BASED ON S. Pachauri, M., Poblete-Cazenave, A. Aktas & M. Gidden Nature Energy (2021).

The policy problem

At the current rate, the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG7) target of universal access to clean cooking services by 2030 is unachievable and may remain unattainable for some countries even by 2050. This can also hinder progress on other SDGs, including those on health, gender, inequality, climate and land. Financial strain following the COVID-19 pandemic is pushing people further down the energy ladder and deepening inequities. Emerging evidence also suggests that exposure to household air pollution from dirty cooking can exacerbate public health issues. Understanding how access to clean cooking may change under alternative future scenarios is important to inform strategies for achieving health and climate goals. Although there are several climate mitigation scenarios in the literature, it is not clear how the world might develop in the absence of climate policy and how climate change mitigation might interact with clean cooking access goals. As a result, decision makers do not have clear guidance on integrated policy for climate mitigation, development and clean cooking access.

The findings

We explore clean cooking access until 2050 under alternative future scenarios of socioeconomic and demographic change, COVID-19 recovery and ambitious climate mitigation. We find that the population share with access to clean cooking improves in all scenarios relative to today, but the target of universal access by 2030 is not reached even in our most optimistic growth and low inequality scenario. About 470 million more people could be pushed into cooking-fuel poverty by 2030, exacerbating global inequities, in a slow pandemic recovery scenario that accounts for 2020 and 2021 GDP estimates and assumes a 20-year recovery period, relative to a pessimistic growth scenario that assumes no pandemic shock (Fig. 1). We find that populations in sub-Saharan Africa, developing Asia and Latin America are the worst affected. Cooking poverty strongly correlates with income poverty, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. Ambitious climate mitigation, without additional policies and financial support, could also make clean cooking unaffordable for about 200 million people by 2030. A transition to clean cooking can reduce future demand for cooking energy, specifically in regions that currently rely heavily on biomass.

Fig. 1: Cooking-poor populations predicted under two different scenarios.
figure 1

Percentages of population who are cooking-poor are shown (colour scale) for model regions under the Shared Socioeconomic Pathway 3 (SSP3), a pessimistic reference growth scenario, with bars depicting additional cooking-poor in millions under the slow COVID-19 pandemic recovery scenario relative to SSP3. Regions depicted are sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, Middle East and North Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, other Pacific Asia, centrally planned Asia and China, former Soviet Union, North America, Central and Eastern Europe, and Western Europe.

The study

We apply existing models of household cooking choice and demand to assess future transitions worldwide. We account for multiple fuel use (fuel stacking), population heterogeneity, inter- and intraregional income distributions, and affordability of clean cooking options. In the models, we use data from nationally representative household surveys of select countries for global coverage. We then simulate behaviour, preferences and choices of individual households representing entire distributions of household characteristics and income into the future, by region, to analyse access to clean cooking, and subsequent changes in final cooking energy demand until 2050 under alternative scenarios. We assess how cooking fuel transitions vary by income and urban or rural location across scenarios. We also identify populations most vulnerable to falling into cooking poverty following a slow pandemic recovery or fuel price changes under ambitious climate mitigation policy.