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Reflections on the IEA call for $4 Billion a year to provide universal clean cooking for Africa

15th December 2023
Clean Cooking, COP28

By Dr. Simon Batchelor (Gamos Ltd., Loughborough University).

At COP28, the director of the IEA, Dr Fatih Birol, made multiple references to the IEA’s calculation that $4 billion in targeted finance each year between now and 2030 would provide universal access to clean cooking in sub-Saharan Africa.  In the GeCCo launch session, he noted that Europe spends more than $ 4 billion in cafes every week (Video 5min) , and, as such, he characterized the raising of finance at this scale to solve the enduring problem of cooking with polluting fuels in Africa as achievable.

Dr Birol therefore committed the IEA to convening a high-level finance-raising conference in 2024, alongside the African Development Bank and the CCA and inclusive of presidential representation (as discussed in the above video – This link here jumps to Dr Birol’s commitment)).  This is a great commitment to tackling the issue of clean cooking, and it is strategic to see how Dr Birol is gathering support through his op-ed in Fortune magazine, his lobbying of the EU, and even his interviews with the BBC (podcast 27 mins).

This blog reflects on this $4 Billion figure which comes from the IEA clean cooking report published during 2023.  As a headline it works – the required funding is not that high when compared to coffee drinking, but is much more substantial than the historical investment in clean cooking.  I therefore would like to make four observations:-

  • How it compares with historical investment in clean cooking?
  • What might $4 billion a year achieve in terms of clean cooking? 
  • How does it fit within the wider investment in modern energy infrastructure?
  • This is for Africa – what about Asia?

How does it compare with historical investment in clean cooking?   There has been a mantra among the clean cooking community that clean cooking has been an orphan, an afterthought, within the global commitments to improve energy access.  CCA 2022 reported that approximately “tens of millions” per year are invested into clean cooking programmes and the private sector, although CCA 2023 industry report published last week saw 2023 with just over $200m invested.  While it’s good that the amount has been increasing over the last few years (noting the dip created by the COVID years), Dr Birol’s point is that even at around $200m per year the investment remains an inadequate expression of concern for the more than 3.2 million people who die prematurely each year from household air pollution each year, for the loss of forests caused by 2.3 billion people still using non-renewable biomass sources inefficiently, and indeed for the loss of $2.4 trillion a year to the world economy that this problem causes.  Indeed, Dymphna Van de Lans, CEO of CCA stated that while she was delighted that clean cooking had been elevated politically to the main stage of COP28, in order to make meaningful progress, what the sector really needs is ‘more money’ (Video 1.33 mins).

What might $4 billion a year achieve in terms of clean cooking?  According to the IEA analysis, $8 billion a year (globally) would achieve universal clean cooking across the globe (Dr Birol purposely focused on Africa only).  Globally, the $8 billion a year would result in a multi-fuel mix with one-third improved biomass cookstoves, 44% LPG, 12% electricity and 11% ethanol.  As Dr Birol said in the GeCCo launch session, he is steeped in data and so this is of course a product of informed modelling, and is based on the stated assumptions included in that model.  In a similar modelling exercise, MECS and World Bank ESMAP in the state of modern energy cooking access, arrived at a figure of $150 billion per year to reach universal access to modern energy cooking in Low and Middle Income countries.  (It can be noted that while 2.3 billion are said to cook with polluting fuels, 4 billion do not have access to modern energy cooking).  While this finance seems an order of magnitude different, actually the subtleties of the figure explain that over $100 billion of figure is the households’ direct contributions for stoves and fuels, a sum that they are currently spending on polluting fuels, $10 billion would be from the private sector, and $40 billion would be from public finance.   This scenario resulted in 70% to be using LPG. 

In a more pragmatic scenario the report went on to model a substantial number of households utilizing improved Tier 3 cookstoves in 2030 as in the IEA modelling.  That model came out at $10 billion a year with the public sector investing US$6 billion per year.  So of a similar order to the IEA. 

Dr Birol rightly calls for a focus on Africa, because that is where the problem is likely to be most enduring.  Population growth alone currently outstrips the uptake even of tier 3 improved cookstoves, and with the weaker infrastructure and many remote rural areas, the use of biomass will likely persist for a long time.  He talks of women spending hours collecting wood and carrying babies, an emotional appeal to human kindness.  Damilola Ogunbiyi SRSG CEO SEforALL acknowledged that scene but during her intervention at the GeCCo launch, she drew attention to the role of clean cooking in climate change, acknowledging it is the ‘existential crisis’ that we must address.    She noted that leveraging modern energy infrastructure leads to implementation of clean cooking at potentially less cost.  Indeed the SEforALL work in her home country of Nigeria showed that while options such as gas might cost the government hundreds of millions, pivoting to using the electrical network could deliver a solution to a portion of the population for only tens of millions.

