On 8 June, the Climate Parliament organised a parliamentary roundtable on the theme of clean cooking. The session featured two world-leading experts in this field, Dr. Simon Batchelor, Research Coordinator for the Modern Energy Cooking Services (MECS) programme, and Jillene Connors Belopolsky, Chief of Staff at the Clean Cooking Alliance. Parliamentarians from Ghana, Liberia, Malawi, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe joined the discussion.
Half of the world’s population today does not have access to clean cooking solutions and still relies on firewood and charcoal to prepare meals. Clean cooking is very much a gender issue, as women are often in charge of the domestic chores including cooking. This has severe social, economic and health consequences for women. According to the World Health Organisation, each year more than 3.8 million people, mostly women and children, die prematurely from illness attributable to household air pollution from inefficient cooking practices — more than malaria, tuberculosis and HIV put together. Open fires and stoves also have a substantial impact on outdoor environments. Besides contributing to deforestation, burning firewood is a major driver of greenhouse gas emissions and local air pollution. In Uganda, the forest cover in 2006 was estimated at 50%. It plummeted to 9% in 2016, and is now estimated at no more than 6%. In many parts of the developing world, women spend countless hours every day collecting water and firewood for cooking, leaving them with little to no time for other activities. Besides the obvious health benefits, affordable access to electricity and clean cooking can spare women great drudgery, and allow them to have more time to dedicate to education and income-generating activities to improve their social and economic position. Our participants emphasised the importance of raising awareness on the health hazards and security risks linked to cooking with solid fuels, and the importance of providing affordable alternatives for their constituents.
The Modern Energy Cooking Services research programme looks into clean cooking with renewable energy, and promotes electric pressure cookers which can allow cooking any traditional African dish very efficiently, using power from the sun. As the MPs pointed out, if providing this type of appliances is one part of the solution, another critical issue is to increase energy access to power them. In rural areas, minigrids are installed to provide off-grid electricity access, but the demand is so low that developers must set very high tariffs. Rural populations are often collecting their firewood for free — or rather, at a labour cost —, and to create a strong enough incentive to switch to paying for electricity to cook, it is essential to make sure it is cheap enough to make it worth sparing the labour. In order to achieve that, MPs and their governments can ensure minigrid developers include clean cooking as part of their initial plan, to create more demand and make minigrids profitable for everyone. Modern energy planning for electrification and clean cooking are closely linked, but they are often discussed in different rooms. MPs have the ability, because they have access to all ministries, to bring together these topics and ensure they are discussed at interministerial level, so that all the actors involved coordinate for better efficiency. The Clean Cooking Alliance has been working on a Delivery Units Network, to establish and support delivery units dedicated to clean cooking within national governments, with the sole mandate of setting and achieving ambitious clean cooking targets. Our experts encouraged the MPs to become champions for clean cooking and to also take an integrated approach including all of the related policies on energy, climate, health, education and gender.
The parliamentarians insisted on the importance of organising nation-wide awareness campaigns on clean cooking. We often think that clean cooking is a problem of rural societies, but in urban settings, charcoal and firewood are also often used for cooking, even when it would be cheaper to use electricity. In Kampala for instance, 92% of the people are connected to a strong and reliable grid, with surplus generating power, yet 54% of them are still cooking with charcoal. The Ugandan government introduced an attractive cooking tariff to encourage the urban population to cook more on electricity, and worked on facilitating the access to clean cooking appliances. Across Africa, there are ambitious plans to increase renewable energy generation, but to make sure that the electricity produced will go into clean cooking, governments have to make this choice and commit to it, and MPs can help do that. They have a crucial role encouraging their governments to put clean cooking at the top of the political agenda. More than 65 countries have already included clean cooking in their Nationally Determined Contributions. Our experts concluded that political prioritisation, and having a clear and well-defined national strategy, is a key first step to attract funding and set a momentum for the growth of the clean cooking market.