A Fossil Fuel Saves Lives, Money and CO2 in Darfur

Photographer: Meissner/laif/Redux

Women cook using traditional fuel sources, which emits more carbon than liquefied petroleum gas, in Darfur, Sudan. Close

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Photographer: Meissner/laif/Redux

Women cook using traditional fuel sources, which emits more carbon than liquefied petroleum gas, in Darfur, Sudan.

Fossil fuels typically don’t leap to mind as carbon-cutting alternative energy sources. Yet in Sudan's North Darfur region, liquefied petroleum gas, or LPG, is helping reduce carbon emissions, plus saving lives and money.

A project started in 2007 by Practical Action, a British non-governmental group, and Carbon Clear, a company that sells emission offsets, aims to halve household emissions generated by wood- or charcoal-fired stoves. Changing to a lower-emitting fuel may also reduce the number of deaths due to smoke inhalation, which the World Health Organization estimates at 2 million people annually.

The program intends to earn as many as 300,000 metric tons of voluntary offsets over ten years, roughly the equivalent of a decade of emissions from about 1,700 Americans. The credits may fetch as much as 3.6 million euros ($4.6 million), based on an estimated price for Gold Standard offsets between 8 and 12 euros a ton, Gareth Turner, a voluntary carbon market broker at Armajaro Securities Ltd. in London, said in an interview last month.

"LPG has the advantage of cost," said Paul Smith-Lomas, international director at Practical Action. "It also provides immediate heat, so there's none of the wasted energy that is associated with cooking with charcoal or wood."

The Darfur project replaces charcoal or wood with LPG in canisters from Nile Petroleum Co.'s refinery in Khartoum, Sudan's capital, 1,290 kilometers (800 miles) away. A month's supply of charcoal costs about 98 new Sudanese pounds ($22) while a 12.5 kilogram LPG canister, which lasts for about the same length of time, costs half as much, Rachel Hunter, a spokeswoman in London for Carbon Clear, said in an e-mail. LPG is a combustible gas similar to the fuel in cigarette lighters or camping stoves.

Cooking with charcoal emits almost twice as much carbon dioxide as LPG, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

A micro-finance system funded by Carbon Clear in El Fasher, the main city in the Darfur region, will help up to 10,000 households buy stoves and a month's worth of LPG for 650 Sudanese pounds each. Buyers could cover the outlay within eight to 10 months.

To be sure, the Darfur system is relatively small compared to UN-approved projects that supply credits to established markets like the European Union's emissions-trading system. The Darfur cookstoves will generate 30,000 voluntary credits a year for ten years, while the average UN project supplies 129,000 offsets a year.

The Darfur project may also show international development and aid agencies how to measure and verify the outcomes of their work in other areas, Adrian Rimmer, the chief executive officer of the Gold Standard, said in March. If carbon can be measured, the thinking goes, why not health, water and biodiversity?

"Carbon credits demonstrate you can verify and measure impacts and make them commercially viable," Rimmer said. "At the moment the outcome is a reduction in carbon, but it also delivers other things," such as reduced mortality rates due to smoke inhalation, increased safety for women and better opportunities for children to attend school.

Analysis and commentary on The Grid are the views of the author and don't necessarily reflect the views of Bloomberg News.

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