April 20, 2021

april 22 is earth day! let's celebrate by highlighting the environmental impact of something ordinary: cooking

Alessandro Galimberti, AVSI’s Focal Person for Clean Cooking and Climate Change, discusses the topic in the article “Universal access to clean cooking: a hot matter but cold topic”

Article originally published by Road to Forest Valley
Text by Alessandro Galimberti
AVSI’s Focal Person for Clean Cooking and Climate Change

Sometimes the biggest challenges do not need the most advanced technological innovations to be solved. It is often a matter of deep knowledge of the context, flexibility with respect to local constraints, good enough technology, and pragmatism.

That is the case for clean cooking, still far from implemented in many developing country households.

Why are green economy and ecological transition becoming a worldwide priority?

Whilst the international community is appropriately discussing renewable energy, green economy and ecological transition, according to the following figures there is a worldwide priority that has always been out of the spotlight:

•  More than 2.8 billion people worldwide still rely on charcoal and firewood as their primary cooking fuel. Of course, they live in the world’s poorest areas.

•  Under the business as usual scenario of the International Energy Agency, this number decreases only to 2.3 billion in 2030.

•  3.8 million deaths and 50% of pneumonia deaths in children under 5 are attributed to household air pollution (due to the indoor use of charcoal and firewood for daily cooking) annually – much more than malaria and AIDS.

•  Unsustainable charcoal production and fuelwood collection currently constitute one of the main causes of forest degradation, particularly in Sub Saharan Africa.

•  The poorest families in African urban settlements can spend up to 20% of their monthly income to buy traditional cooking fuel, especially charcoal.

•  In rural areas, women and children devote many hours to procure firewood, exposing themselves to the risks of sexual assaults, animal attacks and injuries.

•  Sustainable Energy for All estimates that finance for clean cooking solutions is far below the estimated USD 4.4 billion required annually until 2030 to ensure universal access.

These impressive numbers and dramatic facts show that the clean cooking sector requires further investments and attention from policymakers, international agencies, academia, the media, local authorities, NGOs, families and individuals. The solution to this massive problem could primarily depend on a coordinated and global effort as it has tentatively happened for AIDS and climate change. Contrariwise, the sector appears undersized, fragmented and dispersed.

What is clean cooking?

A first problem concerns the definition of “clean cooking” and, consequently, the identification of the technologies to be promoted. Some international cooperation agencies consider cooking devices to be “clean” only when powered by electricity produced from renewable energies and biogas; others include LPG and gas in general due to its very low indoor emissions; others also include high-tier improved cook stoves that can still use “unclean” fuels such as charcoal and firewood but drastically reduce their consumption and harmful emissions; finally, others consider it a priority to promote low tier improved cook stoves – i.e. the locally made ones – that relatively save traditional fuels and reduce emissions. This last solution acknowledges that there is still a scope for lower-tier stoves in the market as a first or intermediate step toward clean cooking. By focusing only on leapfrogging from tier 0 (e.g. open firewood) to high-tier solutions – generally less affordable and less technologically accessible than low-tier – millions of vulnerable communities, households and individuals risk being left behind.


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