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Controlling air pollution in a context of high energy poverty levels in southern Chile: Clean air but colder houses?

Reyes, René, Schueftan, Alejandra, Ruiz, Cecilia, González, Alejandro D.
Energy policy 2019 v.124 pp. 301-311
air, ambient temperature, cities, decision making, energy, energy poverty, fuelwood, households, indoor air pollution, insulating materials, monitoring, particulates, pollution control, social inequality, socioeconomic factors, Chile
Firewood is the main fuel used for heating in Chile, but its inefficient use is producing severe episodes of air pollution. To address this issue, authorities implement Air Pollution Management Plans (PDAs), which include actions such as setting moisture requirements for firewood, replacing old wood-stoves, temporarily banning the use of firewood, and improving homes´ thermal insulation. However, PDAs do not focus on nor do they prioritize measures in relation to specific social contexts. This study assessed socio-economic variables, energy consumption and indoor environments in households located in the city of Valdivia, through surveys and the monitoring of temperatures and indoor air pollution levels. We found that, during the winter months, 68% of the time living room temperatures were below 21 °C, and PM2.5 concentrations were above international standards. Furthermore, over 61% of households were to suffer a state of energy poverty. We urge decision-makers to consider social inequalities and energy consumption patterns in cities with high firewood consumption, prioritizing measures and focusing resources on reducing both air pollution and energy poverty. Thermal insulation of homes should be a priority in mid-to-low-income families, since these have the highest levels of energy demand. Other PDA´s measures could be economically regressive in these social-strata.