Why does solid fuel dependence vary within a country? Peru offers some answers.

Solid Fuel Consumption in Peru by Region (in 2004 and 2012).

Solid Fuel Consumption in Peru by Region (in 2004 and 2012)

By ELENA V. MCLEAN

Published September 27, 2019

One of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015 is to provide universal access to “affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy.” Dependence on solid fuels in low- and middle-income countries impedes this goal, creating a source of household air pollution that harms primarily the health of women and children directly exposed to it.

Why do some regions rely on cleaner fuel alternatives, while others remain highly dependent on solid fuels? What environmental and socioeconomic conditions can help us explain within-country patterns of solid fuel consumption?

National and international programs to promote transition from solid fuels to cleaner alternatives tend to aim at country-level air pollution problems, even though there is substantial regional variation in solid fuel dependence. Peru provides an informative context for studying this subnational variation and identifying its sources. Overall, the country is less dependent on solid fuels than many other low- and middle-income countries: just 26% of the country’s households used solid fuels as their primary cooking fuels in 2017, which is less than in countries of Sub-Saharan Africa (80%), South-East Asia (58%), and the Western Pacific (31%). However, solid fuel use varies by as much as 71% in neighboring Peruvian regions. Solid fuel dependence in the Lima region was 2.9% in 2012, on par with Europe (less than 5%). In contrast, directly across the administrative border in Huancavelica, solid fuel dependence in 2012 was 81%, similar to Sub-Saharan Africa. 

Given this disparity within one country, our article “Household Dependence on Solid Cooking Fuels in Peru: An Analysis of Environmental and Socioeconomic Conditions,” in Global Environmental Change, seeks to analyze associations between solid fuel use, on the one hand, and energy affordability, access, and need, on the other. Specifically, we ask: Why do some regions rely on cleaner fuel alternatives, while others remain highly dependent on solid fuels? What environmental and socioeconomic conditions can help us explain within-country patterns of solid fuel consumption? While existing studies have presented localized case studies of solid fuel use, no prior research provides a systematic analysis of determinants of regional variability to explain vast disparities within the same country.

Our study shows that a combination of external and household factors explains the variation in solid fuel use across a country. We find that, along with energy price/affordability and access, the type of female employment emerges as an important explanatory factor. As the share of women employed as domestic workers grows in a region, the use of solid fuel in the regions increases as well. We also show that regions with large indigenous groups have high levels of solid fuel dependence, even when we account for poverty, climate, and literacy. Socialization and culture are plausible drivers of these associations. Our findings suggest that efforts to reduce solid fuel dependence should expand to include women and indigenous people in regions with significant dependence on solid fuels.