IEA Summit on Clean Cooking in Africa: What stood out, concerns and next steps

By Sheila Oparaocha

On May 14, the International Energy Agency (IEA) organized a Summit on Clean Cooking in Africa. The summit was co-chaired by the President of the United Republic of Tanzania H.E. Dr Samia Suluhu Hassan, the Prime Minister of Norway H.E. Jonas Gahr Støre, the President of the African Development Bank Group Dr. Akinwumi A. Adesina and the Executive Director of the International Energy Agency Dr. Fatih Birol. It convened State Presidents, high-level government officials, leaders from International Organizations and the private sector.

While the Summit stood out because of a number of successes, there were also several concerns that need to be addressed. This piece discussed both, the successes and the concerns, and ends with what ENERGIA identifies as crucial next steps.

What stood out as a success of the summit

LEADERSHIP FROM AFRICAN WOMEN: Her Excellency Samia Suluhu Hassan’s leadership as the President of Tanzania was particularly noteworthy. By championing clean cooking at the highest political level, she highlighted its significance in both sustainable development and climate agendas in a manner that has not been achieved before.

TRANSFORMATIVE PARTNERSHIP: In the current context of division in the energy sector and challenges to international cooperation, the partnership between four key leaders at the highest level of decision-making that took a bold step in raising the bar on commitments for clean cooking—a largely forgotten political issue—is commendable. The composition of the coalition in itself is transformative, comprising:

  • One of only two female heads of state from Africa, President of the United Republic of Tanzania, H.E. Dr. Samia Suluhu Hassan
  • A head of state from a leading donor nation that has supported SDG7 from its inception, the Prime Minister of Norway, H.E. Jonas Gahr Støre
  • The head of a renowned data building organization, the Executive Director of the International Energy Agency, Dr. Fatih Birol
  • The  head of Africa’s leading development bank, the President of the African Development Bank Group, Dr. Akinwumi A. Adesina

FINANCIAL PLEDGES: The $2.2 billion in financial pledges, coming from both governments and the private sector, marked a turning point for clean cooking financing. This substantial support signifies a recognition of the importance of clean cooking and its potential to address pressing global challenges such as energy poverty and environmental sustainability. With such significant funding commitments, there’s hope for SDG 7 to be met.

POSITIVE SHIFT IN MESSAGING: The shift in messaging by the IEA from a negative outlook to a more positive one is significant. By highlighting clean cooking as the “lowest hanging fruit” of SDG7 and emphasizing the potential for achieving universal access in sub-Saharan Africa with a relatively modest investment, the IEA has underscored the urgency and feasibility of addressing this issue.

Follow up in key intergovernmental platforms: Clean cooking gaining priority on key intergovernmental platforms like Brazil’s G20 agenda, Azerbaijan’s COP29 Presidency, and France’s call to include it in the Paris Pact for People and Planet is a significant development as these are platform where cleaning is normally not discussed. This indicates a growing recognition of clean cooking as a critical component of sustainable development and climate action.

ENDORSEMENT OF THE CLEAN COOKING DECLARATION: The endorsement of The Clean Cooking Declaration by over 100 actors, including 30 governments, international institutions, companies, and civil society organizations, demonstrates broad support for prioritizing efforts to achieve universal access to clean cooking. This collective commitment is essential for mobilizing resources, fostering collaboration, and driving progress towards clean cooking goals.

Concerns about the summit

TRANSLATION OF COMMITMENTS INTO ACTION: Despite the ambitious commitments made at the summit, there is a concern about whether these commitments will translate into tangible funding and action on the ground. As articulated by Her Excellency the Second lady of Ghana, past experiences have shown that while there may be pledges and promises, the actual implementation and allocation of resources may fall short. This highlights the need for accountability mechanisms and effective follow-through to ensure that commitments result in concrete outcomes and impact.

NATURE OF FUNDING: There is uncertainty about how much of the pledged funding is new and how much supports the fossil fuel sector, with significant commitments from Total Energy (US$400 million) and ENI (US$300 million) and Sahara group (US$800 million). While LPG and gas are part of the transition trajectory for clean cooking in Africa, it is important to ensure transparency that the funding is not part of expansion plans of multilateral but is directed to where it would have the most impact i.e. local companies and women led businesses and organizations. There is thus a need for transparency and scrutiny to ensure that funding aligns with inclusive and equitable clean cooking goals and priorities.

