Words like energy sector's "stepchild" or "orphan" have often been used to describe the status clean cooking occupies within the energy realm. The energy sector, as a whole, contributes a whopping 60% of global greenhouse gas emissions whereas one third of the world's population (close to 3 billion people) are currently living in energy poverty and rely heavily on biomass for cooking (1). It is quite unfortunate that children, women and girls are disproportionately affected by indoor air pollution resulting from the lack of access to clean cooking fuels and technologies. This translates to about 4 million premature deaths every single year, of which 50% are children below the age of 5 (2). It is without a doubt that Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7 on ensuring access to affordable, reliable, clean and modern energy for all is pivotal (3). Not just for economic and social progress but also for carbon emissions abatement thereby limiting global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees pre-industrial levels by the 2030 timeline. With less than a decade to attain Agenda 2030's goals, climate ambition must be raised at all fronts and at a rapid scale. This includes clean cooking which has a catalytic role to play for the attainment of a just, inclusive and sustainable energy transition. Without addressing clean cooking sector challenges and gaps, we do not stand a chance of attaining our Agenda 2030 goals.
Last week, I packed my bags and my curiosity and headed to Ghana's capital Accra for the Clean Cooking Forum. This is the Clean Cooking Alliance's biennial event that convenes key stakeholders, public and private sectors to track progress and address the gaping holes existing within the clean cooking sector. As the hosts, Ghana boasts of a decline in the usage of traditional biomass as the primary source of cooking fuel in the past 30 years as a result of the combination of its national electrification projects coupled with LGP promotion by way of subsidies (4).
My interest in clean cooking started with my involvement with the UN High Level Dialogue on Energy in 2021 as a contributor to the Technical Working Group on Enabling SDGs through Just and Inclusive Energy Transitions, providing recommendations that would feed into the pathway on achieving net zero. The integration of clean cooking as a key pillar within strategies was one of the eight priority recommendations for collective action towards the attainment of global goals. What piqued my curiosity was how severely underfunded the clean cooking sector was at that time despite the diverse opportunities that could potentially arise from its advancements.
Food is a basic need on the base of hierarchy of human needs and food preparation methods mould fundamental aspects of cultures and communities. How can we get to the point where cooking with dignity is a necessity readily available to all? Moving away from words that welcome exclusion and negligence to an integral aspect of the overall energy sector is a starting point to sparking a paradigm shift in our attitudes and views towards clean cooking. Moreover, proper planning and multi-stakeholder collaboration is of utmost importance.
The public sector's integration of clean cooking within national electrification plans would go a long way in the energy transition pathways. Where possible, the public sector must ensure it has the capacity to deliver this promise or otherwise address its capacity building gaps through technical assistance and support from the development finance institutions to ensure an enabling environment that is suitable for attracting private sector investments.
Clean cooking is plagued with outright lies, undisguised half truths and blatant myths. In the quest to uncover the truth behind the false statements, I had countless conversations with different stakeholders, starting with what they though clean cooking was NOT. Below are some of the responses I received:
"Clean cooking is not ignoring women and their families."
- Dymphna van der Lans, CEO Clean Cooking Alliance.
"Clean cooking is not just about cooking. It covers lots of things from policy, to financing, to entrepreneurship, to empowerment, to gender roles concerns at the household level, to fuels. It brings people together to talk about health, environment, emissions and climate change. It is an interdisciplinary sector. We need to work together. No one entity alone can discuss the issues of clean cooking. Synergies must be established between private sectors, developing partners, civil society and academia because clean cooking is not just the government's job. We must all come together and bring this conversation to the front."
- Dr Faith Wandera, Deputy Director for Renewable Energy Ministry of Energy Kenya.
"Clean cooking is not just for adults. It is a youth issue. First and foremost young people need to be creative participants and at the centre of solutions. Young people also benefit from clean cooking from access to health, education and employment opportunities. So, it is an everyone's job."
- Helen Watts, Director of Global Partnerships at Student Energy.
"Clean cooking is not just a business; it is about empowering communities and transforming lives."
- Mwayi Kampesi, Founder of Planet Green Africa.
"KOKO Networks is a company that is solving the challenge of dirty cooking fuels using a clean and renewable solution - bioethanol. When you think of clean and renewable cooking fuels, you think of less emissions and infinite sources. Coming to the question on what clean and renewable cooking is not, it is not half hearted efforts. It is not just about providing someone with alternatives that are slightly better than what they are currently using. It need to be 100% efforts, taking them to a product that will absolutely transform their lives. Clean cooking is not a "nice-to-have, it's not selling a cookstove to a customer claiming that it is better than what they have at home but you have no way of guaranteeing that they will always get the fuel that they need to accompany the stove. It needs to be a solution covering the stove and the fuel. And as a company it is about putting your neck on the line such that if the stove fails they can go to the company, if the fuel is not available the company can source it."
- Sophie Odupoy, KOKO Networks.
"From where I stand, clean cooking is not just about food. It transcends the goings-on confined to the kitchen and spills into health, gender equality, economic gains and sustainable societies."
- Cherop Soy, Ecowarrior Kenya.
What do you think clean cooking is not? Let me know.
I am pleased to announce the launch of our my first blog series next month! The sustainable agriculture series will unpack the energy-food systems nexus and many more.
(1) United Nations Environment Programme. Goal 7: Affordable and Clean Energy.
(2) World Bank, 2019. Clean Cooking: Why It Matters.
(3) United Nations Climate Change, 2021. Too Many Cooks.
(4) Richard Osei Bofah, Paul Appiah-Konadu, Franklin Nnaemeka Ngwu, Transition to cleaner cooking energy in Ghana, Clean Energy, Volume 6, Issue 1, February 2022, Pages 193–201, https://doi.org/10.1093/ce/zkac004