The triple G of clean cooking: Green, gender, and good health

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As many of us stay at home and continue to work there during the COVID-19 pandemic, we are spending a lot more time in our kitchens than ever before. For some of us, this is about cooking in the comfort of a modern cooking environment.

But unfortunately, my childhood memory of my grandmother slaving over a kerosene stove in a small kitchen remains the reality for over 4 billion people today. More than half the global population still lack access to efficient, clean, convenient, safe, affordable, and reliable methods of cooking , a recent World Bank report finds. Around 2.8 billion cannot access clean cooking of any kind.  Among regions, Sub-Saharan Africa is faring worst, with only 10 percent of its people able to access modern cooking. But access in Latin America and the Caribbean stands at just 56 percent, in East Asia at only 36 percent. This massive global challenge falls hardest on the poorest communities, especially women and children, who are traditionally bound to household work. 

"Lack of progress on clean cooking is estimated to cost the world an estimated $2.4 trillion each year.  More than half of this – over $1.4 trillion annually – is related to poor health outcomes." 

And it could rise further, as household air pollution from dirty fuels and stoves has been shown to increase the susceptibility to COVID-19 in addition to other respiratory diseases. According to the World Health Organization, indoor pollution causes nearly 4 million premature deaths a year – more than malaria, HIV/AIDS, and tuberculosis combined.

Women disproportionately bear this cost through poor health from pollution, as well as lost productivity and safety risks in collecting fuel. The gender dimension may help explain why cooking with traditional fuels and technologies, while not a new problem, is often overlooked.  The resulting pollution underscores the linkages between cooking, gender equality, health, the environment, and a changing climate. And COVID-19 is heightening the risks further. It also magnifies the inequalities and multiple forms of discrimination that women and girls face, including in the energy sector.

Clean cooking efforts have lagged behind, inhibiting progress on related Sustainable Development Goals – including on climate change. And the toll is considerable: non-renewable wood fuels for cooking account for a gigaton of carbon dioxide per year, or about 2% of global emissions of greenhouse gases. This is equivalent to the annual emissions of Japan. Changing the situation would be a win on many fronts: in fact, no other climate intervention generates greater co-benefits for the local environment, health, and gender equality.

The World Bank is stepping up its efforts on clean cooking, leveraging knowledge, investments, and partnerships to accelerate progress towards universal access to modern energy cooking solutions.   We have learned that there is no “one size fits all” and that understanding the local context of cooking matters in finding the lowest cost and best fit approach.  Making the cooking process “modern” and finding the right solution involves looking at the whole system of interactions, starting with the users’ cooking experience (what and how to cook), their housing conditions (kitchen location, room size, construction materials, and ventilation), and the markets and energy ecosystem in their country.

Let me share with you an experience from Indonesia, from my time as Trade Minister. Indonesia was able to successfully implement a kerosene-to-LPG conversion program for cooking between 2007 and 2012.  As part of the fuel subsidy and energy reform program, the government invested in infrastructure for liquid propane gas, including manufacture of smaller LPG containers, along with awareness campaigns and subsidies for targeted poor consumers. As a result, 50 million households gained access to LPG cooking in just five years, so that people like my late grandmother no longer have to slave over a kerosene stove.

The Clean Cooking Fund (CCF), launched in 2019 with a funding target of $500 million over five years, will provide results-based grants to leverage public and private financing, catalyze technology and business innovations, and improve affordability and market development. It has quickly attracted support from donors, the private sector, and governments, and developed a project pipeline in countries including Rwanda, Uganda, Ghana, Nepal, and Myanmar. These initial projects amount to more than $100 million in CCF co-financing, with at least the same amount from the World Bank.

The World Bank is also expanding partnerships to mobilize a growing consensus on the importance of clean cooking and make it a priority at the global and country levels.  These partnerships aim to advance technologies, business models, and financing mechanisms that enable affordable solutions. They combine high-level policy dialogue (such as through the recently launched Health and Energy Platform of Action and the G20-endorsed Initiative on Clean Cooking and Energy Access) with research and innovation (through the Modern Energy Cooking Services (MECS) program and the Clean Cooking Alliance). Civil society organizations also play an important role in engaging the public and households to raise awareness on the issue and advocate for better solutions.

"When we talk about the opportunity for a more sustainable recovery, apart from using the stimulus to build “green” infrastructure, we should consider clean cooking to be an essential service and a critical part of the pandemic response. "

COVID-19 recovery plans are an opportunity to integrate energy planning and tackle clean cooking challenges.  They can also support imperiled businesses that promote clean cooking solutions and help prevent households that have transitioned to modern technologies from slipping back.

As the world recovers from the crisis, clean cooking will be important element of a green and low-carbon development trajectory, as well as a key to achieving climate and energy access goals. It’s time to make it a policy priority and use the opportunities in recovery plans to marshal the necessary financing and multi-sector partnerships. Collectively, we can seize the moment by providing access to modern energy cooking to the 4 billion who don’t have access, and achieve the triple G development benefit – green, gender, and good health. 

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Join the Conversation

Conor Fox
September 10, 2021

Clean cooking is a great objective to have but transitional cooking systems are often cleaner but not yet clean . This is ok as we know there are multiple fuels and devices and the pathway to clean is a process. Sometimes we get tangled up in our own language - SDG 7 indicator for cooking, includes clean fuels and technologies, requires a reappraisal so we can have realistic target and indicators.

'Clean' or dirty, black or white.... but we know there is so much in the middle. 'Cleaner' represents this reality.