A Turning Point for Clean Cooking

May 23 , 2024
By Razan K. Al-Mubarak , Joseph Nganga

Global leaders and institutions should recognise the urgent need for clean cooking solutions. According to the International Energy Agency, investing eight billion dollars annually until 2030 could ensure universal access in Sub-Saharan Africa. In this commentary provided by Project Syndicate (PS), Razan K. Al-Mubarak, president of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and Joseph Nganga, an interim CEO of the Global Energy Alliance for People & Planet, argue that such an investment is crucial for a greener, healthier, and more equitable future.

For most of her life, Florence Auma Ode cooked over an open fire in her Kenyan home. The resulting smoke coated the walls with a layer of soot and filled her lungs – and those of her family members – with particulate matter.

In 2022, Florence's family invested nearly a month's salary in a modern two-burner bioethanol stove. The stove uses affordable fuel and cooks food quickly and cleanly, improving the health of the whole family. Equally important, Florence no longer has to spend five hours each day collecting firewood. Now, she can use that time to take classes, generate income, or enjoy leisure activities.

In the Global North, achieving clean cooking for all may seem mundane compared to other, more grandiose forms of climate action. But switching to clean-cooking technologies would cut global carbon dioxide emissions by 1.5 billion tons, the same amount generated by all planes and ships today. Given that forests of the size of Irland are lost each year to fuel-wood and charcoal production, eradicating dirty cooking would significantly reduce deforestation and biodiversity loss.

Despite this enormous potential, 2.4 billion people, mainly women, still cook over and heat their homes with open fires that burn wood, charcoal, or dung, leading to 3.2 million annual premature deaths from particulate pollution exposure. The problem is most acute in Sub-Saharan Africa, where four out of five individuals lack access to clean cooking solutions, causing pollution-related diseases to impede productivity and human development.

In addition to reducing emissions and environmental damage, promoting clean cooking would help restore basic dignity to women and girls, who are often expected to bear the burden of domestic labour. Universal clean-cooking access would mean that, like Florence, women and girls – numbering more than 600 million in Africa – could use the time they now spend collecting firewood and preparing food in hazardous conditions to pursue education, employment, and personal growth.

If the benefits are so clear-cut, what is holding us back from achieving clean cooking for all?

The problem is not technical: KOKO Networks, for example, has developed liquid bioethanol stoves that cost 85pc less, and whose fuel costs up to 40pc less, than charcoal stoves. Nevertheless, affordability remains a challenge. This is compounded by entrenched gender norms that often undervalue women's domestic labour and limit their control over household budgets. Innovative financing mechanisms such as on-bill lending, which enables families to repay the upfront costs of a stove through their utility bills, would help. But, a change in mindset is also needed.

Grassroots education is crucial to normalising clean cooking and bringing along Africans working in the charcoal industry. According to an assessment by the World Food Programme (WFP) and The Rockefeller Foundation, as part of The School Meals Coalition in Kenya, a subsidy program for schools to install modern kitchens would provide 10 million children with access to clean cooking. It would also create around 400,000 jobs and more than two million additional jobs in related sectors, mainly for women and young people. The initiative is projected to avoid at least nine million tons of emissions and preserve around six million trees.

Pulling these levers requires financing. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), investing eight billion dollars annually in stoves and infrastructure until 2030 would provide universal access to clean cooking in Sub-Saharan Africa. To that end, the Global Electric Cooking Coalition is working to enable a mass transition to clean cooking in at least 10 countries across Africa, Asia, and Latin America by 2030. Likewise, the United Nations Climate Change High-Level Champions are collaborating with non-state actors to achieve universal clean-cooking access by 2030, a target that requires at least 10 billion dollars annually in innovative finance.

The models are in place to scale clean cooking in Africa. Now rich country governments, multilateral institutions, the private sector, and international organisations need to step up and provide the necessary funding. The continued prevalence of dirty cooking in Africa further shows that climate finance has long been inefficient, insufficient, and unjust. To reverse this trend, global leaders must introduce a new financing pact for universal clean cooking.

The mainstreaming of clean cooking in Africa is more than just a practical solution to the climate crisis; it is a commitment that the Global North must make to the continent that has contributed the least to global warming but is nonetheless most vulnerable to its effects. Most critically, it will ensure that Africa's women and girls can participate in – and benefit from – building a greener, healthier, and more equitable future.

PUBLISHED ON May 23,2024 [ VOL 25 , NO 1256]

By Razan K. Al-Mubarak ( president of the International Union for Conservation of Nature ) , Joseph Nganga ( an interim CEO of the Global Energy Alliance for People & Planet )

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