G20 Executive Talk Series

Health and Development


Health and Development


Authored by: Kimball Chen

Africa Targets Clean Cooking

Energy access in Africa is not only a matter of energy policy, it is an urgent health priority.

In 2017, with the promise of continued strong European support to drive progress on the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and with Germany presiding over the G20, it is an opportune moment to highlight the need to tackle the issue of household air pollution derived from cooking smoke. This is a key development issue that has risen to the forefront of the global development stage.

Recent WHO estimates show that between three and four million people per year – mostly women and children – die prematurely from the effects of household air pollution caused by cooking with solid fuels, almost exclusively in low and middle income countries. WHO reports also show that more than half of the premature deaths caused by pneumonia in children under the age of five are caused by soot inhaled due to household air pollution.

Across Africa it is a quiet, yet urgent, health crisis, punctuated by the sounds of wheezing from a child struggling to breathe.

There has been significant renewed international attention around the issue of energy access – including clean cooking – in recent years, leading to the adoption of UN sustainable Development Goal 7 (SDG7) focused on ensuring universal access to energy by 2030. Recent Sustainable Energy for All Global Tracking Framework reports developed by the World Bank reveal continued progress in access to electricity across the developing world, and particularly on the continent of Africa. But cooking energy access – and the health benefits it can bring – is not faring so well. Between 2010-2012, while 125 million people globally gained access to cleaner cooking fuels, predominantly in urban areas, the population increased by 138 million, negating those gains. Clearly, something must change.

The slow adoption rate for clean cooking technologies and fuels means progress is not yet on track to reach SDG7. This means that more people will cook using smoky solid fuels that take a toll on the environment and climate, due to CO2 and black carbon emissions, and that exacerbate deforestation. Equally, and arguably most, importantly their own – and their children’s – health will suffer as a result.

At the same time, these sobering data present an opportunity: The ability to influence a younger generation growing up, who are not locked into traditional ways of cooking. They are more likely to be open to adopting a new approach, embracing cleaner technologies and fuels.

Recent studies have re-confirmed the health benefits derived from cooking with “BLEN” fuels – biofuels, clean burning LPG, electricity and natural gas, and the inability of solid fuels like wood and charcoal for cooking purposes to provide equivalent benefits, even when utilizing improved stoves. While a move away from fossil fuel use is a global imperative for electricity generation, in the context of clean cooking, leading global scientists and public health experts have recognized the benefits of LPG, especially, as a clean burning, low carbon, highly scalable and climate friendly solution.

Across Africa, countries from Cameroon to Kenya recognize the need to drive progress on cooking energy access, and to embrace clean-burning fuels. They have established targets for cooking with LPG to help as many of their people as can successfully make this transition (with or without subsidies) to do so. According to targets developed in country action plans formulated under the Sustainable Energy for All Initiative, countries like Cabo Verde have established goals for almost exclusive LPG use by their population. Cameroon has recently adopted a goal of 58% LPG penetration, up from 12% today, and Kenya has adopted a goal of 36% from an initial 11%. Burkina Faso and Niger have very high LPG targets for urban areas, and Nigeria and Togo include LPG as a key fuel in their mix to reach 80% and 75% clean cooking by 2030, respectively.

These countries clearly see the challenge. How can we best support them in this change process?

Across Africa, countries from Cameroon to Kenya recognize the need to drive progress on cooking energy access, and to embrace clean-burning fuels. They have established targets for cooking with LPG to help as many of their people as can successfully make this transition (with or without subsidies) to do so.

Recent work with the government of Cameroon by the Global LPG Partnership has shown that strong political will can drive the process of policy reform and national planning required to support more rapid uptake of clean burning cooking fuels and technologies. In the context of Cameroon this is not only drive by development objectives but by a recognition of the need to address increasing deforestation. This has led to Cameroon’s adoption late last year of its first national LPG Master Plan. Investment in infrastructure across the supply chain – from port expansion to LPG cylinder filling plants – is also needed to ensure that the major advantages of LPG for clean cooking can be fully utilized, and help drive national economic development across the full LPG supply chain. Equally, innovative micro-financing schemes can assist low income households with managing the upfront costs of the transition. Mobile money technologies enabling Pay As You Go approaches are showing early promise in this sector. Educating younger people in particular about the benefits of adopting clean burning fuels for cooking, and helping them know how to embrace clean fuels safely and sustainably will also need to be a key part of combined efforts moving forward, and thoughtful planning across the full supply chain can help enhance gender inclusion.

With G20 support to strengthen international engagement on energy access, and particularly to embrace low carbon solutions like LPG for cooking, which is already used by half of the word, Africa’s children – and the world as a whole – can breathe more easily.

Kimball Chen is Chairman of Energy Transportation Group, Inc. (“ETG”) which develops liquefied natural gas (“LNG”) and liquefied petroleum gas (“LPG”) projects. He presently serves as Chairman of The Global LPG Partnership, a UN supported Public Private Partnership leading global efforts to provide LPG to 1 billion people. Mr. Chen served as President of the World LPG Association (“WLPGA”), the global LPG industry association, 2012-2015. He advises governments on LNG and LPG policy issues and also serves on the International Chamber of Commerce G20 CEO Advisory Group, which provides policy recommendations to the G20 heads of state. Mr. Chen graduated from Harvard University with a B.A. (Magna Cum Laude) in 1973 and with an MBA in 1978.