Development Dialogue: Clean Cooking Solutions for Development Benefits : Challenge Profile

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.

Nearly five million people a year die from exposure to household air pollution, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). And more than half of premature deaths among children under 5 are due to pneumonia caused by the particulate matter -- ‘soot’ that is inhaled from household air pollution. According to WHO “More men, women, and children die each day from diseases that could be entirely prevented by using advanced or 'clean' cookstoves and fuels, than die from malaria or tuberculosis.”

Traditional cooking also disproportionately impacts women who can take up to four hours per day collecting firewood. In urban areas, households are spending a considerable share of their income on increasingly more expensive wood fuel instead of other, more pressing needs. Burning solid fuels also affects forests and ecosystems, while the emission of black carbon contributes to climate change.

Once viewed as less important than access to electricity, we now have evidence of the magnitude of the negative impact of traditional cooking practices. And there are at least three promising signals that large-scale adoption of clean cookstoves and fuels is feasible now — there is more demand; there is more innovation, with private companies now playing a leading role and driving innovation and new business models; and both governments and donors are increasing their support. The Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves with roughly 1,000 members provides a common umbrella for these initiatives and a common voice for clean cooking solutions.

There are still tough barriers preventing a comprehensive switch to clean fuel and clean cookstoves. Even though there are an increasing number of different clean cookstoves and fuels on the market, affordability remains an issue, especially for higher-end LPG and advanced biomass cookstoves which promise the biggest health benefits. And while the private sector is active in both manufacturing and distribution, the burgeoning clean cookstove industry still consists of mostly smaller startups that face capacity constraints and have difficulty attracting the necessary funding to grow.

There is no question awareness of the negative health impacts of traditional cooking methods is growing. But change is always difficult, especially when it comes to something as elemental as cooking practices, which are deeply rooted in local tradition and culture, and where gender differences in cookstove usage and decision making are all-important.

Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) has an ambitious goal: to reach universal access to modern energy services, including clean, modern cooking solutions, by 2030. But, with fewer than four out of ten households in the developing world using clean fuels and cookstoves as their primary cooking solution, much work remains to be done.
How can we achieve this goal? 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.