recently presented it to a Framework Review Committee (January 2023). The committee included academics, industry experts, project developers and customers who provided valuable feedback and insights into our work. 

Given the complexity of generating a carbon score, the ratings in the framework are provisional, with an indication of positive, neutral and negative scores based on the other pillars.

Read the white paper for more information on how we rated Improved Cookstove projects.

Some insights from the framework development process:

  • Measuring carbon reductions is very difficult:in order to generate a carbon score, we need to take into account the levels of forest degradation and draw the connection between forest degradation and cookstove activities. We are currently unable to generate a score that reflects the intersection of these two elements of forest degradation and demand for woodfuel. Therefore, all improved cookstoves projects have been assigned a "neutral" carbon score. Instead, the level of confidence in the reasonableness of the issued credits is assessed in the pillar of additionality, over-crediting risk.
  • Additionality of activities trends positively: improved cookstoves projects are often highly additional, meaning that the project would not have occurred without the carbon finance. This is because the initial investment required to set up the project is often too high for households or communities to afford without outside funding. Our framework assesses whether there are other financial resources available beyond carbon finance, through the analysis of policy and regulatory schemes, and market penetration.
  • Over-crediting risk is valid: as a direct result of the challenge of measuring carbon reductions, the main risk of improved cookstove projects is over-crediting. In order to address this risk, project developers can implement rigorous baseline assessments to identify households that genuinely need the stoves and are likely to use them as intended. They can also provide education and training on the proper use of the stoves and follow up with households to ensure that the stoves are being used as intended. In order to assess the risk level of over-crediting, Sylvera:
    • Assesses the parameters used to calculate the emissions reductions. For example, we analyze the project's claims about baseline fuel consumption and compare them to data from the World Health Organization about what types and proportions of fuel are used for cooking in urban and rural regions by country and year. If a project claims that in the baseline scenario, 100% of the fuel would be woodfuel, but it operates in an urban area where the majority of the population is using liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), then there is a risk of inflated emission reductions.
    • Reviews the fraction of non-renewable biomass (fNRB). This is an incredibly important component in the calculation of emissions reductions. fNRB refers to forest renewability; specifically, to the percentage of biomass (e.g. wood) that cannot be naturally replenished or renewed within a short period of time. At the outset of a project, developers provide a baseline for fNRB. Many use inflated baselines of 80-90%, indicating that the forest would not regenerate. However, it has been demonstrated in some cases that the real fNRB is closer to 30-40%. Sylvera compares the fNRB assigned by the project with a third-party peer-reviewed database.
    • Accounts for the type, frequency and size of tests used to determine the level of emissions reductions.
    • Examines internal (project documentation) and external (academic literature) indicators of cookstove usage versus abandonment of the baseline technology (stove stacking).
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About the author
Ratings Program Manager

Shachar has an M.Sc. in Environmental Economics conducting GIS-based economic valuations of ecosystem services. She is an experienced intelligence researcher and project manager in sustainable tech startups.