SMART (Specific – Measurable – Achievable - Realistic - Timeframe) Cooking was co-organised by the Climate Parliament and the Modern Energy Cooking Services programme funded by UK Aid, in partnership with the United Nations Sustainable Energy for All programme (UNSEforAll). This two-day event was designed to stimulate discussion among elected lawmakers and regulators on energy planning and modern energy cooking.
The forum addressed the central question:
How can we ensure that our planning for modern energy is ‘integrated’; inclusive of all sections of society and includes the provision of smart modern energy cooking with energy efficient devices that does not harm the cook, their family, or the environment?
Opening remarks and introductions
In an introductory keynote, Prof Ed Brown mentioned that nearly three billion people rely on traditional solid fuels for cooking today. For decades, there has been a lack of prioritisation of the issues related to cooking in the political sphere because it was seen as a women’s issue. Cooking with charcoal and firewood is still a largely common practice in the Global South, but it is responsible for a number of health, environmental and economic hazards. Almost 4 million people die each year from indoor pollution due to cooking with biomass, mostly women and children. The environmental consequences include not only pollution, but also deforestation and loss of biodiversity. Collecting firewood is a time-consuming burden for women, which has deep social impacts and increases gender inequalities. The loss of productivity associated with cooking with firewood can be measured as significant percentages of a country’s GDP.
Prof Ed Brown raised three areas that need to be considered to advance the clean cooking agenda. The first is policy enabling environment: Members of Parliament can make legislation in a wide range of domains to help the opportunities for electric cooking grow. Secondly, consumer awareness is critical to make sure the citizens know about the dangers of cooking with biomass and about the economic advantages of electric cooking, to give strong enough incentives to shift the way they cook their meals. Thirdly, focusing on the supply chain to help emerging companies develop their appliances in the marketplace is also crucial to bring down the prices and make e-cooking affordable for a majority of users.
Cooking with electric pressure cookers has proved to be an efficient, cheap and clean way to produce a traditional African dish. According to Lead Researcher Dr Anna Clements, 83% of the Ugandan and 92% of the Tanzanian menu can be cooked with these appliances, but at a much lower cost and in a much shorter amount of time than with charcoal or firewood. In the open discussion with MPs, Senator Hamida from Kenya explained that she adopted the electric pressure cooker in her home, allowing her to prepare their traditional beans and maize stew in twenty minutes instead of two to three hours. She insisted on the potential of electric cooking for empowering women, with more time to dedicate to income-generating activities. Waseqa Khan MP from Bangladesh presented the ‘friendly stove’ which does not harm your health or your family’s, an improved cookstove which has already been distributed to five million homes in the country with outstanding results.
In conclusion, although there is still a lot of progress to make, there is reason for enthusiasm and hope because we are seeing change. The need for action on cooking issues is starting to make its way into the political sphere, and we see more global commitments to tackle the impacts of cooking with fossil fuels. MECS intends to help that momentum grow by moving clean cooking out of its silo, to make it a central part of energy policy, and integrate modern energy cooking into the planning for electricity access. Each year 153 million people globally gain access to electricity, and MPs can play a crucial role to leverage it to advance the clean cooking agenda. As Sergio Missana, Executive Director of the Climate Parliament pointed out, since one of the challenges for massive deployment of renewable energy minigrids is the lack of demand, electric cooking can be a key factor to increase demand while making electricity more affordable.
Specific - Cooking and climate change
Nick Dunlop, Secretary General of the Climate Parliament, introduced the session with a series of world maps displaying the different scenarios of global warming and their consequences on human life. If we don’t start cutting our carbon emissions fast and drastically, most of the Members of Parliament represented at this conference would see their country severely affected, with areas becoming uninhabitable and hotter than the hottest zones there are today on Earth. According to the IPCC, we are well on our way to reaching a 3.0°C of global warming, but governments are not taking this seriously. Accelerating the transition to electric cooking represents a great potential to lower our GHG emissions, and Nick emphasised the crucial role that parliamentarians can play to push their governments to integrate clean cooking strategies in their NDCs. They can also draft and vote the legislation necessary to implement them.
For the first time, Climate Parliament and MECS convened Members of Parliament, responsible for voting policies, and regulators, in charge of implementing them, together in the same room. The floor was first open for energy regulators to discuss the opportunities and challenges of implementing clean cooking in their countries. Debbie Roets, Executive Secretary of the African Forum for Utility Regulators (AFUR), explained how a network of regulators can allow countries to share peer-to-peer advice on how to accelerate the energy transition. Regulators deal with water, electricity, sanitation, transportation, communication, sectors where action and innovation are highly needed to help us decarbonise our economy.
Several regulators pointed out that affordability of electricity is key to ensure a successful transition. In many rural areas, families can collect firewood for free - or rather, at a cost of labour -, so in order for them to switch to electric cooking, it should be cheap enough to make it worth sparing the labour. Some countries are encouraging their people to cook with electricity through tariff incentives. Uganda started with a pilot project of cooking tariffs for public institutions such as hospitals, schools and prisons, which are major consumers of biomass for cooking. They then extended it to domestic households and today, a domestic consumer pays USD 21 cents per kilowatt hour for electricity, but only USD 10 cents with the electric cooking tariff. Associated with consumer awareness, tariffs are an efficient and pragmatic way of convincing people to change their cooking habits.
