Achieving universal access to all forms of energy: A look at sub-Saharan Africa’s penultimate goal
The Sustainable Development Goal 7 aims to achieve significant progress on access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all by 2030 with its targets on universal access, energy efficiency and renewable energy. An integral part of this goal and several other SDGs (Goals on good health and well-being, gender equality, climate action, and eliminating poverty) is universal access to clean and modern energy for cooking.
Sustainable Energy for All (SE4all) reports in 2021 that, there are currently 2.6 billion people without access to clean fuels and technologies for cooking, with 36 percent of them living in Africa. In fact, figures show that as of 2019, 917 million people in Africa relied on wood, charcoal, kerosene, animal and crop waste or other solid fuels to cook their food and heat their homes, an increase from 760 million people in 2010. This calls for urgent attention to this issue, especially as IEA reports that almost 490 000 people die prematurely per year in sub-Saharan Africa from household air pollution related causes, resulting from the lack of access to clean cooking facilities, with women and children being the worst affected.
Despite its linkage to other goals as indicated above, SE4All indicates that if efforts are not made to scale up clean cooking, the world will fall short of its target by 30 percent in 2030. Nonetheless, a 2021 Africa-EU Energy Partnership (AEEP) report finds that SDG7 including access to clean cooking is indeed achievable in Africa giving hope that notwithstanding the outstanding work that remains to be done, Africa can make significant progress on access to clean cooking with conscious efforts.
While gains have been made on access to electricity in Africa broadly and specifically in sub-Saharan region, access to clean cooking technology remains comparatively low. This reflects in the numbers, as Tracking SDG7 data shows that access to electricity in sub-Saharan Africa increased from 38% of total population, to 46% in 2019. Despite polluting cooking fuels causing millions of premature deaths each year and being the second largest contributor to climate change , same data source (Tracking SDG7) also reflects that only 16% of the population of sub-Saharan Africa have access to clean cooking. Does this indicate disjointed efforts at achieving universal access to modern energy for all, which includes cooking energy? Are countries more focused on electrification and relegating access to clean cooking efforts?
Analysis of some sub-Saharan African Countries’ electrification vs access to clean cooking efforts.
Indicator 7.1 of the SDG7 highlights access to energy, with an emphasis on the forms of energy as it outlines some facts which include dangers of relying on wood, coal, charcoal or animal waste for cooking and heating. This clearly shows the inclusion of clean cooking as part of the universal access to energy agenda/goal.
Many people often mistaken access to energy as only access to electricity while others also regard access to electricity to be more important than access to clean cooking due to limited knowledge of the topic, and ignorance of the dangers that come with using conventional cooking technologies. In my opinion, both should be implemented in close coordination. Universal access to electricity without significant progress on access to clean cooking does not amount to inclusive access to energy.
Taking a look at 2019 data available on Tracking SDG 7 website , with the exception of South Africa, which seems to be developing its access to clean cooking along with its electrification efforts (access to electricity estimated at85%, and access to clean cooking at 86%), all other countries (with the exception of the islands of Mauritius and Seychelles) including economies who have made the most significant progress in electrification have a wide disparity with their access to clean cooking. Kenya for example had an electricity access rate of 70% as of 2019 as compared to its clean cooking access rate of 17% in the same year. Ghana had the highest electricity access rate in West Africa at 85% in 2019, however its access to clean cooking stood at 23% in the same year. In Central Africa, Cameroon had the highest electrification rate at 63%, while its access to clean cooking rate is 22%.
The analysis above reflects the reality and validates the initial point that it seems more attention is paid to electrification as compared to access to clean cooking in sub-Saharan African countries. The question now is how can we address this?
How can we improve access to clean cooking in sub-Saharan Africa, along with electrification?
One would wonder why access to clean cooking has not been prioritized with electrification. In my opinion, four factors underpin this situation in sub-Saharan Africa, and for which solutions can be proffered.
Apart from climate mitigation policies in countries prescribed by their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) which dovetail into clean cooking, few countries in sub-Saharan Africa have stand-alone policies that are targeted solely on clean cooking. All countries should make conscious efforts to develop, institutionalize and implement well rounded policies that would seek to improve their clean cooking access situation. Such policies must be well-developed and contextualized, considering, alternative fuels in the country which could be considered cleaner, as well as subsidies to encourage uptake of cleaner cooking technologies by its populace. Governments shoulf also ensure that they put in place measures that will create an enabling environment for private players in the clean cooking industry to invest in their countries. This could include but not be limited to import duties waivers, etc.
- Public Awareness
Not many people are aware of the risks associated with conventional cooking practices and the opportunities that more efficient and cleaner cookstoves provide. Due to this, people especially in the rural areas continually rely on conventional cooking practices which may be detrimental to their health and the environment. They also rely on these cooking technologies due to their availability, and affordability (e.g., firewood). This requires a lot of effort in knowledge generation and dissemination to be able to effect change in this area. Both governments and development partners need to double their efforts in this regard, whiles targeting rural communities for this change management.
The 2021 Energy Progress Report on Clean Cooking estimates that 2.6 billion people were using unhealthy, traditional cooking methods in 2019. The 2018 version of the report had estimated that 2.3 billion people would still be using these cooking methods when the SDGs expire in 2030. It is important to note that in 2019, more people without access to clean fuels and technologies resided in Sub-Saharan Africa than anywhere else in the world as per the 2021 report. This reflects the dire situation in Africa.
Institutions, including Sustainable Energy for All, and the International Energy Agency (IEA) have reported that an annual investment of USD 4.5 billion is required to achieve clean cooking for all especially in Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Some institutions have taken the initiative to provide financing for clean cooking solutions in Africa. An example is the African Development Bank-backed Spark+ Africa Fund, which has just raised over USD 40 million, including a USD 10 million investment from the Bank-hosted Sustainable Energy Fund for Africa (SEFA). Spark+ will finance the value chains of clean and modern cooking appliances and fuels to make them available to more people across sub-Saharan Africa. However, there is still much more to do.
To be able to raise this financing all stakeholders must work together as follows.
- Governments in sub-Saharan Africa need to be intentional about this, while prioritizing access to clean cooking as much as electrification efforts. They need to prioritize clean cooking as part of their annual budget funding, and work on creating clean cooking initiatives or schemes that would raise funding for this purpose. As indicated above, governments must also work with private sector players to bring clean cooking to their rural communities.
- There are a lot of donor initiatives that have prioritized electrification in sub-Saharan Africa . These development partners could consider re-allocating their resources to include access to clean cooking in the region after discussions and agreement with the various countries.
As of now, a popular technology that offers immediate climate and environmental benefits is LPG, which is currently up for discussion as there are some school of thoughts that consider it a fossil fuel. Other alternative technologies such as Renewable Energy cooking solutions etc. are also still evolving. Governments should invest into research and development around these areas including alternative fuels that are available in their countries, while also working on subsidies for some of these alternative solutions that could scale up access to clean cooking in sub-Saharan Africa.