Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Potential of Basic Energy Services

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Global warming represents one of the most pressing issues of our time. If ‘business as usual’ were to continue, without any intervention, then by 2100 the earth’s atmosphere would heat up by 3°C in comparison to pre-industrial temperature levels[1]. This would have severe consequences. Even a temperature increase of 2°C would have significant impacts for people and economies around the world. Therefore, at the 2015 Climate Change Conference in Paris, the international community set a target to limit the rise in temperature to well below 2°C and to aim for a rise of no more than 1.5°C[2]. Now consequent actions need to follow these words in order for this goal to be achieved. The momentum from the Paris climate conference has to be used to speed up the progress and increase the efforts towards climate change mitigation. However, these mitigation actions should not come at the cost of people who do not have sufficient access to energy services. Therefore, the challenge will be to expand the spread of basic energy services, especial amongst rural populations in developing countries, without contributing towards climate change. Decentralised renewable electricity generation and improved cookstoves offer good solution in this respect. They mitigate climate change and at the same time help increase energy access levels. [3] 


Climate Change

“The Earth’s climatic system is extraordinarily complex. It is not limited to processes that take place in the atmosphere but also encompasses diverse interactions between the atmosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere (oceans), cryosphere (snow and ice) and the geosphere (rock). This is not a stable system but one that changes over the course of geological periods. The scientific community agrees that the climatic changes, which can currently be observed and have unfolded in an extremely short span of time considering the Earth’s history, are the result of the anthropogenic emission of greenhouse gases and other climatically relevant substances[4]. This is primarily the consequence of burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas.”[3]

Basic Energy Services

“The purpose of basic energy services is to cover the energy needs of households, municipal facilities (e.g. health centres, schools, municipal authorities) and small businesses (e.g. processing agricultural products).”[3]

Improved cookstoves can replace ‘traditional’ cookstoves or open fires. Due to better fuel combustion achieved by improved cookstoves they offer higher efficiencies, lower fuel consumption and reduced emissions.

Decentralised renewable energy generation can replace existing diesel generates which are currently being used in off grid regions or areas with unreliable gird access. In many cases off grid renewable energy generation technologies also have the potential to provide access to electricity for households/businesses which previously had none.

Mitigation Potential

Climate change mitigation can be achieved through a shift towards clean renewable energy technologies as well as through energy efficiency measures and reduced energy consumption. However, efforts to reduce energy consumption should mainly be implemented in industrialised nations and not in those countries where parts of the populations still do not have sufficient energy access. In these areas decentralised renewable electricity generation as well as improved cook stoves can contribute towards mitigating climate change as well as helping to increase energy access.

In terms of evaluating the mitigation potential of different technologies, the type of fuel used and the efficiency have a large effect on the emission levels. In order to evaluate the global warming effect of a certain product/technology it is important to determine what types of substances are being emitted, as well as how much of each of these substances is being emitted. This information needs to be combined with information on the global warming effect of the individual substances.

An overview of the different metrics used to measure climatically relevant substances:

  • Radiative Forcing (RF): The Watts per square meter (W/m²)
  • Global Warming Potential (GWP): An estimation of radiative forcing of a substance in relation to carbon dioxide (CO2) taken over a specified period of time
  • CO2 equivalent (CO2eq): This unit allows for the comparison of emissions from different substance in terms of their GWP
  • Global Temperature-change Potential (GTP): This unit indicated the effect which emissions from a certain substances have on global temperature.

Some of the main climatically relevant substances are:

  • Carbon Dioxide (CO2)
  • Methane (CH4)
  • Nitous Oxide (N2O)
  • Black Carbon (BC)
  • Organic Carbon (OC) -> cooling effect [3]

Improved Cookstoves

Improved cookstoves not only reduce emissions through better combustion of the fuel, but they also reduce the amount of fuel which is needed for cooking. Since deforestation contributes towards global warming, improved cookstoves help mitigate climate change due to their reduced need for firewood. Another important factor, which should be considered in terms of the climate change mitigation potential of improved cookstoves, is where the firewood used for cooking is sourced from. The UNFCCC distinguishes between renewable and non-renewable biomass. In countries with sustainable forest management programs reducing the use of biomass is less of a priority in comparison to counties with unsustainable forest management. Biomass is classified as carbon neutral, because the CO2 emissions released when the fuel is burnt are balanced out by the CO2 which the plant absorbed during its growth. However, due to incomplete combustion, the burning of biomass also releases methane and shoot particles. These are currently not fully considered by the UNFCCC in their calculations. If they were to be included, then biomass could not be classified as climate neutral. However, through better combustion, improved cookstoves can help reduce methane and shoot emissions and thereby contribute to climate change mitigation. [3]

Decentralised Renewable Electricity Generation

The climate change mitigation potential of decentralized renewable energy generation is often measured according to the emissions which would be caused if a generator were producing the electricity that is now being provided through renewable energy. Currently, the measurements only take into account carbon dioxide emissions for the generator. Organic carbon, black carbon and methane emissions are not considered when working out the climate change mitigation potential.[3]

