The authors would like to acknowledge the contributions of Alexandra Peek, formerly research associate at the Center on Global Energy Policy.
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Kimberly and Scott Sheffield
While tens of millions of people work in formal energy jobs around the world, another group that comprises a massive and key labor segment in this sector is often overlooked: women and girls producing biomass to meet the basic energy needs of millions of poorer households across the developing world. Some 2 billion people rely on biomass for cooking (and some for heating), making those who gather it critical players in the global energy supply system. Women and girls in many developing countries constitute the majority of people collecting fuelwood for household consumption—an often strenuous and time-consuming effort—and estimating their number could elevate the importance attached to improving their working and living conditions. While some initial estimates of this labor force have been made, analyses remain superficial.
This report, part of ongoing research into energy for development and gender dynamics at the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University SIPA, attempts to improve this deficit, providing a systemic albeit rough estimation—given minimal available data—of the number of women household biomass producers. An analysis of clean cooking access rates, population figures, and average household sizes for both rural and urban areas in 92 developing countries estimates that 389 million women and girls undertake this work, which would represent the largest labor segment of today’s global energy system.
Additional findings from this report include the following:
Nearly 775 million people around the globe are estimated to have no access to electricity. In 2022, that number rose.
This commentary contextualizes the scale of persistent energy burdens in both emerging and developed economies.
At the annual round of international climate negotiations that are well underway at COP28 in Dubai—to limit global temperature rise to 1.5° Celsius—the needs of the developing world...