Development Dialogue: Clean Cooking Solutions for Development Benefits

Sometimes, the best ideas in development are staring us in the face and involve the most basic of human functions. Take cooking. Changing the way nearly three billion people cook and warm their homes would have enormous health benefits, slow climate change, benefit gender equality, and reduce poverty. And there are compelling reasons why now is the time to move from traditional cooking methods — burning wood, dung, and coal in open fires or rudimentary cookstoves — to so-called clean cookstoves and fuels.

What new and concentrated efforts must be fast-tracked for more and faster adoption of clean and efficient cookstoves and fuels?  What is the role of public and private sector?  How can we overcome the affordability constraints? How can we maximize health, environmental, gender and poverty reduction benefits? And how do we make sure that cookstove and fuel adoption is sustainable, and that people do not revert to their old habits after a few months or a few years. Join us in this conversation to increase market linkages and exchange knowledge to promote the adoption of clean and efficient cookstoves and fuels around the world.

Anita Marangoly George, Senior Director, Energy & Extractives, World Bank Group, Moderator.

It is now an irrefutable fact: that cooking on inefficient and pollution-producing stoves is not only a serious health hazard but a real impediment to development.

Nearly 3 billion people cook, boil water, and warm their homes by burning wood, dung, other biomass, and coal in open fires or rudimentary cookstoves. The dirty, noxious air this creates leads directly to the deaths of 4.3 million people each year, according to the World Health Organization. And it’s not just health at issue. The solid fuels used in traditional cooking emit black carbon, which contributes to climate change; inefficient stoves encourage deforestation and disproportionately impact women, and squander precious financial resources.

While the multi-sector benefits of clean cooking make a very compelling case for action, they also make it a very complex issue that is impossible to drive from one sector alone. As a result, the clean cooking agenda does not fall neatly into any one area. The World Bank Group, as a global development organization, is well-positioned to tackle these types of multi-sectoral challenges. The World Bank has already started clean cooking programs in Africa, East and South Asia and Central America, and is now scaling up support for these programs, working closely with the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves (GACC).

I am delighted that Radha Muthiah, the Executive Director of GACC is joining us in this panel and will help me lead this discussion. We believe that clean and efficient cooking solutions are ready for real expansion now. We are looking forward to a vibrant discussion to deepen our understanding of how we can accelerate adoption of clean cookstoves and fuels and maximize development benefits for their users, as well as for the broader environment.

We invite you to ask questions, raise issues that haven’t been brought up and share your practical experiences and ideas about what has worked and what hasn’t.

Radha Mutthiah, Executive Director, Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, on the challenges and opportunities in meeting the Alliance's goals for 2020.

Four years ago, when the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves (Alliance) was first launched, the issue of household air pollution and the enormous health toll that the smoke from traditional cookstoves and fuels took on the lives of women and their families in the developing world was little known and scarcely funded. Hundreds of millions of women were literally risking their lives each day to cook food for their families over inefficient cookstoves and polluting open fires, and spending hours gathering fuel at often great personal risk. Further, the environmental toll in terms of land degradation, deforestation, and air pollution was poorly documented and largely ignored by the donor community. Just a few years later, and with tremendous support from the Alliance’s base of over 1000 diverse global partners, tremendous progress has been made to develop new markets for clean cookstoves and fuels, support the growth of entrepreneurs in the sector, build the evidence base for increased public and private engagement, and develop standards and testing procedures to provide more certainty to donors, investors, and consumers alike.

The Alliance has been at the forefront of this change and I am pleased to report that today there are at least 20 million households using cleaner and more efficient cookstoves and fuels than there were when we first launched in 2010. This growth reflects support for our market-based approach from partners such as the World Bank, as well as new and exciting cookstove technologies and modern fuels, our donors’ continued generosity and faith in our approach, demonstrated value for our investors, and of course, growing consumer demand. As the Alliance moves into Phase 2 of its10-year strategic plan marked by the upcoming Cookstoves Future Summit on November 20 and 21, I am looking forward to continued momentum to scale the clean cooking sector, and the engagement of new partners to address this important global issue. I am delighted to be invited to co-chair this virtual development dialogue with Anita and the Bank, and to further explore with our esteemed panelists some of the challenges and opportunities in meeting the Alliance’s clean cookstoves and fuels adoption goal of 100 million households by 2020.

Kirk R. Smith, Professor of Global Environmental Health, University of California, Berkeley, on finding solutions in biomass cookfuel vs. gas and electric stoves.

