Sustainable charcoal saves rainforests

The KjuonGo sustainable charcoal reduces deforestation, while supporting local communities with extra income and adaptation to climate change

September 15, 2022

Charcoal is a major cooking fuel in Cambodia and throughout the world. However, its production has been linked to threatening pristine rainforest and driving deforestation in many developing countries. Primarily because the production of charcoal in developing countries is largely reliant on illegal logging of natural forests.

Nonetheless, a quick replacement with emission free cooking – like electric cooking based on 100% renewables – is impossible. The scale of the challenge is simply too big.

Since 2019, UNEP Copenhagen Climate Centre has been engaged in building a sustainable value chain for charcoal produced from sustainable community forests in Cambodia, partnering with Khmer Green Charcoal (KGC) and Geres in the KjuonGo project.

The project, which is now coming to an end, has resulted in an expanding commercial sale of the KjuonGo sustainable charcoal. Khmer Green Charcoal will now continue and expand the sustainable charcoal production – with a mission to end the use of unsustainable charcoal in Cambodia by 2030.

Reducing the carbon footprint

The KjuonGo project incorporates community owned degraded forest land for planting acacia and six other local species, with the purpose of producing wood for charring and providing environmental and adaptation benefits to the communities.

The KjuonGo charcoal is produced in model kilns that ensure a carbon footprint much less than with the traditional methods of charcoal production. At the same time, KjuonGo charcoal generates additional income in poor communities.

With efficient management and not least distribution and sales, the sustainable charcoal directly replaces illegally logged charcoal making illegal logging less profitable and less attractive to communities.

Read more about KjuonGo’s journey towards a sustainable and profitable model.

Preventing deforestation

The KjuonGo project was started in September 2019. Its aim was to produce and sell 150 tons of charcoal over the first two years of the project, as a proof of concept. Unfortunately, the Corona lockdowns came in the way, closing down markets and hampering transport. Only half the goal was reached, however, sales are now back on track and the initial aim should soon be achieved. Currently all KjuonGo charcoal produced is sold.

Achieving that required on-boarding of community forests and charcoal manufacturers as well as the integration of a dedicated special feature: a smartphone-based app, developed with a grant from UNDP, that tracks the wood from the community forest to the end consumer. This ensures that the KjuonGo charcoal has not co

ntributed to the clearing of rainforest – on the contrary, it has helped prevent it.

After 6 months, the first sustainable charcoal was delivered to the distribution centre, packaged for supermarkets and sold.

There are about 1000 community forests in Cambodia. Globally, there are hundreds of thousands. They are rarely used efficiently, but they have immense potential as a supply base of wood for sustainably produced charcoal to replace the illegally logged traditional charcoal. KjuonGo has proved that at a sufficient scale, efficient supply chain management can make sustainable charcoal competitive against the unsustainable alternative.

Climate change adaptation and protecting biodiversity

Besides the main goal of reducing devastating illegal logging for charcoal production, the KjuonGo project also adds climate change adaptation co-benefits to the participating community forests groups.

The project has helped the communities adapt to more sustainable forest management plans and continues to raise awareness of how improved community forests creates greater resilience to the impacts of climate change.

Additionally, improved community forests, especially where degraded lands are converted to forested areas with fast growing local species, provide supplementary livelihood opportunities for the community members, contributing to the improvement of their socio-economic status.

Moreover, the use of the forests is now controlled to ensure protection of biodiversity and soil and nature conservation, alongside income generation.


The KjounGo project was supported by the Nordic Climate Facility.

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Søren E. Lütken

Senior Economist

Phone: +45 4533 5279
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