Discover more from Climate (Pod)Notes
Neglected climate (+ impact) vector
Solutions for emerging markets never have enough airtime in the conversation around climate transition. This is true from a pure decarbonisation perspective, since it is emerging markets where virtually all of the energy demand growth will come from (rising populations + rising living standards). But it is also true from an equity perspective, both in terms of energy access (the average Kenyan human uses less electricity per year than the average American fridge) and because people in those places will suffer the most from the impacts of climate change (geographical location + lack of resources to adapt) that they did nearly nothing to create. One of the most outrageously high-leverage solutions is the universal provision of clean cooking to people around the world, but mostly in Sub-Saharan Africa. This is made abundantly clear in the IEA’s recent report, A Vision for Clean Cooking Access for All (full report here). Inevitably, this didn’t get enough attention, so putting a summary into all of your inboxes now.
Not yet a subscriber?
Provision of clean cooking yields perhaps unrivalled (I’d love to hear it if someone has a better contender) impact benefits:
The IEA defines clean cooking access as “a household that has reliable access to and uses as their primary cooking means, fuels and equipment that significantly limit or avoid the release of pollutants harmful to human health.”
Remarkably, 2.3bn people in 128 countries cook their meals using solid fuel (wood, coal, animal dung) in open fires or with rudimentary stoves. Although far removed from our experience in the global North, this is not a niche situation at nearly 1 in 3 people globally.
The air quality issues from open fire cooking results in 3.7mm premature deaths annually, 60% of which are women and children. This is a scandal we should all be worked up about!
On the consequences for women and girls, the IEA notes that women in households with rudimentary cooking spend an average of 5 hours per day gathering fuel and cooking (most between 1.5-3 hrs per day just on fuel collection - see below), which makes it more difficult for them to pursue education or employment that would lead to financial independence. Relatedly, a lack of female representation in many of these countries at government level means that clean cooking fails to be prioritised.
Creating universal access to clean cooking is estimated to deliver significant benefits both to health outcomes and labour savings.
The climate impacts of switching to clean cooking are vast. This is both due to lower direct emissions (liquified petroleum gas, or LPG, is about half the direct GHG emissions as wood), but also the impact of unsustainable wood harvesting, which represents about a third of biomass fuel and is a major contributor to deforestation in certain regions like East Africa and the Sahel. Globally, including the effects of deforestation, universal clean cooking could abate 1.5Gt of CO2-eq annually. Of that, 900mm would be in Africa, which is made up half of direct emissions savings and half of avoided deforestation. This, of course, doesn’t include the biodiversity impacts of deforestation.
And the estimated annual price tag for delivering such dramatic benefits to people and planet?
That is, as the IEA points out, less than 1% of what governments spent during the energy crisis to keep energy affordable for their citizens. The IEA estimates that about half of that $8bn number (up from $2.5bn today) would need to be in the form of concessionary finance to manage the affordability of clean cooking. Most of the investment is needed in the actual stoves and equipment with the balance in infrastructure:
Progress - the good news: There has been remarkable progress is delivering access to clean cooking over the last decade or so. The absolute number of people without access has dropped by 700mm between 2010 and 2022, but, since that is in the context of rising population the actual number of people that gained access was closer to 1.5bn. This was driven primarily by Asia (India, followed by China and Indonesia).
However: In Africa, the adoption of clean cooking hasn’t kept pace with population growth, so the absolute number of people without clean cooking has continued to rise. This is primarily attributed to the lack of resources of African governments to role out programmes and subsidise costs. Along current policy pathways, Africa would end the decade with the same number of people without access as it entered it. To achieve universal access, the rate of improvement in sub-Saharan Africa would need to increase by an order of magnitude.
Clean cooking options: LPG has delivered most of the recent improvements in clean cooking access and remains the dominant new technology un the IEA’s Access for All scenario, representing almost half of clean cooking adoption. This presents certain challenges for energy import requirements (Sub-Saharan Africa doesn’t have sources domestically) and distribution. The challenges of distribution to rural areas mean that more improved cook stoves (ICS), which still utilise biomass but much more efficiently and with fewer health impacts, represent around a third of the total and half in rural areas. This is seen as a transitional step, to be phased out as distribution of LPG or access to electricity spreads. Electricity is the preferred method of access in some countries (e.g. South Africa), but there are challenges with distribution and grid stability. These could be helped by electric stoves with built in storage (something also being done in developed markets for different reasons, more here).
Ideology as a barrier to progress (yet again): despite the obvious advantages in carbon emissions, as well as all the other co-benefits, finance is constrained for supplying clean cooking with LPG. They are not eligible for offsets and some DFIs will not fund the fossil infrastructure, despite the fact that the DFI’s funder countries consume huge amounts of fossil fuels to sustain living standards that are orders of magnitude higher than in prospective recipient countries. Infuriating.
However, carbon offsets have been an enabler for the roll out of bioenthanol stoves, most notably in Kenya by KOKO, who recently passed 1 million household customers and announced that they had delivered $100mm worth of carbon credits (from Korean compliance markets) in the form of subsidies to those customers. To date though, clean cooking credits represent only 4% of carbon credits sold (79mm tonnes).
For the people, by the people: Hearteningly, the success of the roll out of clean cooking will very much depend on the participation of the communities it will benefit. There are specific cultural contexts to be understood for programmes to be successful and it is local people, and particularly women, who have shown to be effective in driving adoption of clean cooking. The IEA also notes that, for adoption to be successful, there needs to be a path to employment for the many people (up to 7mm globally) that currently work in the charcoal sector.
Whilst this issue is clearly more than just about the money, access to clean cooking seems like a remarkably high-leverage lever for climate finance to achieve multiple impact goals. I hope to see it great a greater share of attention and capital going forward. If any readers were moved to support the cause, they could do worse then to donate to the Clean Cooking Alliance (CCA), who are supporting private enterprise in the space as well as doing sectoral convening on this like carbon credit protocols and working on advocacy and education. (I am not currently a donor to CCA - I donate to Clean Air Task Force and the Blue Marine Foundation, to the tune of 10% of my net income, both high-leverage advocacy groups.)