COVID19 has acted like a reset button for trade and the world’s supply chains, as well as bringing them into increased focus. Meanwhile there has been a background dialogue of how more damaging the climate crisis potentially will be than COVID has been. Coronavirus offers a unique opportunity to build back sustainably and with greater transparency.

One of the key issues highlighted in recent climate talks has been the dichotomy between developed and developing nations and their responsibility in tackling climate change. Many developing nations feel imposing restrictions on them is unfair and leaves them hamstrung and unable attain a level of development seen in developed countries. One such area is energy supply. Many developing countries rely on pollutant heavy energy sources, such as charcoal. Sustainably sourced charcoal use is low in low income countries. Most manufactured charcoal is done so using simple and inefficient technologies and its similar story when it comes to consumption too, often used in traditional stoves. This contributes to an outlook that means higher GHG emissions and damage to natural resources, such as water, forests and biodiversity.

Also due to the informal nature of charcoal, its trade is often not well documented and there is a lot of scope for fraud. Trade data is the best resource we have for pinpointing this. We can see for example below, the discrepancies in both reporting of imports and exports highlights.

The informality and lack of enforcement in the charcoal value chain means that governments forego millions of dollars in taxes and licensing fees and incur costs due to environmental and health externalities. The money generated through taxes and licensing could be reinvested to greening the charcoal value chain as realistic renewable alternatives to charcoal are not in the near future. Furthermore, sustainability would be beyond that of the environment, the informality of charcoal production and trade often means those involved in the value chain have little to no negotiating power and as a result are frequently exploited.

It’s important then that we do more to measure through supply chains to better understand the true scale and scope of the damage been done to the environment and where alternative energy resource efforts need to be focussed.