Paris summit unlocks cash for clean cooking in Africa, side-stepping concerns over gas

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The challenge of providing around one billion Africans with cleaner and healthier ways of cooking got a major funding boost this week, as governments and companies put $2.2 billion on the table at a summit in Paris to help solve the long-neglected problem.

But the money pledged still falls short of the $4 billion a year needed for the rest of this decade to wean poor African households off traditional dirty fuels including charcoal, kerosene and firewood, while climate campaigners criticised efforts to switch them to fossil gas.

Countries such as Brazil, Indonesia and India have made progress in recent years, in line with a global goal to provide clean cooking for all by 2030. Yet four in five Africans still use highly polluting cooking methods – around half of the 2.3 billion people who lack clean options worldwide, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol told the summit his organisation’s aim of making 2024 “a turning point” for clean cooking was being realised.

“It’s now or never,” he said, adding that the IEA will track the commitments made in Paris and share the results with the international community in a year’s time. “We will follow it as if it is our own money,” he emphasised.

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Separately, the African Development Bank (AfDB) confirmed an earlier pledge, first made at the COP28 climate summit last year, to mobilise around $2 billion for clean cooking over the next 10 years, earmarking 20 percent of its energy finance for that purpose.

Speaking in Paris, AfDB president, Akinwumi A. Adesina, said his own eyesight had been damaged by smoke from cooking fires during his childhood in Nigeria, while a friend and members of her family had died in an accident after she was sold petrol instead of kerosene as cooking fuel.

“Why do we let things like that happen?” Adesina asked, adding that enabling clean cooking is a matter of “human dignity, fairness and justice for women”. “It is about life itself,” he said.

Experts have long pointed to the health damage to women and children from carbon monoxide and black soot emitted by cooking over open fires or with basic stoves. Dirty cooking contributes to 3.7 million premature deaths annually, according to the IEA, with women and children most at risk from respiratory and cardiovascular ailments linked to indoor air pollution.

Ahead of the Summit on Clean Cooking in Africa this week in Paris, some climate and gender activists pointed to the small number of African women represented at the gatheringwho they said accounted for less than a fifth of registered participants.

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Janet Milongo, coordinator of renewable energy for Climate Action Network International, said the event was biased “towards the continuation of the colonial, patriarchal representation of the continent”.

Speeches were made largely by male leaders of governments and companies, with the notable exception of Tanzania’s president, Samia Suluhu Hassan, and Damilola Ogunbiyi, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Sustainable Energy for All.

Paris summit unlocks cash for clean cooking in Africa, side-stepping concerns over gas

Fatih Birol, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency (left) with the presidents of Sierra Leone, Tanzania and  Togo, the prime minister of Norway; H.E. Maroš Šefčovič, Executive Vice President of the European Green Deal and Akinwumi A. Adesina, President of the African Development Bank Group at the Clean Cooking Summit for Africa in Paris, May 14, 2024 (Photo: International Energy Agency)

Clean cooking ‘opportunity’ in NDCs

Ogunbiyi, who is Nigerian and has worked on clean energy policy for the government, said her country had made a big effort on solar electrification but had forgotten about clean cooking.

“We can’t make that mistake again,” she said, calling for clean cooking to be a key part of African governments’ investment plans for their energy transition.

UN climate chief Simon Stiell urged more governments to seize the opportunity to include measures to boost clean cooking in the next updates to their national climate action plans (NDCs) due by early next year.

As of December last year, only 60 NDCs included one or more measures that explicitly target clean cooking, such as Nepal’s goal to ensure that by 2030 half of households use electric stoves as their main mode of cooking and Rwanda promising to disseminate modern efficient cookstoves to 80% of its rural population and 50% of people in cities by that date.

Stiell noted that planet-heating emissions from dirty cooking methods are “significant”, amounting to about 2% of the global total – the equivalent of emissions from the aviation and shipping sectors combined.

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He said the world has the technology to shift people onto modern, cleaner sources of energy and cut emissions in the process, calling it “low-hanging fruit”.

Dymphna van der Lans, CEO of the Clean Cooking Alliance, a global partnership of organisations working on the issue, said it was important to raise awareness not just about the scale of the problem – but to ensure people understand it is an issue that can be solved.

“The technologies exist – they are out there, there are fantastic companies providing these fuels and solutions and services to these customers that actually can be deployed immediately… and reach the populations in Africa,” she told Climate Home after the summit.

