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$2.2bn Africa cooking stove plan includes funds from oil and gas groups

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The International Energy Agency has marshalled $2.2bn from governments and companies, including oil and gas groups, to fund better cooking methods across Africa in the “largest ever pledge” to tackle health issues from the use of the dirtiest fuels.

Public sector funds including from Norway, the Netherlands and the US committed about 30 per cent of concessional funding, as 55 countries gathered at a summit on clean cooking organised by the IEA on Tuesday in Paris.

Big oil and gas companies including TotalEnergies and Shell, through its foundation in a partnership, will also participate in the fundraising. Total had committed to provide infrastructure, such as building liquid petroleum gas storage, the IEA said, as had Oryx Energies, backed by the Swiss-based private investment group AOG.

At least 15 per cent or more of the funding is linked to carbon credits, which have proved controversial for the inability to account adequately for CO₂ savings. Italy’s Eni and the Swiss-based trading house Vitol are taking part using carbon credits.

An estimated 950mn people in Africa, who could not afford gas or electricity, burnt charcoal or firewood often in enclosed spaces for cooking, subjecting them to the effects of smoke inhalation, according to the UN. The lack of clean cooking facilities contributed to 3.7mn premature deaths globally each year, mostly of women and children, according to the IEA. 

The IEA estimates a $4bn annual investment is needed for households in Africa to have access to clean cooking methods by 2030, or a fraction of the $2.8tn invested in energy globally in 2023. 

Fatih Birol, executive director of the IEA, said the agency’s work on clean cooking was “one of the most important projects” it was involved in. “It’s not only an energy issue: it’s a gender issue, a health issue and a climate issue.

“Unlike some other challenges we have in the energy and climate domains, this doesn’t require any new technology. This doesn’t require a huge amount of budget. This requires a bit of attention and a bit of international support [to] create plans and strategies in the African countries,” he said.

The use of carbon credits as part of the funding for cooking stoves is overshadowed by academic findings that many credits certified by leading carbon registries do not avoid nearly as many emissions as they claim, because of over-optimism about how often cleaner cooking stoves are used and the emissions saved by each one.

Carbon credits linked to cooking stoves make up about a fifth of issuances and have been bought by companies including airlines and energy companies to cancel out their own greenhouse gas emissions. 

“If the idea is to attract private sector finance by allowing these credits to be used as offsets [to cancel out corporate emissions] it could lead to more false claims and greenwashing,” said Gilles Dufrasne, a policy lead at the non-profit Carbon Market Watch.

Birol said many of the questions about the “quality and integrity” of cooking stove carbon credit schemes were “well justified”. But he argued the IEA had “identified several main gaps in the markets” and would build a task force to examine the issues.

He also defended the inclusion of oil and gas companies as backers of the initiative, just months after a global agreement to transition away from fossil fuels at the UN COP28 climate summit.

Birol argued that if each of the four in five families in Africa using primitive cooking stoves switched to gas, the emissions would still be less than those from the cutting down of trees.

James Mwangi, a non-executive director at Koko Networks, a distributor of ethanol in African cities as an alternative to wood-based cooking fuel and involved in the IEA project, said deforestation was the biggest source of Africa’s carbon emissions. Not all clean cooking-stove projects worked well, Mwangi conceded, with many stoves distributed but hardly used because people were used to cooking with firewood or could not afford alternative fuels. 

Last week, the FT accompanied four women in Narok county, Kenya, as they walked a round trip of four miles into the forest to collect firewood and charcoal in a journey that involved steep climbs and crossing two rivers across precarious makeshift bridges.

“We come every day,” said Veronica Ngusilo, a woman from the Ogiek community, as she made the trip with a bag of charcoal on her back and three branches in her arms. She said collecting firewood was easier and cheaper than buying alternatives in town.

Despite the pledges, Birol said that having financial resources available did not mean the “problem will be solved”. The IEA and two dozen Africa countries were working on a road map to ensure they “make use of this money in the right way”.

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