For most of her life, Florence Auma Ode cooked over an open fire in her Kenyan home. The resulting smoke coated the walls with a layer of soot and filled her lungs – and those of her family members – with particulate matter.
In 2022, Florence’s family invested nearly a month’s salary in a modern two-burner bioethanol stove, which uses affordable fuel and cooks food quickly and cleanly. The stove has improved the health of the whole family. Equally important, Florence no longer has to spend five hours each day collecting firewood. Now she can use that time to take classes, generate income, or enjoy leisure activities.
In the Global North, achieving clean cooking for all may seem mundane compared to other, more grandiose forms of climate action. But switching to clean-cooking technologies would cut global carbon dioxide emissions by 1.5bn tonnes, the same amount generated by all planes and ships today. And given that forests the size of Ireland are lost each year to fuel-wood and charcoal production, eradicating dirty cooking would significantly reduce deforestation and biodiversity loss. Despite this enormous potential, 2.4bn people, mainly women, still cook over and heat their homes with open fires that burn wood, charcoal, or dung, leading to 3.2mn annual premature deaths from particulate pollution exposure. The problem is most acute in Sub-Saharan Africa, where four out of five individuals lack access to clean-cooking solutions, causing pollution-related diseases to impede productivity and human development.
In addition to reducing emissions and environmental damage, promoting clean cooking would help restore basic dignity to women and girls, who are often expected to bear the burden of domestic labour. Universal clean-cooking access would mean that, like Florence, women and girls – numbering more than 600 million in Africa – could use the time they now spend collecting firewood and preparing food in hazardous conditions to pursue education, employment, and personal growth.
If the benefits are so clear cut, what is holding us back from achieving clean cooking for all? The problem is not technical: KOKO Networks, for example, has developed liquid bioethanol stoves that cost 85% less, and whose fuel costs up to 40% less, than charcoal stoves. Nevertheless, affordability remains a challenge.
This is compounded by entrenched gender norms that often undervalue women’s domestic labour and limit their control over household budgets. Innovative financing mechanisms such as on-bill lending, which enables families to repay the upfront costs of a stove through their utility bills, would help. But a change in mindset is also needed. Grassroots education is crucial to normalising clean cooking and bringing along Africans working in the charcoal industry. According to an assessment by the World Food Programme and The Rockefeller Foundation, as part of The School Meals Coalition in Kenya, a subsidy programme for schools to install modern kitchens would provide ten million children with access to clean cooking. It would also create around 400,000 jobs and more than two million additional jobs in related sectors, largely for women and young people. The initiative is projected to avoid at least nine million tonnes of emissions and preserve around six million trees.
Pulling these levers requires financing.
According to the International Energy Agency, investing $8bn annually in stoves and infrastructure until 2030 would provide universal access to clean cooking in Sub-Saharan Africa. To that end, the Global Electric Cooking Coalition is working to enable a mass transition to clean cooking in at least ten countries across Africa, Asia, and Latin America by 2030. Likewise, the United Nations Climate Change High-Level Champions are collaborating with non-state actors to achieve universal clean-cooking access by 2030, a target that requires at least $10bn annually in innovative finance.
The models are in place to scale clean cooking in Africa. Now rich-country governments, multilateral institutions, the private sector, and international organisations need to step up and provide the necessary funding. The continued prevalence of dirty cooking in Africa further underscores that climate finance has long been inefficient, insufficient, and unjust. To reverse this trend, global leaders must introduce a new financing pact for universal clean cooking at this week’s IEA Summit on Clean Cooking in Africa.
The mainstreaming of clean cooking in Africa is more than just a practical solution to the climate crisis; it is a commitment that the Global North must make to the continent that has contributed the least to global warming but is nonetheless most vulnerable to its effects. Most critically, it will ensure that Africa’s women and girls can participate in – and benefit from – building a greener, healthier, and more equitable future.
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