Federal Player of the Week

Household air pollution from cooking meals over open fires and crude stoves contributes to an estimated 4.3 million premature deaths a year and puts the health of three billion people in developing countries at risk, according to estimates from the World Health Organization. The inefficient stoves also contribute more than 20 percent of global black carbon emissions.

Jacob Moss, a senior adviser from the Environmental Protection Agency who was on detail at the State Department for more than four years, conceived and played a major role in designing and building an innovative alliance of federal and international agencies, countries and corporations to protect the environment and save lives by getting cleaner and more efficient cook stoves and fuels to millions of homes.

The Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves has generated more than $800 million in commitments through 2020, including substantial U.S. investment and estimated future support totaling up to $325 million. The goal is to improve 500 million lives in 100 million households by that year, to help reduce this major cause of household, or indoor, air pollution, which is the fourth-largest health risk in the world, and the second-largest for women and girls.

“What is truly remarkable is the extent to which Jacob has been able to draw in so many agencies, organizations and countries to support what is now a massive effort,” said Janet McCabe, acting assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. “It’s hard enough to influence your own agency’s budget, but to pull together investments from other agencies is incredibly difficult.”

Kris Balderston, former special representative for Global Partnerships at the State Department, said Moss “reached out to all the nongovernment organizations working on this issue and built a circle of trust.”

“He is the glue,” Balderston said. “He is the guy who kept this going.”

In 2002, Moss helped launch a small international partnership through the EPA to address pollution from cook stoves. By 2007, that program was helping hundreds of thousands of people a year. But Moss recognized that solving this global issue demanded an international platform outside of government.

McCabe said Moss “had first the vision and then the follow-through to take an already successful program addressing a massive health, environmental and economic issue, and take it to an extraordinary level by creating a large-scale partnership with the promise of being a lasting institution.”

That vision became the global alliance, in partnership with the United Nations Foundation, which serves as the host organization.

The foundation was drawn into the program due to Moss’s efforts, said Kathy Calvin, its president and CEO. “He brought us to meet with other champions, like Peru, so we could see where leadership was around the world. He brought us into EPA to learn all about the stoves. He brought us into State so we had a chance to surface concerns and discuss the challenges.”

Beginning in 2010, Moss coordinated a government-wide effort that brought in 30 new countries and private partners, engaged U.S. ambassadors in priority countries, and rallied federal agencies to support the program.

Moss became interested in the cook stove issue when he was a Peace Corps volunteer in Togo in the 1980s. “I would often chat with local women while they cooked in their kitchens,” he said. “These visits couldn’t last more than a short while because the smoke from the stoves was so dense I would start coughing, my eyes would sting and I would have to go outside to breathe.”

Like nearly half the world, these women cooked on rudimentary and inefficient stoves fueled by wood, charcoal, crop residues, dung cakes and even trash, leading to disastrous levels of indoor smoke, with levels of particles, pollutants and toxins that can cause everything from cardiovascular and pulmonary disease to cataracts.

Further, harvesting wood for indoor stoves contributes to deforestation and other ecosystem effects.

The alliance depends on partner countries and organizations to educate consumers on the benefits of switching to more efficient stoves and fuels, and relies on partner companies — many of them local enterprises offering hundreds of types of inexpensive stoves that use a variety of cleaner-burning fuels.

Through these partners, the alliance has sold more than 20 million efficient stoves and estimates that by 2020, cleaner-burning cook stoves will help prevent 470,000 premature deaths, avoid more than 1 billion metric tons of CO2-equivalent emissions annually and create 1.5 million jobs.

This article was jointly prepared by the Partnership for Public Service, a group seeking to enhance the performance of the federal government, and washingtonpost.com. Go to the Fed Page of The Washington Post to read about other federal workers who are making a difference. To recommend a Federal Player of the Week, contact us at fedplayers@ourpublicservice.org.