To conclude this session, Ed Brown pointed out that African and South Asian countries are all at very different stages in their clean cooking journey. There are countries with significant levels of electrification yet very few people using electricity for cooking, in those, raising consumer awareness is the key. In other countries, the key is to accompany the process of electrification with clean cooking as a means of enhancing demand. Ed Brown emphasised that promoting clean cooking is not only about understanding energy issues, but also about understanding the culture of a country, and what it takes to cook a particular kind of meal, to provide the right technological solutions and appliances. Finally, he encouraged the MPs to inform and empower themselves on their country’s NDCs. Many legislators are not aware of what their NDCs include, or whether they set objectives on smart cooking. Knowing about the NDCs is a crucial first step to encourage governments to have more ambitious targets, and to be able to monitor their implementation.
Realistic - integrating cooking into energy system modelling
Nishant Narayan, Programme Manager for Integrated Energy Planning, and Nicolina Lindblad, Energy Specialist, presented the work of SEforALL, an international organisation created to drive faster action towards the achievement of SDG7 – access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all by 2030 – in line with the Paris Agreement on climate. They emphasised the relevance of planning tools to integrate clean cooking within the energy access agenda. By collecting and analysing data on energy access, existing grid infrastructure, population, or sales of coal and wood stoves, they can identify the best locations and opportunities to expand electric cooking at the least cost. They make these data publicly available for governments and ministries, and private businesses such as minigrid developers, to be able to find the best sites for investment.
Climate Parliament Trustee and former Senator Abshiro Halake from Kenya pointed out that access to data is also crucial for MPs to hold their governments accountable, and to be able to influence laws and frameworks with relevance and efficiency. As direct representatives of their people, they can become a bridge between the executive branch and the public, to raise awareness and accelerate the adoption of clean cooking solutions in their constituencies. Senator Hamida Kibwana from Kenya also emphasised that the focus should be on how to present the benefits of clean cooking to the rural population. Going into villages to explain that cooking with charcoal and firewood is dirty will not make a convincing case for switching to electric, but changing the narrative to call it cheaper cooking, faster cooking, or easier cooking, would be better understood and accepted by the communities.
Nishant and Nicolina encouraged the MPs to ask their government to tackle clean cooking in a more holistic manner, as it is a cross-cutting issue affecting the economy, health, gender, education, and others. As MP from Ghana Emmanuel Marfo suggested, parliamentarians should try to mobilise all the relevant committees to be part of a climate change caucus. Action on clean cooking is traditionally siloed, with a highly fragmented donor community, so it is crucial to bring all the relevant stakeholders together to design efficient and realistic policies and regulations. The speakers and MPs concluded this session with an essential reminder: it is important not to fall into the trap of believing that policy is the authority of the government. Legislators have the control over budget, which is the real levy for action. They have the power to legislate towards more electrification, and against the financial and technological barriers which are still preventing a rapid transition.
Achievable - Urban poverty, rural challenges, alternative fuels
Magi Matinga, Technical Advisor at ENERGIA, introduced this session asking the MPs about the opportunities for economic growth from integrated energy planning, and the domestic transition to smart cooking across different national realities. She emphasised that legislators have the power and instruments at their disposal to catalyse fast concrete action.
Sanjay Kumar, Deputy Secretary General of the Climate Parliament, highlighted that MPs can legislate to encourage the private sector to invest in research and innovation for producing clean cooking appliances, thanks to subsidies and financial advantages. Former Senator Abshiro Halake recognised the need to create such tax incentives on the supply side, but also suggested to focus on the end-user simultaneously. With financial incentives to make electric appliances cheaper, and a punitive tax to make coal and other solid fuels more expensive, the end user will have a double incentive to shift to smart cooking. As she pointed out, even if raising awareness is important, the poorest constituents will not necessarily switch to electric cooking because you tell them it’s unhealthy, they have been using it all their life and they believe it is the cheapest way to cook. Making sure that the end user sees the financial benefit of transitioning to electric cooking is the most down-to-earth way of pushing for that transition.
Jephter Mwale MP from Malawi insisted again on the role of MPs in educating the public and changing the societal mindset towards clean cooking options, especially in regions where traditional cooking methods are deeply ingrained. As he explained, some people believe that food cooked with firewood tastes better, and it is crucial to explain that a significant portion of the menu can be cooked with an electric pressure cooker, achieving the same result. He also emphasised that EPCs need to be designed taking into account local realities: many EPCs are made for nuclear families, but most African families are extended families, and EPCs need to be big enough to cook for a larger number of people. MP Pratima Gautam from Nepal mentioned that to be truly achievable, governments should also focus on upgrading the grids and households wiring to support additional electric appliances.
