Sub-Saharan Africa’s clean cooking deficit: a call for urgent action

image is Woman Cooking In Africa Shutterstock

A woman cooks with gathered wood in Ethiopia - the polluting and inefficient combustion of fuelwood and charcoal is a significant contributor to deforestation and climate change.    Image: Shutterstock

Sub-Saharan Africa, representing 15% of the global population, confronts a dire energy dilemma. 

The International Energy Agency (IEA) reports that access rates to clean cooking solutions in the region are below 20%. Since tracking began, the number of people without access to clean cooking has escalated, reaching an alarming 990 million in 2022.  

The polluting and inefficient combustion of fuelwood and charcoal is a significant contributor to deforestation and climate change, releasing high levels of methane and other greenhouse gases. This paradoxical situation sees the very act of cooking depleting the region’s environmental resources, undermining both community health and global climate stability.

Health crisis with an economic impact

The World Health Organisation attributes household air pollution to an estimated 3.7 million premature deaths annually. In Sub-Saharan Africa, these rudimentary cooking methods are a daily health hazard, particularly for women and children, who suffer from respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.

The World Bank estimates the economic impact of inaction at $330 billion annually, considering both health and climate repercussions. Women, who are often responsible for cooking, spend hours each day collecting fuel - time that could be invested in education or economic activities. This gender-specific burden exacerbates poverty and inequality.

A continental movement

In Nigeria, only 16% of the population had access to clean cooking solutions in 2021, one of the lowest rates in Africa, according to Tracking SDG7’s Energy Progress Report. This contrasts with the country’s vast reserves of natural gas - the largest in Africa - and is representative of many more dynamics in the rest of the region. 

While consumption remains on the rise, last mile delivery is the major challenge to unlocking clean cooking penetration in Africa. Low purchasing powers, lack of credit facilities and weak distribution networks usually combined into an environment that makes it hard for LPG to reach last mile end-users, especially in rural areas. 

“We are noticing growing policy focus by African governments on scaling up LPG penetration on the continent, but it is up to the private sector and financiers to support such a movement with clear value-propositions for end-users,” said Rungas Founder and CEO Lanre Runsewe. “A major focus needs to be on elevating the accessibility, safety and efficiency of African cooking gas distribution networks, and providing the frameworks that can channel public and private financing into scalable initiatives.”

A broader issue

The momentum for change extends indeed beyond Nigeria. 

At COP28, the Clean Cooking Alliance, the African Development Bank (AfDB), and the International Energy Agency (IEA) united to support clean cooking across Africa. The African Clean Cooking Consortium was established to assist African governments in achieving universal clean cooking access, including strategic planning, establishing LPG Delivery Units for last-mile delivery, developing national programmes, and stimulating investments.

In a significant move, the AfDB also announced it would allocate up to 20% of its annual energy lending to clean cooking initiatives, amounting to an anticipated $2 billion investment in clean cooking over the next decade.

Achieving clean cooking access across Sub-Saharan Africa can have a profound climate impact. By 2030, it could save up to 1.5 Gt CO2eq globally according to estimates from IEA, with the region alone contributing to savings of 900 Mt CO2eq. This represents a significant step towards mitigating climate change and enhancing the quality of life for millions 

The intersection of health, environmental, and developmental concerns presents a clear choice: to catalyse change and ensure clean cooking solutions become a universal right in Sub-Saharan Africa. 

The time for decisive action is now, for the well-being of its people and the sustainability of our planet.


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