Cooking with climate-harming dirty fuels kills millions every year. How can Europe help?

A woman roasts peanuts outside her home in Diamniadio Island in Senegal.
A woman roasts peanuts outside her home in Diamniadio Island in Senegal. Copyright AP Photo/Jane Hahn
Copyright AP Photo/Jane Hahn
By Lottie Limb
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“I believe if your neighbour’s house is burning, you help them. Africa is our neighbour,” said IEA executive director Dr Fatih Birol.


World leaders are gathering in Paris today to tackle one of the world’s biggest silent killers: dirty cooking fuels.

In Africa, where four in five people cook over open fires and basic stoves, it is the second leading cause of premature deaths among women and children.

Convened by the International Energy Agency (IEA) at UNESCO headquarters, the Summit on Clean Cooking in Africa is set to announce a major sum and solutions to tackle the issue.

“I believe if your neighbour’s house is burning, you help them. Africa is our neighbour,” IEA executive director Dr Fatih Birol told Euronews Green ahead of the event.

Globally, 2.3 billion people lack access to clean cooking - defined as fuels and equipment that significantly limit or avoid the release of pollutants harmful to human health.

Despite the scale of the problem, the IEA chief says that Europe can help solve it with relatively little money. As he wrote in a landmark report last year, “The barriers to delivering on the promise of clean cooking for all are not technical.

“What is encouraging and disturbing, in equal measure, is that this huge environmental, economic and human challenge could be solved with relatively modest investment.”

How could clean cooking help mitigate climate change?

Lack of access to clean cooking is a cross-cutting issue: entrenching people in poverty, stealing women’s time, inflicting respiratory and cardiovascular disease, and increasing planet-heating emissions.

Cooking with ‘dirty’ fuels like charcoal, firewood, coal, kerosene and agricultural waste generates high levels of pollution. In the case of wood from forests, it also eats into valuable carbon sinks.

“There is a real climate benefit here,” Dr Birol says of the transition to clean cooking. “I think this could play a very important role to keep the lungs of the world in Africa.”

The IEA’s report situates the problem within different national contexts. Switching to ‘clean’ cooking fuels like liquified petroleum gas (LPG) and electric hot plates will increase emissions by a certain amount in the short-term, depending on a country’s power system.

However, taking into account the reduction in methane and other greenhouse gas emissions from the incomplete combustion of fuelwood and charcoal in basic stoves - plus forests saved - the IEA foresees a net reduction of 1.5 gigatons of CO2 equivalent by 2030. That’s an enormous amount: roughly the same as the amount of CO2 emitted by planes and ships in a year.

Who is attending the Clean Cooking Africa summit?

Given the strong climate dimension, the climate community is invested in making clean cooking a global reality.

Dr Birol says he is counting on the support of the presidencies of COP29 (the UN climate summit taking place in Azerbaijan later this year) and COP30, in Brazil next year. Brazil president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is a “big supporter”, he says, and has committed to putting clean cooking on the agenda at the G20 summit he is hosting this November, as well as at COP30.

COP28 president Sultan Al-Jaber is joining the Clean Cooking Africa summit, where he is also expected to make a significant announcement about how the UAE will help.

Representatives from around 50 governments are attending the summit today, many of them heads of state or ministers. Norwegian prime minister Jonas Gahr Støre is co-chairing, alongside president Samia Suluhu Hassan of Tanzania, president of African Development Bank Group Dr Akinwumi A. Adesina, and Dr Birol. Energy industry leaders will be attending too.

Given all this channelling of expertise and resources, “I believe we will see 2024 to be a turning point finally to address this problem,” Dr Birol says.

Why Europe should take the lead on encouraging clean cooking

“In addition to it being ethical, there are some other co-benefits for Europe,” Dr Birol says.


If Europe does not offer support, he suggests there are “other countries around the world who said they would do it with… maybe some other agendas.”

Steps to increase the social and economic prosperity of Africa will help to address immigration too, he suggests, and save money in the long run dealing with the instability that energy poverty creates.

“I believe Europe has all the means to do it,” he tells Euronews Green, “And I am very happy to say that, as you can see on Tuesday, many European governments, the European Commission and European companies are positively responding to our request to move in this direction.”

The IEA estimates that only $4 billion (€3.7 bn) of annual investment is needed to ensure all African households have access to clean cooking technologies by 2030.

To put that into context: Europe has built 13 LNG terminals to replace Russian gas, at a cost of around $25 billion (€23 bn) each. “We can solve this problem in Africa,” Dr Birol concludes.


Cleaning up the clean cooking carbon credits market

One important source of funding comes from the cookstove carbon credits market.

Credits are bought by companies and governments in industrialised countries wanting to offset their own emissions by financing clean cooking projects in non-industrialised countries.

But, as with the wider carbon market, investigations have found serious issues with some of these schemes. One recent study found that cookstove projects that generate carbon offsets are overstating their climate benefits by 1,000 per cent on average.

“We don’t want these very important credits that are essential to help solve this issue go the same way as large hydro credits in the past,” Dan Wetzel, head of tracking sustainable transitions unit at the IEA, told a press briefing before the event.

The Clean Cooking Alliance has been leading efforts to tighten up the market, with new methodologies set to be endorsed at the summit.


“Carbon credits are part of this solution, but it is not the main part,” Dr Birol says. “We are going to announce that we are only allowing the good quality of carbon credit schemes to be considered here because we know that there are some misuse of carbon credit schemes around the world.”

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