Indoor air pollution from cooking meals over open fires and crude stoves contributes to an estimated 4.3 million premature deaths a year and puts the health of three billion people at risk in developing countries, according to estimates from the World Health Organization. The inefficient stoves also contribute more than 20 percent of global black carbon emissions.
Jacob Moss, a senior advisor from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) who has been on detail at the State Department, conceived and played a major role in designing and building an innovative alliance of federal and international agencies, countries and corporations to protect the environment and save lives by bringing new technology—much cleaner and efficient cook stoves and fuels—to millions of homes.
The $800 million raised so far for the Cookstoves Initiatives is being used to meet a goal of improving 500 million lives in 100 million households by 2020, and to combat this major cause of indoor pollution, the fourth largest health risk in the world and the second largest for women and girls.
“What is truly remarkable is the extent to which Jacob has been able to draw in so many agencies, organizations and countries to support what is now a massive effort,” said Janet McCabe, the acting assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. “It’s hard enough to influence your own agency’s budget, but to pull together investments from other agencies is incredibly difficult.”
Kris Balderston, former special representative for Global Partnerships at the State Department, said Moss “reached out to all the nongovernment organizations working on this issue and built a circle of trust.”
“He is the glue,” Balderston said. “He is the guy who kept this going.”
In 2002, Moss helped launch a small international partnership through the EPA to address the pollution caused by cook stoves. By 2007, that program was helping hundreds of thousands of people, but Moss recognized that solving this global issue demanded an international platform outside of government.
McCabe said Moss “had first the vision and then the follow-through to take an already successful program addressing a massive health, environmental and economic issue, and take it to an extraordinary level by creating a large-scale partnership with the promise of being a lasting institution.”
“I envisioned a partnership on steroids,” Moss recalled. “Former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson knew that the scalable solution had to be in partnership with the State Department. After she wrote to then-Secretary of State Clinton, I advanced the idea there.”
That vision became the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves in partnership with the United Nations Foundation, which serves as the host organization for the alliance.
The United Nations Foundation was drawn into the program because of efforts made by Moss, said Kathy Calvin, president and CEO of the foundation. “He brought us to meet with other champions, like Peru, so we could see where leadership was around the world. He brought us into EPA to learn all about the stoves. He brought us into State so we had a chance to surface concerns and discuss the challenges.”
Since 2010, Moss has coordinated a government-wide effort to bring in 30 new countries and private partners, engage American ambassadors in the priority countries, and rally federal agencies to support the program.
Using this engagement strategy, Moss expanded a $50 million federal effort into an 11-agency commitment of up to $125 million. He then led a third round of expansion that culminated in new, targeted U.S. support of up to $200 million. These federal investments collectively leveraged more than $550 million in public and private funds.
Moss became interested in the cook stove issue when he was a Peace Corps volunteer in Togo in the 1980s. “I would often chat with local women while they cooked in their kitchens,” he said. “These visits couldn’t last more than a short while because the smoke from the stoves was so dense I would start coughing, my eyes would sting and I would have to go outside to breathe.”
Like nearly half the world, these women cooked on rudimentary stoves fueled by wood, charcoal, crop residues, dung cakes and even trash. The result has been disastrous levels of indoor smoke and associated levels of particles, pollutants and toxins that can cause everything from cardiovascular and pulmonary disease to cataracts.
Further, the harvesting of wood for the indoor stoves contributes to deforestation and other effects on the ecosystem, while the emissions from inefficient stoves are an enormous source of environmental pollutants.
The alliance depends on partner countries and organizations to educate consumers on the benefits of switching to more efficient stoves and fuels, and relies on partner companies, many of which are local enterprises offering hundreds of different types of stoves that are inexpensive and accommodate a variety of cleaner burning fuels.
Through these partners, the alliance has sold more than 20 million efficient stoves. It also estimates that by 2020, the adoption of cleaner burning cook stoves will help prevent 470,000 premature deaths, avoid over 1 billion metric tons of CO2-equivalent emissions every year and create 1.5 million jobs.