African Civil Society Organizations Question clean cooking Summit

The International Energy Agency’s Clean Cooking in Africa Summit, convened on May 14th, 2024, aimed to address the pressing energy crisis affecting millions across the continent. This was alluded to by signing a declaration and members offering pledges amounting to $4 billion to champion this transition. With nearly four in five Africans still relying on traditional cooking methods using polluting fuels, the summit sought to make 2024 a pivotal year for progress toward clean cooking access.

The African civil society organizations, in a joint statement ahead of the event, highlighted some of the focus points as the disproportionate impact of the energy crisis on women and children. In which they emphasize the need for a holistic approach to clean cooking through the integration of renewable energy solutions and prioritizing the voices of those most affected.

This was followed by a unified voice that decried the decision to hold the summit in France, saying the organizers had wasted an opportunity to engage in a meaningful manner with the people most affected by the lack of clean cooking at the forefront.

Cleaner and safer cooking solutions must be integrated into energy policy, with essential funding allocated to make electricity accessible and affordable for the hundreds of millions of energy-poor Africans,” their statement read.

According to Mohammed Adow from Power Shift Africa, a woman-centered approach is essential to address the realities of those affected by the crisis which wasn’t majorly considered during the Clean Cooking in Africa Summit.

Stressing that the session was filled with members from the Global North as opposed to the ones facing this challenge majorly who are from the Global South. Mr Adow added that there’s neither a mention of the absolute poverty and disempowerment of the women currently forced to use dirty fuels for cooking nor the development of a local economy in clean cooking technology that would be sustainable over the long term.

We need a woman-centered approach that puts their needs first, not those of a greedy private sector looking to make profits.  There is a growing argument that most of the women who could afford and access gas for cooking could also afford and access electric cooking, which can be powered by renewable energy.  That should be the focus,” said Mohammed Adow.

Yet, amidst the pledges and commitments, questions about the summit’s focus, its alignment with Africa’s priorities, and the disproportionate influence of external interests particularly from fossil fuel and carbon credits companies were raised.

Despite being billed as a clean cooking summit, the predominant solution advocated was Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG), with little mention of e-cooking alternatives. On this, Janet Milongo, Coordinator of Renewable Energy at CAN International, said that the summit was dominated by oil and gas lobbyists and continued the colonial, patriarchal representation of the continent.

Women, most affected by the climate crisis, had minimal opportunity to speak. We hoped for a focus on renewable energy to provide electricity and clean cooking for millions across Africa,” said Ms Janet.

Oil and gas companies, such as TotalEnergies and Shell, pledged significant investments in LPG development, raising concerns about the sustainability and accessibility of such solutions, especially in rural areas.

Joab Okanda from Christian Aid also questioned the agenda of the summit, raising concerns about its alignment with Africa’s priorities. It’s not a coincidence that this summit is being held in Paris, France. We must ask ourselves, whose agenda was the Clean Cooking in Africa Summit driving? Was this a summit for Africa or a summit to continue extracting from Africa?” said Joab.

Furthermore, the emphasis on carbon credits as a key financial avenue raised concerns about their integrity and effectiveness in scaling clean cooking efforts. Critics argued that carbon markets could perpetuate dependency on fossil fuels, rather than facilitating a transition to sustainable energy solutions. Despite these concerns, the summit reinforced the need for increased investments and collaborative efforts to address the clean cooking crisis.

Fadhel Kaboub from Power Shift Africa criticized carbon markets as a distraction from real solutions, highlighting the need for industrialization and sustainable development.

As discussions continue in the aftermath of the summit, it is evident that bridging the gap in clean cooking access will require concerted efforts from governments, international organizations, and civil society. By prioritizing the needs of those most affected and embracing innovative solutions, the vision of clean cooking access for all in Africa can become a reality,” said Fadhel.

Delegates agreed to make 2024 a pivotal year for achieving universal access to clean cooking, recognizing the importance of renewable energy and inclusive decision-making processes. They called for a shift towards renewable energy alternatives and a focus on empowering local communities to drive sustainable change.

The summit also faced scrutiny for its lack of inclusive representation, particularly of women leaders and African voices other than for Tanzania’s President Samia Suluhu whereas it should have had them as a majority for diverse angles at the issue. Despite women being disproportionately affected by the clean cooking crisis, they accounted for only 26% of attendees. Their voices were largely absent from the summit’s discussions, reflecting broader issues of representation and inclusion.

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