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Fighting Poverty with Cookstoves and Carbon Markets (Op-Ed)

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Michael Jenkins is a former forester and the founder of Forest Trends, publisher of Ecosystem Marketplace. The organization startedin 1998 to highlight the market value of natural ecosystems to promote their conservation.This Op-Ed was adapted from a post on the Skoll World Forum. Jenkins contributed this article to LiveScience's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.

Some problems are complex. Others are simple. And often the twain converge.

Take, for example, the complex challenge of climate change. It's caused by almost everything we do. It has an impact in ways that are difficult to fathom. And fixing it will require a complete update of the global energy sector.

Contrast this with the fairly straightforward problem of indoor air pollution. This one is caused by traditional stoves that burn dirty fuels inefficiently. It kills four million people every year. And fixing it will require replacing about one billion traditional stoves with cleaner varieties.

Simple, yes — but not easy, because those billion stoves are scattered all across the world, and replacing them also requires marketing, education and training. Aid agencies, nonprofits and commercial manufacturers have spent decades building up successful regional programs, but many are finding it difficult to get that extra bit of finance that can turn medium-sized efforts into larger ones and larger ones into massive ones. Increasingly research shows that the critical, final piece of finance comes from a surprising source.

Stoves and fire pits, it turns out, pump hundreds of millions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year. That makes them part of the climate-change problem, which means society has an interest in replacing them.

Over the years, standard-setting organizations like the Gold Standard and the Clean Development Mechanism have made it possible to generate carbon offsets by helping distribute clean cookstoves. In some cases, the credits provide deep discounts for poor people and aid agencies, but most of the money goes towards manufacturing, marketing, distribution and testing of stoves and fuels — activities that support a sustainable market generating reductions many times higher than the number of credits earned.

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Last year, carbon markets funneled more than $167 million into clean cookstove distribution, according to Forest Trends' most recent report, produced in partnership with the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves and unveiled by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently in New York. That's a huge proportion of the $246 million that carbon revenues have contributed to the stove sector over time.

The alliance itself has more than 800 partners around the world, and its aim is to get these efficient stoves into 100 million households by 2020. Research shows that alliance partners distributed 8.2 million stoves in 2012 — up from 3.6 million the year before — and that carbon finance helped pay for about half of them.

That's especially good news for women, because it not only means better health, but less time spent gathering wood and more time spent doing other things that improve lives. Indeed, the report found that 172 of the alliance partners had made it a priority to empower women.

Armed with that understanding, social entrepreneurs can now tap into carbon finance to attack other seemingly intractable social challenges — like women's rights, indigenous empowerment and subsistence farming.

To promote this understanding, the Skoll Foundation invited Forest Trends to participate in the Social Entrepreneurs Challenge. Launched Sept. 30, 2013, by the foundation and Huffington Post, the challenge is the largest CrowdRise campaign ever, involving scores of social entrepreneurs from around the world. You can participate by shouting us out on Huffington Post or sponsoring us on CrowdRise, where we aim is to raise $45,000 by Nov. 22. As in cookstoves, a little often goes a long way.

This Op-Ed was adapted from the post "How Carbon Markets Save Lives And Slash Poverty, Part One: Cookstoves" on the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship, a premier international platform for accelerating entrepreneurial approaches and innovative solutions to the world's most pressing social issues. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher. This article was originally published on LiveScience.