Why an international researchers network around wood smoke?

Together we aim to develop strong evidence and real solutions that are proven in New Zealand, and then exported around the world.

Wood is a sustainable, resilient and potentially carbon-neutral fuel, so with the need to curb carbon emissions internationally, more and more countries are turning to biomass fuels such as wood, especially in urban areas. In addition, the experience of the Canterbury Earthquakes has made New Zealanders wary of relying on electricity grids.

However, woodburning for heating is also the primary cause of poor air quality in New Zealand, resulting in illness and premature deaths. Strict regulations on woodburners have had mixed results, with air quality improving (slowly) in some towns, but hardly at all in others.

Evidence of the impacts on health, and the gains achieved through intervention, is limited and uncertain. Studies in North America, Europe and Australia have indicated great potential from woodburner management, but the results have been inconsistent. A major factor has been the small scale and isolation of each study, as well as interference from other pollutant sources.

Christchurch and most other New Zealand towns offer the world’s largest population that is regularly exposed to high levels of woodsmoke but low levels of other air pollutants—the perfect setting for concentrated research. Through this project the world’s leading researchers in atmospheric woodsmoke and its impacts on health have agreed to come to New Zealand. Together we shall design a large-scale research and intervention programme alongside local stakeholders, especially Maori who are disproportionately affected. Through this venture an enduring international research network will be established, which will seek multi-country funding to implement the programme. Together we aim to develop strong evidence and real solutions that are proven in New Zealand, and then exported around the world.

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