HEALTH BENEFITS OF CLEAN ENERGY: evidence from Indonesia

Moving to clean energy can have significant health benefits. According to preliminary results of new research, the distribution of free liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) starter kits in Indonesia led to an annual fall of 3% in the infant mortality rate.


This study by Imelda from the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid is being presented at the Royal Economic Society annual conference in April 2019. It considers the health benefits of using cleaner energy for cooking by moving from a relatively dirty cooking fuel (kerosene) to a much cleaner one (LPG).


The research focuses on a large-scale policy initiative in Indonesia. Using survey data combined with administrative information covering the details of the programme, the researcher finds that distributing free LPG starter kits successfully promotes and maintains the switch from kerosene to LPG. She argues that this is mainly due to the reduction in the quantity of kerosene supplied, leaving households with little options but to change.


Preliminary results show that this intervention leads to a reduction in the infant mortality rate by about 3% annually. As infant mortality is mostly concentrated in the first day after birth, this suggests that fetal exposure to kerosene-related pollutants appears to be an important factor.  The researcher investigates several factors for the impact on health and finds that improvements in indoor air quality to be the most relevant one.


Cooking with dirty fuels, which result in indoor air pollution, continues to be a leading cause of mortality in developing countries, according to the World Health Organisation. There are around 3 billion people who continue to rely on polluting fuels for cooking, which emit a range of health damaging pollutants.


The researcher argues that the health effects are difficult to quantify because improvements in cooking practices are slow and are linked with other health impacts. Also, the unwillingness to pay for clean technologies, which lead to low adoption rates, often obscure potential health gains.


According to the researcher, the health benefits of the Indonesian programme are likely to be greater since this paper only focuses on one possible benefit – on infant mortality. She argues that moving away from the dirtiest fuels, such as biomass fuel, could lead to even greater health benefits.


‘Cooking That Kills: Cleaner Energy, Indoor Air Pollution, and Health’ by Imelda is presented at the Royal Economic Society annual conference at the University of Warwick in April 2019