Climate change continues to extract unacceptable death toll, conference told

Burning fossil fuels in stoves contributes to 1.6m premature deaths of women annually

Burning fossil fuels and charcoal in basic cooking stoves continues to cause the premature death of more than 1.6 million women a year – most of whom are in Africa.

That statistic served to illustrate lack of availability of clean and cheap renewable energy in developing and climate-vulnerable countries, Damilola Ogunbiyi of Sustainable Energy for All told Dublin Climate Dialogues.

If the world does not ensure cheap and clean renewable energy is made available for all, a key UN sustainable development goal for 2030 would not be achieved, making the target of net-zero emissions by 2050 impossible, added Ms Ogunbiyi who is the UN special representative for sustainable energy.

She hoped the upcoming COP26 summit would address the issue of developing countries having no alternative to fossil fuels. The technology was available to bring on renewable energy but they did not have the ability to fund it.


Irish climate envoy Sinéad Walsh said this issue, combined with layers of injustice and the worsening effects of climate disruption, was glaring in Africa. Every year flooding was worse than the year before, indicated by the collapse of bridges and buildings with the worst impacts on slum areas. Water issues were increasing tensions and exacerbating conflicts, she noted.

In response, Ireland was ramping up climate actions and doubling climate finance directed as the least resilient countries including small island states. Conscious of the layers of climate injustice, she said, it was recognising the need for the voices of frontline people in these countries to be heard – especially at COP26.

Funding was targeted at supporting adaptation and ensuring impacts such as helping the government in Malawi to provide 2 million clean clay cooking stoves, Ms Walsh said, which was bringing tangible health and environmental benefits.

It was increasingly recognised that the climate crisis was “a threat multiplier” to global security, added Ms Walsh who is deputy director general for Irish Aid and Africa at the Department of Foreign Affairs. But there was insufficient focus on “the peace dividend” from climate action, she said.

COP26 needs to fully recognise toxic air associated with burning fossil fuels is having catastrophic impacts on human health, said Dr Aidan Farrow, an air pollution scientist at Greenpeace Research Laboratories in the University of Exeter. Pollution from fossil fuels is responsible for 4.5 million premature deaths globally each year, underlining the need to shift away from these energy sources not just for climate reasons but for health reasons, he said.

Aligning agreed measures to Paris agreement goals will have an immediate impact in improving health outcomes, he said.

Renewable energy was now the cheapest way to build energy capacity, and when combined with technologies to make transport cleaner, the opportunity existed for the first time to decouple energy needs and the economy/fossil fuels – including “the emissions that make us sick”.

It meant there was a golden opportunity; “all of the solutions are available, and because of the costs involved, they are all feasible,” Dr Farrow said.

He told the Dublin Climate Dailogues conference that about 3 million deaths were caused by people breathing in particulate matter (PM) which is the most harmful to human health. It is associated with heart and lung disease and increased of asthma attacks.

The origin of PM differs from country to country: in much of the developing world, the burning of solid fuels for cooking and heating is the most common source, while power plants, transport and agriculture are the largest sources in richer economies.

Dr Farrow said the cost to the world economy from these types of air pollution amounted to around 3 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2018, which equates to $2.5 trillion.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times

Eoin Burke-Kennedy

Eoin Burke-Kennedy

Eoin Burke-Kennedy is Economics Correspondent of The Irish Times