How does it fit within the investment in modern energy infrastructure?  So in the light of the historical investment in clean cooking the call by Dr Birol to raise $4 billion a year (for Africa), if achieved, would seem to represent a huge leap forward.  Dr Birol and Dymphna Van de Lans quoted above were speaking at a session on the main stage of COP28 called Electrifying Cooking: A just journey towards Net-zero.  This was the official launch of GeCCo, the Global eCooking Coalition, a coalition that seeks to ensure modern energy cooking is not an orphan to energy access, but is an integral part of modern energy planning.  Our own research on the mutual neglect (another way of framing the ‘orphaning of clean cooking), and the call by SEforALL to turn this into mutual support sits modern energy cooking more directly within in the context of planning and construction of all modern energy infrastructure.  While this includes infrastructure that can deliver gas and other clean fuels such as ethanol, the majority of the investment made is in electricity.  While the energizing finance series of SEforALL reports talks about an investment of $30 to 40 billion to each year improve access to electricity across 20 high impact low and middle-income countries, the IEA itself reports that Africa receives around $25 billion a year to both improve access but also to keep the existing electricity infrastructure viable, expand it and pivot it towards renewable energy.  For developing Asia they report approximately $32 billion investment, and for India $54 billion (fluctuating year on year but of this order).   Since every electrical cable or wire that delivers electricity to a household could be part of the transition to, and a solution for, clean cooking the call for an annual investment into clean cooking of  $4 billion could perhaps be set in within that wider context. A significant proportion of the needed funding could come from leveraging existing investment, not treating cooking as an ‘orphan’ or afterthought, but rather as a member of the total energy access family.   Indeed at the GeCCo launch session, the World Bank announced a new programme ASCENT which had an approved budget from the World Bank of $5 billion (Video 5 mins), with the intention to leverage another $10 billion, a programme focused on improving access to clean electricity with specific work packages on eCooking

Finally, noting that Dr Birol is talking about Africa – what about Asia?  While there are a billion people in Africa cooking with polluting fuels, there are also others across the world who use polluting fuels, including 1.2 billion in Asia.  The growth of electricity access in Asia over the last twenty years has been substantial and significant with the IEA reporting about 1 billion have gained access in the last ten years.  With access now officially at 100% for India and Bangladesh, and yet access to clean cooking sitting at 68% and 25% respectively, there is still a need to improve access to clean cooking.  Since there has been improvement in electrical networks, the opportunity is there for Asia to pivot to energy efficient electric cooking.  That pivoting is included in the IEA vision for clean cooking and therefore in their $8 Billion figure, resulting in 12% use of electric cooking.  We think this could be more, especially in Asia, but also in Africa using carbon finance.   And so we call on the IEA to ensure that the discussion at the finance conference next year includes integrated planning for modern energy inclusive of cooking  and inclusive of all the 2.3 billion that cook with polluting fuels.  Of course, at the moment a lot of Asia electricity generation is from fossil fuel including coal fired power stations, but with the decreasing cost of renewables and the impetus of reaching net zero, India has moved to 40% renewables in the last few years and even with electricity generated from fossil fuels, a user switching from biomass use to electricity in Bangladesh still saves climate emissions and can access carbon finance.  Indeed COP28 signed up for tripling renewable energy capacity and double energy efficiency measures by 2030.

So my reflection is that it is great that an important organisation such as the IEA has elevated clean cooking to be more central on the international stage.  In the light of MECS research, we share the desire to ensure that clean cooking is not an afterthought, an ‘orphan’ as it were, and we hope that having made it a member of the energy access family, it is not divorced from integrated modern energy planning inclusive of cooking.  Let us instead model the needed clean cooking transitions with the existing and planned infrastructure in mind, as an integrated part of the intentions and planning for increased renewables (SDG7.2), and the intentions and planning of energy efficiency (SDG7.3).   


Featured image, top: Screen shot of official COP28 feed, used under Fair Use Act.

Opportunity: Women in Modern Energy Cooking (WMEC) initiative launched