Africa: Don't Gaslight Africa - We Need Genuinely Clean Cooking Solutions

Gas stove
analysis

The IEA summit, where oil and gas execs are well-represented, will see gas as the solution. What Africa needs is people-centred renewable energy.

Delegates from around the world are gathering in Paris today for the International Energy Agency (IEA) Summit on Clean Cooking in Africa. While the IEA is based in Paris, it was an unfortunate decision to host the event so far away from the continent on which its outcomes will have the furthest-reaching impacts.

Despite being invited, I could not travel to France. Often, the distance and sheer cost of international travel prohibit members of grassroots civil society organisations from attending global forums, thus locking them out of decision-making processes that affect their lives.

According to the IEA, nearly 2.3 billion people lack access to clean cooking. 1 billion of these are in Africa, where four in five people still cook over open fires and traditional stoves, using wood, charcoal, animal dung, and other polluting fuels. The fact that these statistics may be unsurprising doesn't make them any less unjust.

Humanity should be ashamed that 3.7 million people die prematurely each year due to smoke inhalation and indoor air pollution. 60% of these deaths happen in Africa, including in my country Uganda.

Women and children in particular pay the ultimate price for the lack of access to clean cooking. Yet despite this, African women will not be fairly represented at the IEA summit. Just 17% of the high-level participants are African women. That means they will be outnumbered by European men (22-26%) and representatives of oil and gas companies and their industry associates (16-19%). While it may be symbolic, fair representation matters.

Senior executives of multinationals such as ENI and TotalEnergies, who will be well represented in Paris, have long implied that natural gas or LPG will eliminate the scourge of dirty cooking. But natural gas is not clean, and burning LPG or methane at home emits nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, and benzene, all which can potentially trigger respiratory complications, including childhood asthma.

Moreover, research findings consistently suggest that LPG is unaffordable for most rural households in Africa. Nonetheless, this IEA summit seeks to unlock billions of dollars to provide solutions rooted in gas.

Instead of trying to make gas affordable, the summit should seek to unlock investments that establish and scale ambitious and people-centred energy programmes. This is the most reasonable way to deliver decentralised energy to communities on the continent. These programmes must also be centred on renewable energy with which Africa is endowed with enormous potential.

The IEA is on record warning that humanity cannot develop any new oil and gas projects if we are to limit global warming to 1.5°C. Given the presence of oil and gas industry executives at the summit, however, the platform will likely deliver an imperfect and unhealthy solution for Africa.

Exasperatingly, the African Development Bank (AfDB) also seems to have a preference for natural gas over other forms of clean cooking. African governments and financial institutions such as the AfDB should instead work together to remove all the barriers to investments in a just and green transition in Africa.

Historically, the cost of capital for scaling up renewable energy production and clean energy access in developing countries has been too high to attract adequate funding. But by working with development partners, African leaders can lower this cost. This is the best form of empowerment to help African women leapfrog dirty old technologies like biomass, coal, and gas cooking to fully electric cooking.

Many women globally and in Africa are doing their part to support initiatives that elevate women's access to clean cooking. I am doing my part too by leading the Vash Green Schools initiative to bring solar power and efficient cookstoves to schools in rural communities in Uganda. This helps children to study when it is dark and eat meals cooked on stoves that do not pollute the air they breathe.

Developed countries need no reminder that Africa is already experiencing some of the worst impacts of climate change. Recent floods in East Africa, supercharged by climate change, killed more than 200 people and destroyed thousands of homes. A month earlier, heatwaves with temperatures soaring to 45°C swept across South Sudan forcing schools to close and severely disrupting children's education.

We may have been devastated by the effects of the climate crisis. But our right to safeguard our future is intact. This future, though, is only conceivable if we can scale up renewable energy and phase out fossil fuels urgently and without leaving anyone behind.

Africans deserve development that doesn't poison the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat. We deserve a future that is healthy, safe, and prosperous. This is the true meaning of a just transition.

Vanessa Nakate is a young climate justice activist from Uganda.

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