A call to action to scale up clean cooking at the 2020 High Level Political Forum

(Credits: Sven Torfinn/Hivos).

At the start of the Decade of Action towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and on the occasion of the High Level Political Forum, MECS, ENERGIA/Hivos and the Ministry of Kenya, together with key partners, hosted a virtual side event to take stock of the efforts needed to enhance the ambitions in the clean cooking sector and take immediate action to scale up universal access to clean cooking technologies and services.

Members of governments, stakeholders, civil society organisations, NGOs and business representatives virtually gathered to review progress on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at this year’s High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, under the theme “Accelerated action and transformative pathways: realizing the decade of action and delivery for sustainable development”. During the event, the Government of Kenya together with multiple partners, including MECS, the Netherlands, Norway, Hivos, ENERGIA, TENN, Clean Cooking Alliance, ESMAP, UNDESA, WHO, World Bank teamed up to host the side event “Accelerated Actions and Transformative Pathways on Clean Cooking for the Delivery of Sustainable Development Goal 7” to highlight the urgent need to take action on advancing access to clean cooking technologies.

Worldwide, around 2.8 billion don’t have access to clean cooking solutions and are exposed to toxic household air pollution, which contributes to over 4 million deaths every year from noncommunicable diseases and pneumonia. Household air pollution mainly affects women and children, who spend most of their time on household tasks such as gathering fuels and cooking, limiting their time for work opportunities, education and other productive or leisure activities. Without prompt action, by 2030, a third of the global population will still lack access to clean cooking fuels and technologies, leaving people vulnerable to environmental and socio-economic impacts. Only by addressing the challenges to universal access to clean cooking, we can build resilient, inclusive and equal societies and tackle climate change. Accelerating progress towards universal access to clean cooking fuels and technologies must be a top political, economic, and environmental priority. This is even more urgent with the COVID-19 pandemic, which has plunged a large portion of the population into extreme poverty and exposed communities to higher health risks, magnifying inequalities and socio-economic vulnerabilities.

Indeed, the Kenya Ministry of Energy committed to attain clean cooking by 2028. In his opening speech, Principal Secretary to the Minister, Mr. Joseph Ngoruge, highlighted this commitment and reached out to the audience to support a push for an international day of clean cooking. As the report on the implementation of SDG 7 shows, the world is not on track to reach its objectives and even far off when it comes to clean cooking. Ngoruge stressed that “if we go on doing business as usual, we will never achieve clean cooking” and that “COVID-19 can lead to previous gains being reversed”. His worry and call to action was echoed by all participants in the event.

Gender strategy to advance clean cooking solutions

“To build back better and ensure that no one is left behind, we need a clear understanding of the connections between the present pandemic, the energy access challenge, and long-standing gender disparities can help us devise solutions with multiple co-benefits”

Sheila Oparaocha, ENERGIA
                                                                                                           

Women’s health, wellbeing and socio-economic independence is strongly interlinked with access to clean cooking technologies. Women usually spend significant more hours in gathering fuel and cooking, devoting most of their time to unpaid care and domestic activities than men. This also increases their exposure to harmful pollutants, contributes to a widening gender gap and reduces their opportunity to liberate themselves from the stranglehold of poverty, inequalities and gender norms.

In the light of COVID-19, ENERGIA proposes four major opportunities to promote women’s empowerment in clean cooking, as economies re-open and governments include sustainable energy options in recovery packages.

First, is to accelerate women’s uptake and use of clean cooking appliances and fuels, to support their roles in the care economy and the new importance of the home as the center of work, care and leisure. Second, is to provide women equal opportunities to participate in and support the clean cooking economy and ensure that COVID-19 social protection packages provide substantive funding and investment to salvage women’s businesses and productive use activities. Third, is to promote gender-differentiated support policies and practices in the work environments in clean cooking energy companies and organizations. Lastly, is to allow women a place at the table when strategies about clean cooking transitions and post recovery are planned and decided on.

The role of communities and civil society

In accordance with the Sustainable Development Goal principle of “leaving no one behind”, all vulnerable groups, including women, the poor and last-mile communities should have their voice heard in the energy transition. A recent study from Hivos and the Stockholm Environmental Institute shows the role that people and communities can have and would like to play in the cooking transformation. Community members from Machakos county, Kenya, see themselves as the drivers of the changes they envisage. When asked to explore future pathways to achieving 100% cooking with electricity, villagers identified multiple socio-economic benefits associated with electricity for cooking, including street lighting, electricity for agriculture, for powering schools and clinics, education facilities for students. The study proves that the involvement of communities is crucial to the energy transition and its sustainability in the future.

Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) can play a key role in connecting international, national and local levels and ensuring communities are part of the change process. This has to go hand in hand with inclusive policies and programmes. This long-term process requires efforts, collaboration and coordination in addressing communities’ needs, including taking steps to universal electrification, spurring financial investments and supporting community organization.

Particularly, to ensure inclusivity and build a resilient and green society, there is a need for targeted finance for local and women energy entrepreneurs. Often finance is not accessible for smaller and local entrepreneurs, while they are the ones that can serve communities and access untapped markets in last-mile areas. This means that the recovery packages need to look at local and women entrepreneurs’ needs and ensure that financial flows deliver a sustained long-term support for those who need more.

Intersectional approach in COVID-19 recovery plans

The urgency and opportunity for empowering women through a clean cooking transition during recovery from the first global wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is emphasised in the recent MECS working paper authored by Prof. Ed Brown and Dr. Simon Batchelor. The paper argues that by employing an intersectional approach in recovery plans and by accelerating modern energy access for cooking, multiple gains will be achieved linked to the SDGs. The impacts of traditional biomass cooking on people’s health through increased incidence of non-communicable diseases caused by household air pollution, the time burden of biomass fuel collection and cooking for women, and the vulnerability of the world to climate change impacts, exacerbated by deforestation and production of carbon dioxide and black carbon particulates through biomass combustion are key intersectional vulnerabilities to be addressed. By employing an integrated approach to recovery plans where Climate, Health, Energy, Environment and Gender (CHEEG) are addressed, multiple positive outcomes will be achieved for men, women and children, wider society and the environment. By putting women at the foreground in COVID-19 recovery plans, the opportunity to achieve equitable economic recovery can be seized, which empowers women to engage in employment and to become leaders in the clean energy transition whilst achieving multiple additional gains for health, society and the environment.