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The global carbon emissions from cooking currently match those of the entire aviation industry. And with 3 billion people still cooking on open fires, wood makes up around 7% of primary energy use around the world. These facts alone should push clean cooking solutions up government agendas as they seek the most impactful solutions to address climate change, but the work of organisations like the Clean Cooking Alliance is vital to catalyse action among governments, businesses and communities.
Dymphna van der Lans, Chief Executive Officer at the Clean Cooking Alliance, has more than once been called a “very determined leader.” Read on to discover what the Alliance is doing to help achieve universal access to clean cooking by 2030, and the importance of innovation and local context in scaling up clean cooking enterprises.
In this Climate Leadership Series, we ask experts and influencers in business climate action to share their insight into best practices, discuss current and future trends, and debate the most impactful solutions. You can read more about Dymphna and the Clean Cooking Alliance at the bottom of this article.
Rosie Helson (RH): What has led you to this role, and what would you like the Alliance to achieve under your watch?
Dymphna van der Lans (DL): Food and cooking connect all of us. What led me to the Clean Cooking Alliance is my fundamental belief that issues like clean cooking not only can be addressed but have to be addressed. Our overall objective is driven by a UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target: to achieve universal access to clean cooking solutions by 2030. “Universal” and “access” are ambitious words to use, and they reflect the requirement for bold interventions, investments, and partnerships to achieve that goal. I’m a very determined leader. I’d like the Alliance to be the organisation that leads the sector forward by constantly looking for innovative ways to address the issue, and by ensuring that this is increasingly seen as a global development priority that requires everybody’s attention.
Prior to the Alliance I’d always worked in the energy sector, mostly in the private sector, but also for NGOs like WWF and the Clinton Foundation. My first year at the Alliance has been amazing because I’ve been able to meet some of the inspiring women who are leading or emerging in the sector. The Alliance has a great programme called the Woman Entrepreneur of the Year Award, and the most recent awardee, Chebet Lesan, who owns an alternative energy company in Kenya, is truly one of those remarkable women who has applied herself to make sure that families in her region have access to clean cooking solutions.
When I visit families that have shifted to clean cooking, they’ll say three things: they’ve stopped coughing, their clothes and kitchens are cleaner, and they’re saving either a lot of time on cooking or a lot of money on fuel – all of which make a huge difference. As someone who has been in the energy sector for about 25 years, these positive impacts motivate me most.
RH: What actions is the Alliance taking to achieve the goal of universal access to clean cooking by 2030?
DL: No single stove, no single fuel, and no single business model will be the only solution to achieve this goal. Therefore, our intention is to build an inclusive industry and to work collectively to deploy holistic interventions. With our global network of partners, we’re looking strategically at what is needed in the next 10 years to make clean cooking accessible to the 3 billion who still live each day without it.
Firstly, we’re focused on driving consumer demand for cleaner and more modern stoves and fuels. We do this by supporting behaviour change and awareness raising interventions. We recently launched an interesting campaign in India, where about 22 of the top 30 most polluted cities in the world are located. We’re collaborating with a celebrity chef, Chef Sanjeev Kapoor, and some of our local partners to inform consumers about the clean cooking options available to them. One way in which we’re spreading these messages is through village street theatre. I was very impressed with how effectively the theatre group connected with women and families by telling compelling stories around clean cooking solutions.
At the same time, we want to make sure that clean cooking remains an important priority for the Government of India and beyond. In all the countries we work in, we’re focused on ensuring there’s trusted, relevant research and data so that policymakers can develop appropriate policies using hard evidence.
Additionally, we’re focused on mobilising investments. We need to build a pipeline of scalable businesses to deliver affordable, appropriate, and high-quality clean cooking products. Last year we hosted the first Clean Cooking Investment Forum in Rwanda and were pleasantly surprised to have three times more participants than we had expected. It showed our partners that this is a growing and very interesting space to be working in. This November in Kenya, we’ll be hosting the bi-annual Clean Cooking Forum, the sector’s flagship event, which will bring together hundreds of attendees working to increase access to clean cooking.
RH: To what extent are preferences for traditional cooking methods a limiting factor when introducing new clean cooking methods?
DL: Changing the way people have cooked and prepared their meals for centuries is not something that gets done overnight, so the Alliance is focused on ensuring that clean cooking solutions are appropriate and designed for local preferences. We’re seeing more businesses focus on understanding their customers, their cooking needs, what they want, and what they’re able to afford. Throughout my career, I’ve learnt the importance of local context and being able to articulate the impact of the work that you’re doing in a compelling way, not just for investors and policymakers but for those whose lives you’re trying to impact.
