Two birds, one stone—reframing cooking energy policies in Africa and Asia

For the past 40 years, the dominant ‘policy’ on cooking energy in the Global South has been to improve the combustion efficiency of biomass fuels. This was said to alleviate the burdens of biomass cooking for three billion people by mitigating emissions, reducing deforestation, alleviating expenditure and collection times on fuels and increasing health outcomes. By 2015, international agencies were openly saying it was a failing policy. The dispersal of improved cookstoves was not keeping up with population growth, increasing urbanisation was leading to denser emissions and evidence suggested health effects of improved stoves were not as expected. A call was made for a new strategy, something other than ‘business as usual’. Conventional wisdom suggests that access to electricity is poor in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), that it is too expensive and that weak grids prevent even connected households from cooking. Could a new strategy be built around access to electricity (and gas)? Could bringing modern energy for cooking to the forefront kill two birds with one stone? In 2019, UK Aid announced a multi-million-pound programme on ‘Modern Energy Cooking Services’ (MECS), specifically designed to explore alternative approaches to address cooking energy concerns in the Global South. This paper outlines the rationale behind such a move, and how it will work with existing economies and policies to catalyse a global transition.