Magi Matinga concluded the session reiterating the crucial role of MPs to bring stability and consistency in their country’s energy policy. Heads of states and ministers come and go, but MPs can work in cross-party coalitions to make sure that their country will pursue a long-term strategy with clearly defined objectives. They can give the private sector confidence that the regulatory frameworks will stay in place even with a political change of majority. MPs can also sensitise and empower the local government of their constituencies to support e-cooking policies, for more efficiency and cohesion on the ground.
Measurable – the opportunity of Carbon and Climate Finance Powering opportunities
MECS Lead Researcher, Dr Anna Clements opened this session on finance with a clear objective: debunking the idea that cooking with electricity is too expensive, while presenting the carbon and climate finance opportunities offered by clean cooking. She compared the costs of cooking in Tanzania for a month with electricity, LPG, kerosene, charcoal, and firewood, to demonstrate that both urban and rural communities would save money by switching to e-cooking, even more today as prices of other fuels are going up. One issue with e-cooking resides in the upfront cost: an EPC will usually cost between 60 to 70 USD, an amount that not many families are able to pay at once. Several EPC companies propose purchasing on credit to overcome that barrier, as well as a pay-go system to allow consumers to spread their payments over time.
Prof Ed Brown and Prof Matt Leach discussed the importance of helping EPC businesses grow to make their products more affordable for end-users. By producing a larger volume, they make economies of scale and can drive down the final price paid by consumers. For that reason, it is crucial to discuss scaling with the agencies responsible for electrification strategies at an early stage, to include clean cooking into energy planning. MP Waseqa Khan from Bangladesh explained that rural women in her country now all use rice cookers, they have more time to engage in other financially beneficial activities, to focus on their children’s education, and they are healthier. As she pointed out, as you help the women, it is society and the nation as a whole which reap the financial benefits.
Prof Matt Leach then brought up the opportunities of carbon credit. Today many companies want to lower their carbon footprint to move towards net zero, buying offsets of carbon credits in the market. From 2013 on, there has been a strong growth in carbon finance flows to clean cooking, and it is still evolving and growing. MECS helped develop a new methodology to create carbon credit projects using digital technology. EPCs are equipped with a chip sharing real-time data through the GSM network, to allow companies to monitor its usage, calculate the amount of carbon avoidance saved with a particular stove which can be sold as carbon credits. It also provides useful data to understand how much people use it at home, and to allow pay as you go.
One important question was raised by Climate Parliament Trustee Abshiro Halake: the issue of greenwashing. Some of the companies that have the worst carbon footprint, such as oil and other fossil fuel industries, try to restore their image buying carbon credits, but continue emitting a lot of greenhouse gases, polluting ecosystems and threatening people’s lives. She suggested that MPs should promote the development of carbon credits while choosing which companies are allowed to buy them.
Timeframe – what next steps should individual governments take and how can they be supported?
MECS Partnership Manager Alicia Butterfield opened the final session with a series of questions to the MPs, designed to understand what are the main takeaways and key actions that they would like to take back home on smart cooking. The commitments shared by most MPs include:
• Raise awareness nationally with public campaigns on TV and the radio;
• Find the right narrative for rural communities to understand the economic and health benefits of e-cooking;
• Organise capacity-building workshops in Parliament to educate more decisionmakers on the importance of smart cooking;
• Build the right frameworks to integrate electric cooking in energy and electrification planning and collaborate more with regulators;
• Lobby ministries of finance to allow a tax exemption on e-cooking appliances;
• Consider introducing a special tariff for e-cooking;
• Explore carbon finance options to enhance access to finance and affordability for consumers;
• Upgrade electricity grid and household wiring to make it fit for supporting e-cooking appliances;
• Lead by example by adopting e-cooking at home;
• Get more men engaged on smart cooking to make it everybody’s issue.
Nick Dunlop and Ed Brown concluded the session reiterating the urgency of taking action to fight climate change. As solar has become the cheapest source of energy, shifting to renewables, for cooking and for everything else, can get everybody richer. Governments that are resisting that transition or slowing it down are forcing their people to pay more for energy. Since renewable energy is free and unlimited, the only cost is the equipment and its maintenance. A big part of that cost is related to interest rates, so it is crucial that MPs take the appropriate measures to bring them down.
A hundred trillion dollars are available in the bond market, waiting to be invested in bankable projects. MPs have many tools at their disposal to attract the private sector, and give businesses the confidence to invest in minigrids and other renewable energy projects. They can encourage their governments to provide the right framework for investment, risk-reduction mechanisms such as guarantees, fiscal incentives like tax exemptions on solar products. Having a well-defined and long-term national strategy on the development of renewables can also increase the trust of the private sector that a country is committing seriously to progressing towards net zero.
Africa and South Asia represent a very small fraction of global carbon emissions, but having a safe and habitable country is invaluable for everyone. As we have discussed throughout these sessions, promoting smart cooking is not only about climate change, it is also about supporting energy access, economic growth, empowerment of women, protecting our natural habitats, ecosystems and biodiversity, and securing a healthier future.
Climate Parliament would like to thank all the participants who attended this event as well as our co-organisers, the Modern Energy Cooking Services team. For additional information, see https://www.lboro.ac.uk/news-events/news/2023/march/global-experts-mecs/