For six decades, biomass cookfuel use has been treated as an energy problem, now often framed in terms of energy access, but largely with the idea that better stoves can improve biomass fuel utilization (i.e. attempting to make the available fuel clean). 

Progress has been made in improving fuel efficiency for millions, notably in large national programs, but evidence in recent years indicates that 1) although advanced in many ways, better biomass stoves, particularly in portable form, are still not widely accepted in many settings- low usage, deteriorated performance, and stacking are prevalent; 2) it is difficult to reliably burn biomass cleanly in simple devices using loose biomass and a simple chimney is not enough to protect health in most households; and 3) the health evidence now shows not only that with 4 million premature deaths each year it is largest environmental health hazard in the world, but across all the major disease categories it is necessary to reduce long-term emissions by factors of 20-30, not just 2-5, to achieve serious health benefits. The result is that little reduction in the large global burden of disease from household air pollution, due to cooking with solid fuels, has occurred from better biomass stoves, in spite of other benefits they many bring, such as safety and fuel savings.

In addition to working harder to develop better biomass stoves, a task that will soon be better informed by the stringent new WHO Indoor Air Quality Guidelines, the clean cooking community should recognize that another solution is at hand  – gas and electric stoves. These cook every possible cuisine for 60% of the world’s households already. Steady progress has been made in recent decades in increasing this percentage, but sadly only just keeping up with population growth globally. About 2.8 billion are stuck with biomass fuel and coal today, just as 25 years ago. Increasing the introduction rate of these clean fuels above the population growth rates needs to be a policy goal.

Slowing population growth rates and continued urbanization will actually make this job easier. New gas and electric appliances and other technologies, better distribution networks, pay as you go schemes, e-enabled targeting of discounts for poor households, and the natural desire of people to move to aspirational products can be tapped to accelerate this process. “Making the clean available” needs to be a much bigger part of the picture.

Kimball Chen, President of the World LPG Association and Chairman of the Global LPG Partnership, on supporting sustainable LPG use.





Leading health and development experts support the use of LPG  as a preferred clean cooking solution wherever its affordability and supply reliability can be assured.

Global evidence demonstrates that affordable, sustainable LPG supply and matching widespread consumer demand  will develop if:
                 1.     the proper policies are created and maintained and the proper regulations are established and enforced,
                 2.     a reasonable percentage of the population has a certain minimum household cash  income,
                 3.     the society effectively targets financial assistance to the poor who can not afford the full equipment cost to use LPG.

LPG use can be further increased through mechanisms such as subsidizing regular refills of fuel for the poorest. In such circumstances, the private sector will invest, competition will exist, equitable, sustainable long-term commercial relationships will exist between suppliers and consumer and the use of LPG will grow. In many cases, the speed of market development can be increased by Development Finance Institution assistance early on, to create a critical mass of primary supply infrastructure and consumer finance availability.

Around the globe, LPG markets on a large scale have been created in countries  which vary greatly in their political, economic and cultural characteristics.  However all those successes exhibit  those important enabling environment traits described above.  Examples of large- scale consumer transitions from traditional solid fuels to LPG  include Indonesia, India, China, Turkey, Brazil, Morocco, as well as others. In many developing regions, the income level needed for widespread household adoption and sustained use of LPG is no higher than that needed to buy for cash on a regular basis the equivalent heating value of wood and charcoal.  

In many developing regions, LPG is viewed by consumers as an aspirational fuel. This  translates into a willingness to increase the allocation of  household income to energy, in order to receive LPG's actual and perceived benefits compared with traditional fuels.  Initiatives in rural areas in several countries are demonstrating that even where the primary fuel is gathered wood, a portion of households will find ways to purchase LPG if it is accessible. Increased affordability then drives increased household LPG use.

LPG market development should be made the priority goal in many regions because its characteristics include:
                    1.  low infrastructure costs compared to other modern energy choices such as electricity both on-grid  and off-grid, bio-fuels and hydroelectric
                    2. The existence of easily replicable, financeable, proven business models
                    3.  the technology is well-known and proven
                    4.  low incidence of accidents is the norm when best practices are established, taught and enforced
                    5.  economies of scale are possible, even in early stages of market development, if the right policies are in place
                    6.  sources of LPG are diverse and global.

         A final point: creating more access to LPG is highly likely to be the intervention that delivers fastest the largest scale of increased access to affordable clean cooking energy.