Adaptation Potential

Climate change adaptation measures should be based on the ’no regret’ principal, meaning that they should prepare for all the possible effects of climate change so as to avoid being caught by surprise. Investments should be made into the necessary infrastructure and systems to deal with upcoming problems. This includes “the establishment of monitoring systems of climatic parameters and water levels[5] as well as early warning systems for extreme weather events such as cyclones, heavy precipitation and droughts.” [3]

The climate change adaptation potential of different technologies can be evaluated according to two criteria points:

  • The technologies resilience against climate change
  • The contribution which the technology can make towards increasing a societies resilience against climate change [3]

Improved Cookstoves

It is expected that climate change will have a negative impact on forests. This could lead to increases prices for firewood and even fuel shortages. A transition to clean efficient cookstoves, as well as an increased used of liquid fossil fuels and charcoal would reduce the dependence on firewood and therefore increase the resilience against climate change. Improved cookstoves also offer several advantages in terms of their contribution to a societies resistance against climate change. Due to their reduced fuel need improved cookstoves can help protect forest. Forests are important part of local ecosystems, they regulate groundwater and microclimates, provide a barrier against desertification and erosions and are the source of many natural resources. Therefore, by reducing deforestation, improved cookstoves can increase the resilience of a region against climate change. By minimising indoor air pollution they also offer significant health benefits, since healthy people will be in a better position to deal with extreme weather conditions brought about by climate change.[3]

Decentralised Renewable Energy Generation

Individual decentralised renewable energy technologies are quite vulnerable to extreme weather conditions, and therefore also to the effects of climate change. For example, hydropower and biomass are dependent on precipitation, while energy generation from PV panels is dependent on the sun. However, a diverse mix of different renewable energy technologies can balance out the individual vulnerabilities of each technology. This is also the reason why, when considered as a whole, decentralised renewable energy technologies are far more resilient to climate change than individual large power plants. Generating electricity in thermal power plants require large amounts of water for cooling. Due to the global rise in temperature and the increasing water shortages in many regions this makes them very susceptible to the effects of climate change. Decentralised renewable energy generation also has the advantage that, in comparison to large scale power plants, the technologies used are not as technically complex. This means that should they be damaged in extreme weather condition reparations are usually fast and operation can be resumed in a short period of time. Having access to electricity greatly increases a societies resilience to climate change, because electricity can power many useful appliances. For example, water pumps, irrigation systems, desalination plants, medical equipment as well as heating and cooling equipment; all of which can help people deal with extreem weather conditiond brought about by global warming. Therefore, decentralised renewable energy generation can offer many benefits in, terms of climate change adaptation to societies which are currently living off the grid. [3]

Financing Options for Basic Energy Services

Even though improved cook stoves and renewable energy appliances for decentralized electricity generation have very low operating costs and offer long term savings the initial upfront cost for these technologies is very high. This can often be a significant hurdle for low income people who want to purchase such a product. In order to help overcome this problem financing models have been set up by NGO’s and microfinancing institutions. These are the main financing options which exist for the purchase of projects related to basic energy services:

  • Clean Development Mechanism
  • Voluntary Carbon Market
  • Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs)
  • Green Climate Fund
  • Adaptation Fund
  • Global Environmental Facility
  • Climate Investment Funds [3]

For more information on these financing options go to the Mitigation and Adaptation Potential of Basic Energy Services report or have a look at the Carbon Finance and the Carbon Markets for Improved Cooking Stoves articles.

International climate financing mechanisms such as the Green Climate Fund (GCF) have the potential to mobilise new financial resources for projects related to basic energy services in the upcoming years. Projects related to providing basic energy services have generated financial revenues in the context of international market mechanisms such as the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and the voluntary market. “Through the CDM, for example, over 200 projects have been registered, with expected greenhouse gas reductions totalling around 8.5 million tonnes of CO equivalent annually. The price of emission credits long maintained a level of around 15 EUR per tonne; since 2012, however, this price has experienced a massive drop owing to a significant decrease in the demand for emission credits. Despite this development, cookstove projects continue to enjoy a privileged position and have managed to sell emission credits for 3-8 EUR per tonne, whereas the price of these credits reaches 0.50 EUR otherwise.” [3]

Further Information


This article is based on the report Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Potential of Basic Energy Services, written by Feige, et al.

  1. Edenhofer, O. et al., 2014. Climate Change 2014 Mitigation of Climate Change: Working Group III Contribution to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, New York: Cambridge University Press.
  2. Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, 2015. Outcomes of the UN Climate Change COnference in Paris. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 4 August 2016].
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 Feige, S., Michaelowa, A. & Warland, L., 2015. Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Potential of Basic Energy Services, Zurich: Perspectives Climate Change.
  4. IPCC, 2013. Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  5. Bundesministerium für Wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit (BMZ), 2015. Den Folgen des Klimawandels begegnen. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 10 Agust 2016].fckLR