DUBAI, Dec 05 (IPS) – Across the African continent, many first-born children in poor and vulnerable households do not go to school as they spend their school days collecting biomass fuel. The regional average of the amount of time spent collecting firewood is 2.1 hours, robbing women and girls in particular of hundreds of hours in a year and crippling their capacities to engage in learning and productive activities.
“I was one of those children that arrived to school late every day or not at all. I grew up in Limuru, Central Kenya, near the Kinare Forest. Every day, I would rush to the forest first thing in the morning to collect the firewood needed to prepare porridge and then dash to the neighbor’s house to borrow fire,” Njambi Muigai, a climate activist and COP28 delegate, told IPS.
“I would carry a dry firewood and light it up at the neighbor’s fireplace and rush back home with the burning firewood to light our cooking place. In the evening, I would repeat the same routine. Discussions around climate, clean energy, and women’s empowerment must find space in such high-level forums if there is to be any meaningful progress towards net zero.”
Muigai was speaking on the sidelines of a session dubbed ‘Electrifying Cooking: A Just Journey Toward Net Zero’ at the ongoing COP28 Summit in Dubai, UAE. As climate change increasingly becomes the most pressing issue facing humankind today, countries are urged to pursue ambitious climate actions towards net zero—the cutting of greenhouse gas emissions to as close to zero as possible, with any remaining emissions re-absorbed from the atmosphere by ecosystems such as oceans and forests.
Scientific evidence shows that to avert a climate catastrophe, already signaled by an increase in climate-induced disasters such as fatal floods and crippling droughts, global temperature increase needs to be limited to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.
UN’s research shows that currently, the Earth is already about 1.1°C warmer than it was in the late 1800s, and emissions continue to rise. To keep global warming to no more than 1.5°C, as called for in the Paris Agreement, emissions need to be reduced by 45 percent by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050.
Speaking during the event, COP28 CEO Adnan Z Amin, who also served as the founding Director General of the International Renewable Energy Agency, made a strong case for electrifying cooking and its place in accelerating climate action towards net zero.
“One of the major priorities for COP28 is in the broad area of energy, and within that, to increase access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all by 2030. This represents an important strategy in our efforts to reach our global net-zero goal. Evidence shows that one of the most reliable paths to reaching the goal is based on electrification without decreasing the use of renewable energy,” he said.
He stressed that despite progress made towards access to electricity over the last decade, improved access to modern cooking remains overlooked. Nearly a billion people, or 940 million, in Sub-Saharan Africa lack access to clean cooking fuels and technologies. The rampant use of biomass for cooking has negative consequences for health, gender, climate, and the environment.
A clean cooking report shows that in sub-Saharan Africa, a staggering 29 countries have access to clean cooking at a rate below 20 percent, with half of the nearly one billion people without access to clean cooking concentrated in five countries such as Nigeria, Ethiopia, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Uganda.
Indoor air pollution from biomass is one of the top 10 risks for the global burden of diseases, according to the World Health Organization. Household air pollution is responsible for an estimated 3.8 million premature deaths globally.
“This is a problem in Asia and Latin America, but the numbers are particularly concerning in Africa. Four of the five families in Africa use primitive cooking stoves made of wood. A woman spends up to four hours a day collecting firewood, and she is robbed of her time. WHO says half a million women die prematurely due to respiratory diseases caused by primitive cooking. The women cook while pregnant, which affects health in the womb, and they cook with babies on their backs, causing lung problems for the babies,” said Dr Fatih Birol, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency.
“Europe is a neighbor of Africa; in my culture and in many of our cultures, neighbors help each other in times of trouble. I cannot believe that these numbers are unfolding in front of our eyes. This, to me, is the most important gender issue, a big injustice that can easily be solved.”
“Not only are half a million women dying prematurely in Africa alone from biomass pollution as they walk long distances in search of firewood, but they also have to cross borders and contested territories, placing them in harm’s way.
“If half a million people were dying per year in war, we know what we would do, and this is happening every single year. For me, coming from the global south and being an African woman, it is even more depressing because it is as if the world is saying that because they are dying in Africa, it is not as important as if they were dying in another part of the world. There are all these social aspects that determine how we move forward.”
Nigeria’s Damilola Ogunbiyi, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General Chief Executive Officer for Sustainable Energy for All and Co-Chair UN-Energy, Sustainable Energy for All, said that “if half a million people were dying in a war, we would know what to do, and this is happening every single year.”
Observing that coming from the global south and being “an African woman, it is even more depressing because it is as if the world is saying that it is not as important as if they were dying in another part of the world. There are all these social aspects that determine how we move forward.”
She spoke about prevailing misconceptions about the source of harmful emissions. An analysis of Nigeria shows that despite the 45 gigawatts of diesel and petrol generated, the biggest emissions are actually from the cooking sector. Stressing that clean cooking is as important, if not more important than electrification, as it buys women time to engage productively in society, lifts people out of poverty, and accelerates the growth of a country’s GDP.
PS UN Bureau Report
Follow IPS News UN Bureau on Instagram
© Inter Press Service (2023) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service