LPG conundrum

On stage in Paris, companies ranging from fossil fuel giants such as Total and Shell to smaller manufacturers of cookstoves said they would expand their efforts to reach new customers with more efficient stoves running on modern energy, including liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), bioethanol and electricity.

While there is widespread consensus over ending the use of firewood and charcoal – which contribute to deforestation – there is less agreement over which fuels should replace them.

Efforts to build new distribution networks for LPG – a form of fossil fuel gas – are particularly controversial. At the summit on Tuesday, TotalEnergies CEO Patrick Pouyanné said his company wants to increase its 40 million African LPG customers to 100 million and will invest more to boost its LPG production capacity in East Africa.

Pouyanné said there is a need to make LPG cooking affordable – noting that the $30 upfront investment required for a stove and gas canister is too high for most people – which could be done through “pay as you cook” loans.

Some international development agencies that work on the ground to help poor households access clean cooking – including Practical Action – support the use of LPG as a “transitional step” towards clean cooking where options like electricity or ethanol are not available.

“Our primary objective is to ensure people, especially women and children, have access to the best possible solutions which don’t compromise their health and that in the long term aren’t contributing to the worsening climate crisis,” said Practical Action CEO Sarah Roberts.

In the IEA’s “least-cost, realistic scenario” to reach universal clean cooking this decade, LPG remains the primary solution, representing nearly half of households gaining access, while electric cooking is the main option for just one in eight homes.

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The IEA’s analysis shows that this strategy, centred on LPG, would drive up emissions by 0.1 gigatonnes (Gt) in 2030. But that would be more than offset by reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from switching away from firewood, charcoal and inefficient stoves, resulting in a net reduction of 1.5Gt of CO2 equivalent by 2030.

Net greenhouse gas emissions annual savings from clean cooking access in the IEA Access for All scenario by 2030 (in Mt CO2-eq) (Source: IEA)

Red = Combustion; Orange = Avoided combustion; Yellow = Unsustainable harvesting; Green = Net savings          

At the summit, Togo’s president Faure Gnassingbé described LPG as “really the way forward” for clean cooking, and said more production capacity was needed in Africa. He added that ESG investors – which normally apply green and ethical standards – should adjust their environmental criteria so they can back LPG cooking projects despite it being a fossil fuel.

“We should be clear-headed and not open up to sterile debates on this issue,” Gnassingbé told the summit.

Some climate justice activists disagreed, criticising high-level backing for fossil gas as a clean cooking solution.

Mohamed Adow, director of Power Shift Africa, a Nairobi-based energy and climate think-tank, said on social media platform X that the need for clean cooking alternatives “is used by many African politicians as an excuse for building gas infrastructure” which is intended to develop an export industry and never reaches poorer households.

He said the money raised at the summit should be channelled instead into high-efficiency, low-cost electric cookers for African women, which could be powered by renewable energy.

Carbon finance principles

Another controversial way of promoting clean cooking, backed by the IEA-hosted summit, is by developing and selling carbon credits for the emissions savings from new technologies and fuels.

The IEA said that around 15% of the total amount pledged in Paris would come via carbon finance, with the proceeds from selling offsets helping subsidise customers’ access to clean cooking.

But Climate Home found in an investigation last year that the methodologies used to calculate emissions reductions from more efficient cookstoves in India had overstated their greenhouse gas savings.

To counter such problems, the Clean Cooking Alliance announced a new set of “Principles for Responsible Carbon Finance in Clean Cooking” in Paris, backed by 100 organisations working in the space.

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The voluntary principles, which aim to build confidence in carbon markets for clean cooking, say project claims should be evidence-based, case-specific and substantiated, and their benefits should be transparent. The alliance is also working with the UN climate secretariat on a new methodology for clean cooking carbon credits which it hopes will be ready this year.

Van der Lans said the goal was to strengthen the quality and integrity of clean-cooking carbon credits in line with the latest science, to achieve a higher, fairer price that fully reflects the work being done to protect forests by moving away from charcoal and firewood.

“Everybody within the clean cooking ecosystem is signing up to these principles,” she noted – from banks to carbon credit verification agencies and companies selling the technology.

“That is a good signal that we’re doing the right things and we’re moving this market in the right direction,” she added.

(Reporting by Megan Rowling; editing by Joe Lo)

The post Paris summit unlocks cash for clean cooking in Africa, side-stepping concerns over gas appeared first on Climate Home News.

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