Africa: The Importance of Clean Cooking in a Low Carbon Future

Modern cooking solutions are vital to combating global climate change and reducing environmental degradation. In a true ‘win-win’, they also benefit respiratory health – particularly important given Covid-19 – and, in many cases, offer cost and time savings to low-income households.

More than four billion people currently lack access to modern cooking solutions that are clean, affordable, fuel efficient, convenient, and aspirational. This results in a climate-damaging 2% of total global carbon dioxide emissions – the equivalent of the footprint of Canada, South Korea, or Germany. A significant proportion of the four billion people use wood for fuel, causing forest degradation that leads to soil erosion, reduced biodiversity, and increased flooding. Additionally, cooking with biomass fuels emits 25% of global black carbon (soot) emissions, which is the second largest contributor to climate change after carbon dioxide.

Science clearly demonstrates that the use of clean, modern cooking solutions reduces carbon emissions. In the last decade, pioneering companies have developed innovative business models that are delivering a range of technologies such as ethanol, biomass pellets, biogas, liquified petroleum gas (LPG), and electric cooking devices, all of which can dramatically reduce harmful emissions.

However, these companies face a tremendous challenge in sourcing concessional and commercial capital. A recent report released by the World Bank estimates that the gap between what is currently being invested versus what is needed to achieve universal access is approximately $150 billion per annum. It is of critical importance to our shared environmental future and the success of the Sustainable Development Goals that major additional capital flows are unlocked to help companies with scalable clean cooking business models achieve their potential.

The good news is that forward-thinking governments and development organizations have begun to unlock a growing quantum of climate-linked finance. Over the last 15 years, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) has developed, improved, and road-tested a suite of credible methodologies for measuring, validating and verifying the emissions reductions delivered through clean cooking. Public utilities, private corporations, and government institutions have earned carbon credits by investing in clean cooking projects. Organizations have done this to comply with their regulatory obligations, to voluntarily offset their own carbon emissions, or to catalyze carbon markets.

The Paris Agreement on climate change entered into force in November of 2016, and since then policymakers have been steadily developing a framework (Article 6.4) for a global carbon market which links the many national and regional markets. It is expected that the rulebook for Article 6.4 will be finalised at the next global climate change conference, COP26 in Glasgow in 2021. Finalization of Article 6.4 will be a game-changer in unlocking carbon finance market growth and increasing financing into clean cooking – it will enable companies to aggressively scale-up their positive impact. Many countries, regions and industries are actively preparing for this next phase of the global carbon market.

Of particular note is the admirable leadership demonstrated by the government of South Korea, which in 2017 adapted its national Emissions Trading Scheme to enable the import of credits from international CDM projects implemented in partnership with Korean entities. Korean utilities and industrial conglomerates have focused on clean cooking because of the multiple co-benefits it can deliver – from family health to gender equity. It is due to these co-benefits that carbon market experts believe clean cooking projects are amongst the most likely to easily transition to the Sustainable Development Mechanism being established through Article 6.4.

As a result of the government of South Korea’s actions, there are now significant carbon finance inflows to clean cooking projects in many developing countries, enabling companies to scale up their operations. This decision to move early, ahead of the finalisation of Article 6.4, has enabled South Korea to gain a competitive advantage over other countries, and allowed it to secure a strong pipeline of high-quality projects that can be transitioned to Article 6.4 to meet their Paris Agreement compliance obligations.

Other governments can learn from South Korea’s experience, and support greater investment into clean cooking through their national carbon markets. This is one of many innovative ways to accelerate the financing for clean cooking solutions, and an important complement to initiatives such as the Clean Cooking Alliance-supported $50-70 million Africa-focused Spark+ impact investment fund which will provide debt and equity to pioneering enterprises, as well as the World Bank’s $500 million Clean Cooking Fund, which will provide governments with clean cooking-focused grants to complement sovereign lending packages.

The science is clear, the solutions are proven, and now is the time to scale up the funding.

Peter George is Senior Director – Private Sector & Investment at the Clean Cooking Alliance


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