GENDER REPRESENTATION AND FUNDING: The minimal representation of women on panels and in discussions at the summit raised concerns about gender equality and women’s empowerment in clean cooking initiatives. Clean cooking is predominantly a women’s issue, and their perspectives and experiences are crucial in shaping effective solutions. This is critical, given the current context, in which only a very small percentage goes to female-led companies and projects addressing gender equality. This highlights the need for intentional gender-responsive approaches and strategies to ensure that clean cooking initiatives prioritize women’s empowerment and address gender inequalities.

It is noteworthy to observe which entities have not endorsed the declaration, particularly the absence of endorsement from multilateral banks and UN organizations engaged in clean cooking. Additionally, there was an expectation that the declaration would recognize other important efforts, such as the Call to Action by the President of the General Assembly at the Global Tracking of SDG 7 and the Global Roadmap for a Just and Inclusive Clean Cooking Transition. These initiatives represent crucial contributions to advancing clean cooking goals and ensuring a comprehensive and inclusive approach to addressing energy access challenges.

Next steps

INCLUSION IN NDCS: Currently, only 80 countries have included clean cooking in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). Building on the momentum generated at the summit, there is a need to advocate for the inclusion of clean cooking in the next round of NDCs. Organizations such as the Clean Cooking Alliance (CCA), Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL), and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) can play a crucial role in supporting governments to integrate clean cooking targets and actions into their NDCs. This could involve providing technical assistance, sharing best practices, and facilitating knowledge exchange among countries.

RESPONSIBLE CARBON FINANCE: There was significant discussion at the summit around carbon finance and its potential to support clean cooking initiatives. However, there is a need to ensure that the benefits of carbon finance reach local and women-led initiatives. The Clean Cooking Alliance-led Responsible Carbon Finance for Clean Cooking Initiative aims to address this gap by establishing principles for the integrity, transparency, fairness, and sustainability of clean cooking carbon credits. This initiative can serve as a framework for ensuring that carbon finance effectively contributes to clean cooking goals and benefits local communities, especially women.

MONITORING COMMITMENTS: The International Energy Agency (IEA) has committed to following up on the commitments made at the summit. It is crucial to engage in this process to ensure transparency in funding allocation and to track progress on implementation. This involves monitoring how much funding is disbursed, to whom it goes, and how it is spent. It is also important to disaggregate funding to ensure that it delivers on gender equality and women’s economic empowerment objectives. This requires robust monitoring and evaluation mechanisms, as well as stakeholder engagement to hold governments and donors accountable for their commitments.

PRIORITIZE GENDER BALANCE: There was a notable lack of gender balance in summit discussions, with minimal representation of women on panels. To address this gap, it is essential to prioritize gender balance in future discussions and ensure that women have a central role in shaping clean cooking priorities and commitments. This includes actively seeking out qualified women leaders, practitioners, and advocates to participate in panels and decision-making processes. By ensuring gender balance, clean cooking initiatives can better reflect the needs and perspectives of women, who are disproportionately affected by energy poverty and lack of access to clean cooking solutions.

TAKING THE SUMMIT TO AFRICA: Given the significant leadership demonstrated by African countries at the summit, it would be beneficial to leverage the presidency of Tanzania, Togo, Sierra Leone, and other African nations that championed the clean cooking summit, to elevate a follow up at the highest level of continental decision-making, namely the Africa Union Summit, where African Heads of States gather. This strategic move places clean cooking at the forefront of the African agenda and garners support from the highest levels of government across the continent. Additionally, convening a follow-up summit at the Africa Union Summit would engage a wider range of African stakeholders, including government representatives, civil society organizations, women’s groups, local communities, local authorities, and regional bodies such as COMESA, SADC, ECOWAS, and ECA. This broader engagement ensures that clean cooking initiatives are inclusive, representative, and responsive to the diverse needs and priorities of African countries and communities.