Professor Li Jingming, Director, Division of Renewable Energy, Rural Energy and Environment Agency (REEA), Ministry of Agriculture (MOA), Government of China, on China's experiences in improving clean cooking practices.

First of all, I am very glad to be invited to be a panelist for the Development Dialogue on Clean and Efficient Cooking Solutions. I would like to share my experience of 30 years on improved and clean stove development and make my contributions to the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves with its goal.

In fact, the Chinese government always supports the development of clean stoves with a large input, in policy, finance, R&D and standard aspects. From the 70s of last century, a national program on clean stove development had been implemented nationwide at a large scale, and most local governments have their own improved/clean stove programs at the provincial level. By the end of 2013, more than 160 million improved/clean stoves have been installed in the whole country, which are more efficiencient and produce lower emissions. I consider that the national program has become a 'best' program because of its duration, the large population it addresses and the best effect it has on energy saving and environmental protection. At the same time, due to China's large population and vast territory, there are many different kind of living habits, economic status, cultural backgrounds, improved/clean stoves in China that have been developed diversely. For example, coal, charcoal, firewood, straw, biogas, LPG and natural gas could be used as fuel respectively, and not only for cooking but also for heating or for both.

As one of the developing countries, I think China already has a large number of practical experiences after more than 40 years, and a large-scale industry production capacity on improved/clean stove development. I would like to use this platform to share Chinese experiences, technologies and products with all the partners and contribute my ideas and efforts for improved/clean stove development.


Ken Newcombe, CEO of C-Quest Capital, on public-private efforts to provide cleaner cookstoves in developing countries.

Providing cleaner, more efficient cookstoves to millions of low income households in developing countries appears to be a swift and effective way of addressing a multitude of local and global environmental problems, while materially improving the health and well being of women and children. Yet the promise of quick wins has proven beguilingly elusive. However, the tide is turning. Momentum is building to finally capture the opportunity of cleaner more efficient cookstoves, and strategic public-private partnerships are key to maintain it and finally realize its extraordinary promise.
Drivers of this new momentum are a dramatic change in stove technology and a new awareness of multiple benefit streams from its deployment.
On the technology front, the rapid growth in commercial availability worldwide of high-end aspirational metal charcoal and wood stoves is a key factor. On the benefit side, the justifications used for cookstove projects in the 70s and 80s, of fuel savings and reduced forest and land degradation, are now complemented by the benefits of climate change mitigation and adaptation, including black carbon abatement, and reduction in the burden of disease from reduced exposure to PM 2.5 and carbon monoxide. Increased awareness and quantification of these benefits changes the narrative in support of public policy reform and private investment to enable a new breed of public-private partnerships to drive new and additional funding to the cookstoves sector.
While prospects are good for market penetration of modern biomass cookstove technology in urban areas on a fully commercial basis, driven by increased scarcity and prices for firewood and charcoal, in the much the larger rural population it's a different story. There, creating or restoring markets under results based financing for both climate and health benefits is crucial to stimulate private investment. This is the once and future revolution we must provoke through the current dialogue.


José Andrés, Chef and Culinary Ambassador to the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, on the importance of solar and alternate cooking methods.

I remember one of the first times I traveled to Haiti, I was lucky enough to join a game of soccer with a group of kids in the area. I had my solar cooker, and as I was setting up this humongous thing that looked like it was from outer space, they circled around me screaming “blan, blan,”which means foreigner, and asked me to join their game. We played until the food was ready, when I called them over to eat. They were shy at first, but they quickly dug in and showed me the most beautiful smiles, full of joy.

Clean cooking is a very powerful thing, but it is still a very new idea. People are so accustomed to cooking with fire, just as humanity has done for thousands of years, that it is no surprise that these communities might be a little shy to it, just as those Haitian children were.  And it’s not easy to convince people to change their methods to something they have never seen or heard of. That’s why it’s important that we spend the time educating these communities that could most benefit, and that’s something I know the Global Alliance and its more than 1,000 diverse global partners can achieve.

In order to replace 100 million homes with clean energy by 2020, we need to be pragmatic. Simply telling people that it’s the better way is not going to work – they tend to be set in their ways. In order to get them to adapt, we have to give them reasons, reasons that they can relate to, for why clean cookstoves matter and how they can make a positive difference in their lives.

New Question
What motivates people to switch to cleaner and more efficient stoves?