PARIS: Fifty countries are set to meet in France, on Tuesday (today). They aim to address the lack of access to clean cooking methods across the globe. This causes ‘millions of deaths’ annually and exacerbates the impacts of global warming.

Around 2.3 billion individuals, across 128 countries, breathe in ‘harmful’ fumes when cooking on basic stoves or over open fires. This became a pertinent issue after a report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) of the African Development Bank (ADB), sounded alarm bells last year.

The report revealed that 3.7 million individuals die prematurely on an annual basis, from ‘harmful cooking practices’. The report also identified women and children as being the ‘most at risk’.

The “unprecedented” gathering in Paris, aims to be “a moment of changing the direction” the IEA’s director for sustainability and technology, Laura Cozzi, told members of the press. The problem “touches on gender, it touches on forestry, it touches on climate change, it touches on energy, it touches on health” added Cozzi.

A third of the world cooks with fuel that produces harmful fumes when burned. Such fuel sources include but are not limited to; wood, charcoal, coal, animal dung and agricultural waste. They pollute both indoor and outdoor air, with fine particles penetrating the lungs and resultantly causing a multitude of respiratory and cardiovascular problems (such as cancer and strokes).

The cooking practices cited are the ‘third highest cause’ of premature deaths in the world and the second highest in Africa. In young children, they are a major cause of pneumonia, according to experts. These methods also prevent women and children from accessing education or earning a wage, as they spend ‘hours’ searching for fuel.

The meeting at Unesco’s headquarters will primarily focus on Africa and aims to garner financial backing for a major push on the problem.

Huge ‘bang for its buck’

Greenhouse gas emissions from the use of basic stoves and deforestation from collecting wood, contribute to the detrimental impacts of global warming. According to the IEA, a transition to ‘clean cooking methods’ (such as LPG or electric cooking) would save 1.5 billion tonnes of CO2 per year, by 2030 (roughly the amount emitted by ships and planes last year).

Subsidised LPG and free stoves in China, India and Indonesia, led to a decline in people without access to clean cooking methods between the years’ 2010 to 2022. However, the same was not true for Africa. Four out of five households in the sub-Saharan African region, are still reliant on ‘highly polluting’ cooking fuels, with the situation only getting worse.

“We’re seeing a lot of concerted efforts that are yielding benefits in Kenya, Ghana, Tanzania” said IEA expert, Dan Wetzel. He added, “But really what we see is that population growth is outstripping the progress there.” The funds required ‘are a fraction’ of global investment in energy, the IEA pointed out.

The estimated $8 billion needed annually (across the globe), is less than one percent of government spending on energy, for the calendar year 2022. Of the above, sub-Saharan Africa is in need of $4 billion, whilst the current global investment in clean cooking, is around $2.5 billion.

“Dollar for dollar, it’s hard to imagine a single intervention that could have more bang for its buck in terms of health emissions and development than this” Wetzel stated.

Such financial support is essential as many African households cannot afford a suitable cooker or fuel. The IEA also recommends ‘strong national leadership’, as well as ‘grassroots efforts’ to change prevailing social norms.

Published in Dawn, May 14th, 2024

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