Does the clean cooking summit mean a turning point for the continent?

Woman cooking with firewood. PHOTO | COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • In Tanzania for example, most cultural practices and traditions dictate that cooking duties and the collection of charcoal and wood are predominantly carried out by women and young girls.
  • Consequently, this causes many girls to drop out of school and exposes them to risks such as sexual abuse while collecting wood

By Joseph Kenene

The world is currently facing various challenges such as peace, security, and climate change-related disasters amongst others. However, energy security in developing countries remains one of the major challenges. In Africa, over 600 million people lack access to reliable electricity, and cooking energy is a silent challenge to millions of people across the continent. More than 83% of the population in Sub-Saharan African countries depend on biomass (charcoal and wood) as their primary source of energy. Unfortunately, this has led to massive deforestation, destroying the natural environment, increasing the rate of invasive species, and reducing carbon sink.

The use of biomass also has social and economic impacts on users. In Tanzania for example, most cultural practices and traditions dictate that cooking duties and the collection of charcoal and wood are predominantly carried out by women and young girls. Consequently, this causes many girls to drop out of school and exposes them to risks such as sexual abuse while collecting wood. Toxic indoor pollution also affects young babies and women because babies are always next to their mothers during cooking. In Tanzania alone, about 33000 people die each year due to health complications caused by prolonged exposure to toxic smoke resulting from the use of charcoal and firewood.

To address these problems, governments in different countries have taken initiatives to promote clean cooking. Tanzania has launched a 10-year clean cooking strategy that aims to guide the country towards a smooth energy transition from charcoal and wood to clean cooking technologies.

On Tuesday, May 14, 2024, the International Energy Agency (IEA) will host a summit in Paris on clean cooking energy in Africa. The Summit follows the program known as the African Women Clean Cooking Support Program (AWCCSP), which was launched by the president of the Republic of the Union of Tanzania at the COP28 in Dubai and was attended by presidents such as Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa, the president of the African Development Bank Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, as well as representatives from different countries in the world.

Towards this historical event on clean cooking in Africa, in this article, we will explore two key questions:

  1. What does this historic event mean for Africa?
  2. Will it be a turning point for clean cooking in Africa?

What does this historical event mean for Africa?

Access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy is the sustainable development goal (SDG) number 7 out of the 17 SDGs. In developed economies, this summit could mean simply addressing SDG 7. However, for the African continent, clean cooking is more than just SDG 7. Clean cooking is crucial for achieving SDG numbers 3, 4, 5, 7, 13, and 15.

For example, In SDG 3 (Good health and well-being), according to the World Health Organization (WHO) report in 2010, around 2 million people lost their lives due to indoor air pollution. This included over 1 million deaths from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and another million deaths from pneumonia in children under the age of 5. Therefore, the adoption of clean energy will not only address energy challenges but also improve the health and well-being of the people.

Similarly, in SDG 4 (Quality education), the use of biomass energy (charcoal and firewood) results in girls lacking enough time to study or dropping out of school altogether, as they spend most of their time collecting firewood. For a long time, this has denied girls their basic right to education, which boys enjoy.

In SDG 5 (Gender equality and empowering women), the use of biomass has resulted in socioeconomic inequalities that mainly affect women. They are unable to participate in various economic and developmental opportunities because they spend almost half of their time walking long distances to collect cooking fuels. Clean cooking solutions will improve their lifestyle, empower women, and enhance equality in society. The same goes for SDGs 7, 13, and 15. This is what the Summit means for the continent.

Will the clean cooking summit mean a turning point for the continent?

The Clean Cooking Summit has the potential to bring about a turning point for the African continent. The outcome of the Summit will determine whether words are followed by actions to address the environmental, health, and socioeconomic impacts resulting from the use of traditional biomass.

The World Bank estimates that between 200 to 300 jobs are created per Tera Joule of energy consumed from biomass, compared to 80 to 100 jobs for the same amount of energy from electricity, 10 to 20 jobs from LPG, and 10 jobs from kerosene.

Therefore, if wood and charcoal were clean fuels and if they were to be promoted for household usage, they would create millions of jobs in Africa than any other fuel.

It is important to note that at least 13 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa are employed in the charcoal and wood value chain. A sudden shift away from biomass could threaten the livelihoods of millions of people. A 100% direct shift to clean alternatives could cause unemployment for more than 12 million people. With Africa having the youngest population and the highest unemployment rate, the Summit needs to discuss how suggested solutions will create economic opportunities for people who depend on the biomass value chain for their livelihood.

In Tanzania, over a million people work in the charcoal and firewood industry with thousands more working in the sector informally, resulting in the loss of $100 million in revenue every year. A ban on charcoal alone would not be enough to end production. Without appropriate policies, regulations, strategies, and enforcement actions, charcoal and wood businesses may shift to the informal sector and evade taxes, further reducing government revenue and damaging forest resources.

As leaders gather in Paris to discuss clean cooking, the discussion should be centered on making the transition sustainable. For the Summit to be a turning point, it should focus on creating sustainable job opportunities and improving the working conditions of millions of people employed in the biomass sector. The turning point means the transition to clean cooking technologies must be inclusive, empowering women and youth who are underrepresented in the energy sector of developing economies. The turning point should also emphasize the importance of local content and investment in research and development to improve and decarbonize locally based solutions. Additionally, households must have access to a variety of clean cooking options based on their location, consumer culture, economic status, and family size.

This summit marks a historic moment for the international community, including financial institutions, organizations, companies, individuals, and governments to come together and support the initiative of clean cooking in Africa. However, it should not be just a one-time event, but an ongoing campaign that requires the cooperation of the international community. Regular education and awareness campaigns, and forums, should be organized in Africa, where the problem of clean cooking is most pressing.

Governments of low-income countries may find it challenging to bear the entire cost of subsidies for clean cooking technologies. Therefore, implementing different market mechanisms such as a carbon tax can be an effective way to fund the transition towards clean technologies and fuels. This will make them more accessible and affordable to middle and low-income earners living in semi-urban and rural areas.

Joseph Kenene is an Energy & Climate Tech analyst.