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Better home heating in the UNECE region for clean air, better health and climate

Who would have thought that heating with wood, a renewable fuel, is not as sustainable as we all thought? Whether heating with wood is a necessity, an alternative to another heating system or just a nice extra to create a cosy atmosphere in our homes, the consequences are the same: smoke that is loaded with pollutants such as particulate matter and black carbon, better known as soot. These pollutants are responsible for poor air quality linked to health concerns such as strokes, cancer, respiratory disease and numerous other ailments. To make matters worse, black carbon is also a so-called short-lived climate pollutant, hence a driver of climate change.

Residential heating using solid fuels is a major source of particulate matter and black carbon emissions in the UNECE region and thus a significant contributor to air pollution and climate change. This is why Parties to the UNECE Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution addressed the issue of particulate matter, including black carbon, emissions when revising the 1999 Protocol to Abate Acidification, Eutrophication and Ground-level Ozone (Gothenburg Protocol) in 2012. Setting emission limit values for small combustion installations such as fireplaces, boilers and wood and pellet stoves, Parties have taken steps to address this rather difficult emission source.

This week in Geneva, Parties, international organizations, other countries and stakeholders discussed good practices and challenges in reducing air pollution from residential heating during a special thematic session (24 May 2018) dedicated to this issue as part of the 56th meeting of the Working Group on Strategies and Review under the Convention (22 to 25 May 2018).  During the session, , participants discussed their experiences in managing emissions from residential heating at the national and regional level. They also exchanged experiences with representatives from other regions providing a wider perspective on impacts and mitigation measures. Also at the session, a new publication on Wood Energy in the ECE Region was launched, highlighting the use of wood for energy and including the most recent statistics on wood energy markets across the region.

Participants heard that further action and approaches to cooperation and integration across sectors and policy areas to achieve benefits for air, health and climate are needed. The importance of using the latest technology was highlighted which also points to the need to promote ways to  accelerate the adoption of change-out programmes to replace old stoves.  Participants heard that in addition to technological fixes and new models, behavioural changes are needed. In this regard, information and awareness raising campaigns on how to burn right are essential because it is not just what you burn, and what technology you use, it is how you burn it.  The day concluded with a summary highlighting key scientific, technological and policy gaps which can inform further work under the Convention to address this important source.