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Reducing black carbon emissions from kerosene lighting sources offers climate mitigation benefits

November 1, 2013

Around 1.3 billion people worldwide still lack access to electricity. For many, kerosene (paraffin) is a common lighting fuel and kerosene lamp use is widespread in the developing world. New research has shown that these lamps emit significant amounts of black carbon, 20 times more than previously estimated. A total of 270,000 tons of black carbon is emitted worldwide each year, having a warming equivalent close to 240 million tons of CO2.

Kerosene lamps emit a relatively small portion of global black carbon, but efforts to replace them are comparatively cheap and easy and viable alternative lighting sources exist. Moreover, in addition to mitigating climate change, there are significant health and development co-benefits to be attained by replacing kerosene lamps with non-fossil fuel-based lighting alternatives. Modern offgrid lighting alternatives include solar light emitting diode (LED) products, solar photovoltaic systems, and mini-grids and are generally safer and healthier than kerosene, and have brighter light, longer product lives, and lower lifecycle costs. Relatively low capital costs and the potential for substantial black carbon emissions savings make upgrading from kerosene lamps to off-grid lighting alternatives an attractive investment.

Many existing initiatives already aim to upgrade lighting sources from fossil fuel sources such as kerosene, either through increasing electricity access with grid expansion or by promoting and making available modern off-grid lighting alternatives. Grid expansion efforts are often expensive and slow-moving to implement, however, and off-grid solutions are important for achieving rapid action.

Decentralized off-grid lighting and energy projects can be more easily financed and implemented by combinations of international development agencies, local and international NGOs, and private companies. A number of off-grid lighting initiatives already exist, focusing largely on developing Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, where more than 95% of people without electricity live. Small-scale lighting projects in developing countries, especially in rural areas, are often financed by campaigns or NGOs. Other initiatives involve public private partnerships between businesses and NGOs or for-profit social enterprises that aim to increase access to modern lighting technology. A number of major programs are focused on building markets for off-grid products. Markets for non-fuel-based, off-grid lighting products have developed quickly, particularly in Africa, making products increasingly accessible and affordable.

Because simple wick lamps produce significantly greater black carbon emissions, countries with a high number of simple wick lamps can offer a proportionally greater return on investment than countries where glass-covered lamps are more common.

A new initiative on black carbon from kerosene lamps could make use of many of the CCAC’s interests and strengths. Options under a potential CCAC initiative on reducing black carbon emissions from kerosene lamps include:

  • Scaling up existing lighting programs
  • Bringing high-level attention and raising awareness
  • Promoting positive policy and regulatory environments
  • Promoting use of quality assurance standards
  • Reducing knowledge gaps
  • Supporting access to consumer and commercial finance