RH: I read recently that the charcoal-producing industry in sub-Saharan Africa is projected to employ 12 million people by 2030. To what extent do you get pushback from country leaders who say clean cooking is not a priority for us?
DL: Policy designs and interventions need to be appropriate for each country. Increasingly, we see that government officials understand the need for clean cooking interventions; there’s a growing realisation that clean cooking can address climate issues, environmental degradation issues, and can support women’s empowerment. It presents an opportunity for air pollution management and watershed management, and supports 10 of the 17 SDGs. There are countries where the Alliance and our partners will work more closely with the government to design policies that will give them the best outcomes, as different fuels and solutions will be applicable to different countries.
One of the reasons why we changed our name from the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves to the Clean Cooking Alliance is the recognition that this is not just about stoves but about the entire clean cooking ecosystem, including the wide range of energy types used for cooking. We are very excited about some of the innovations happening around electric cooking, LPG, ethanol, advanced biomass, and improved biogas.
RH: What progress do you see being made in understanding the links between improved cooking technologies, and changes in the negative outcomes associated with traditional cooking such as the health impacts of air pollution, and biodiversity impacts?
DL: We see a lot of progress being made. A lot of people don’t realise that clean cooking is critical to addressing climate change: the greenhouse gas emissions from cooking are currently equivalent to the emissions of the entire aviation industry.
The latest research, which looked at stoves in actual households rather than laboratories, shows that today’s most modern stoves are highly efficient and can reduce fuel use by 30%-60%. Household cooking and heating are responsible for up to 58% of all black carbon emissions, which are short-lived climate pollutants that have a significant impact on climate change. In some countries in Asia and Africa, cooking can be responsible for ~80% of black carbon emissions. A study we supported in Rwanda last year showed that a biomass stove with a forced draft gasifier that burns pellets is approaching LPG-like performance.
With robust data like this, countries and investors are encouraged to act and achieve those reductions. If global leaders are focused on addressing climate change, clean cooking is a critical element of that.
We firmly believe that clean cooking can be a win for air pollution, a win for health and sustainable development, and a win for climate.
RH: In your view, how important is carbon finance to the growth and maintenance of clean cooking projects?
DL: Carbon finance has a critical role to play in the clean cooking sector. It can bridge the large financing gap that we still see today: it’s estimated that about $4 billion is needed each year to achieve universal access to clean cooking by 2030. The Alliance’s latest report shows the rate of financing was about $40 million in 2017, so, the industry needs about 100 times more than that to actually achieve this goal.
Clean cooking projects will continue to have a need for strong monitoring, verification, and reporting standards because without that, there is not enough confidence in the potential impacts that carbon credit buyers are seeking to achieve. We work with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Gold Standard, among others, to translate research into best practices and rigorous methodologies to assess the impacts of carbon finance projects.
RH: What more can businesses do to support clean cooking?
DL: There’s a growing need for corporates in the U.S. and the EU, as well as in India and China, to create strategic partnerships with us and others in this sector. Their business rigour, strategic thinking, and ability to reach a wide audience can be applied to clean cooking.
We are very excited about all the innovation that’s happening; the corporate sector should see this as a growing and emerging market where the impacts are tremendous. The people we reach are located across many of the countries in which these corporations have operations, so there’s an opportunity for the corporate sector to engage more deeply and fully.
As part of their climate action programmes, companies like Microsoft, PwC and Bettys & Taylors are supporting verified carbon finance projects that reduce emissions by replacing open fire cooking with efficient cookstoves. Projects like this one in Malawi or this one which supplies solar cookers to rural households in China bring health and financial benefits to families while reducing deforestation. Visit Natural Capital Partners' project browser or contact us to find out how your company can support improved cookstove projects.
The Clean Cooking Alliance works with a global network of partners to build an inclusive industry that makes clean cooking accessible to the three billion people who live each day without it. Established in 2010, the Alliance is driving consumer demand, mobilising investment to build a pipeline of scalable businesses, and fostering an enabling environment that allows the sector to thrive. Clean cooking transforms lives by improving health, protecting the climate and the environment, empowering women, and helping families save time and money. Learn more about its work at www.cleancookingalliance.org.
Dymphna van der Lans is the Chief Executive Officer of the Clean Cooking Alliance. Dymphna brings more than 25 years of experience managing and leading global development, energy, and climate initiatives in the nonprofit and private sectors. Previously, she worked with the World Wildlife Fund’s Climate and Energy team, the Clinton Foundation’s Climate Initiative, the German Marshall Fund of the United States, a specialist investment banking firm in London, and with BP. She holds advanced degrees from both Leiden University and the University of Beijing, and a Master’s in Business Administration from Rice University. She lives with her family and two dogs in Washington, DC.