Biomass fuels are used as an energy source for cooking, heating, and small-scale industrial activities by a large number of people in the developing world. As populations increase, the effects of biomass burning on the vitality of forests, air quality, and human health or well-being can be severe. The overall goal of this project is to investigate linkages between the use of biomass energy in Southern Africa and its coupled impacts on human, terrestrial, and atmospheric systems. Quantitative and qualitative field observations of both human and natural systems, scenario development, and modeling of both the atmospheric and land-use changes will further examine these linkages and quantify the magnitude of human influence. The field sites are in Malawi and the results will be scaled up to determine the possible changes in eastern and southern Africa. We add new insights into the relative effects of a wide array of biomass energy uses on land-use land-cover changes, air quality, and human well-being. The project also evaluates a scalable household energy intervention targeted at the poorest and most vulnerable households, and models its influence on terrestrial and atmospheric systems in future scenarios. This research has the potential to improve forest condition and air quality in areas at risk of severely declining environmental conditions, and improve the quality of life for large numbers of people who depend upon these resources.

Research themes: Energy Poverty and Environment and Livelihoods

Research team: Pamela Jagger (UNC-CH), Robert Bailis (SEI), Andrew Grieshop (NCSU), Jason West (UNC-CH), Jared Bowden (UNC-CH), Adrian Ghilardi (UNAM), Charles Jumbe (LUANAR), Thabbie Chilongo (LUANAR), Ther Aung (UNC-CH)

Funding: National Science Foundation: Coupled Natural Human Systems Program

Duration: 2016 – 2020