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Lagos — Despite her well-honed sales pitch, Aanu Ajayi is often met by scepticism when out selling energy-efficient stoves in the Nigerian city of Lagos, highlighting some of the hurdles Africa faces in switching to climate-friendly cooking.

“I had to do live demos in their kitchens and restaurants before I could sell any of the stoves,” Ajayi said as she unpacked the gleaming steel stoves from their boxes, adding that attitudes were slowly changing. “The women see that it doesn’t give out black smoke or heat up their kitchen like the firewood they use,” she said.

Cooking accounts for 2% of planet-heating emissions — about as much as air travel or shipping — and air pollution from cooking with dirty fuels contributes to 3.7-million premature deaths globally every year, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

In Africa, the push towards climate-friendly cooking has lagged global progress — something the IEA hopes to reverse at a summit in Paris on Tuesday that aims to raise $4bn in annual pledges for green cooking projects across the continent.

About 80% of African households — or about a billion people — still cook using smoky, high-emissions fuels such as wood, paraffin, charcoal and dung, which contribute to climate change and take a particularly heavy toll on women’s health, the IEA says.

Many are reluctant to give up the old-fashioned stoves and charcoal pots they have used for decades, unconvinced about the potential health benefits of swapping to a modern replacement.

But it is mostly the cost that puts off Ajayi’s potential customers — most of whom are housewives or snack vendors in her low-income neighbourhood of Lagos. Her cheapest stove costs 42,000 naira ($30), which is way above the monthly national minimum wage of 30,000 naira.

“Most families don’t have that kind of money lying around. They need a year to save that much,” she said.

Free stoves

Access to modern and less polluting cooking equipment is rising in Asia and Latin America, but inadequate financing and a dearth of government initiatives has left Africa behind, the IEA says.

The distribution of free stoves and government subsidies on cylinders of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) — a cleaner fuel — was key to the success of India, China and Indonesia in halving the number of people without clean cooking access, the agency says.

“What we think is most important was getting a clear signal from high up in these governments that this is a priority and that they are going to put specific resources and attention behind this,” said Daniel Wetzel, the head of the IEA’s sustainable transitions unit.

Wetzel said Tuesday’s summit would yield aid commitments in the form of grants or low-cost loans or big investments that support cleaner energy infrastructure such as bioethanol and LPG facilities, and announcements of plans to manufacture cost-effective cook stoves in Africa.

As countries work to meet their emissions-cutting targets in line with the Paris Agreement, many are seeking to promote the use of cooking stoves that emit less carbon dioxide (CO2) by using gas, biomass pellets and electricity.

Dirty, low-tech cooking stoves emit 2 tonnes and 6 tonnes of CO2 annually, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency, and improving that technology can cut emissions by 50%-80%.

Switch households

In Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, access to clean stoves is included in its nationally determined contributions, a set of policy targets in line with the Paris Agreement. Under the plans, the oil-exporting nation aims to switch half of households to stoves fired by LPG and upgrade 13% of homes with improved cook stoves by 2030.

But despite sitting on Africa’s largest gas reserves of more than 5.6-trillion cubic metres, Nigeria burns off about 8.5-million cubic metres daily due to inadequate processing facilities, and relies heavily on LPG imports.

The price of a 12.5kg LPG canister doubled to 12,500 naira — out of reach of many Nigerian families — as gas prices rose globally and the government axed a fuel subsidy last year.

Such issues highlight some of the challenges of boosting cleaner cooking fuel consumption in Africa, said Mikael Melin from SEforALL, a UN initiative on energy access in several Global South countries.

Instead of relying on imports, he urged governments to consider home-grown solutions that connect energy efficient cookstoves with off-grid options such as solar panels to boost access.

“If you just rely on importing your cooking fuel from somewhere, that provides a one-way traffic of money out from your country, but if you’re looking at home-grown solutions ... you’ll be able to create those business opportunities,” he said.


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