IEA (2022), SDG7: Data and Projections, IEA, Paris https://www.iea.org/reports/sdg7-data-and-projections, License: CC BY 4.0
More than 2.5 billion people lack access to clean cooking facilities, relying instead on solid biomass, kerosene or coal as their primary cooking fuel. Household air pollution, mostly from cooking smoke, is linked to around 2.5 million premature deaths a year. In the past, progress has been very limited compared to electricity access. While latest data show a gradual decline worldwide in the number of people without clean cooking access, it was not enough to outpace population growth in many countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. In addition, the challenges imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic increased the number of people without access by 1% between 2019 and 2021, putting countries further away from reaching universal access to clean cooking.
Share of population with access to clean cooking
Developing Asia is home to 60% of the global population without access, with 1.5 billion people lacking clean cooking facilities. This figure is eleven-times more than number of people who lack access to electricity in this region. The latest data shows promising signs, with 776 million people gaining access since 2010, with China and India accounting for 570 million of the total, thanks to liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) programmes and clean air policies. Access rates in 2020 reached 64% in India and 66% in China.
In India, national data show the share of population relying on biomass and kerosene declining 30 percentage points between 2010 and 2020, with most now using LPG instead. Since 2015, government figures indicate that an additional 87 million free LPG connections were provided to poor households via the high-profile Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY scheme). In China, natural gas infrastructure and biodigesters development are helping to reduce the use of biomass and kerosene. Several other countries in developing Asia have also been making efforts to promote clean cooking, employing different methods depending on their respective national context.
The lack of access to clean cooking remains acute in Sub-Saharan Africa, where the share of those with access barely increased from 15% in 2015 to 17% in 2020. However, population growth pushed up the number of people without access by 10% to around 940 million in 2020, making sub-Saharan Africa the only region where the number of those without access continues to rise significantly.
The reliance of the vast majority of sub-Saharan Africans on gathering or purchasing biomass for cooking, particularly in rural areas, dramatically damages health and impairs productivity. Almost 490 000 premature deaths per year are linked to household air pollution from the lack of access to clean cooking facilities, with women and children being the worst affected. The unsustainable harvesting of fuelwood also contributes to deforestation.
The Covid-19 pandemic slowed access programmes as it led to shifting government priorities, supply-chain disruptions, energy price increases, and social distancing measures. Above all, the increased poverty induced by the crisis has led many households in rural or peri-urban areas to backslide into using charcoal, kerosene or fuelwood. We estimate that in developing countries in Asia and Africa, around 50 million people switched back to harmful cooking options due to the pandemic. To support continued access to energy services, some countries have been moving forward quickly: in India, for example, the government supported free refills of LPG cylinders. Many of these actions may need to be extended to offset the continuing impact of the pandemic on household incomes.
In our scenario taking into account today’s current and announced policies (the IEA Stated Policies Scenario, or STEPS), by 2030 there are still 2.1 billion without access to clean cooking facilities, far short of the universal access target in SDG 7.1.2. This population without access is almost equally split between Africa and developing Asia. In India, the access rate reaches 80% by 2030, which means around 280 million remain without access.
In sub-Saharan Africa, the number of people gaining access to clean cooking barely exceeds population growth as switching from the traditional use of biomass to cleaner options faces both economic and non-economic barriers. As a result, the population without access to clean cooking solutions increases by 6% from 2020 to 2030 in the STEPS, and the number of premature deaths linked to indoor air pollution continues to increase.
To reach full access to clean cooking by 2030, around 280 million people each year need to gain access – this is five times the improvements seen in the period prior to the pandemic.
In the IEA Net Zero emissions by 2050 Scenario (NZE), a diverse portfolio of technologies is deployed to reach full access to clean cooking by 2030 while at the same time reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and other climate forcing agents (e.g. black carbon). The NZE sees more electric cooking and biogas digesters than the STEPS, however, LPG remains a key solution to quickly scale up and achieve access by 2030. During that period, LPG use for cooking does not grow rapidly in the NZE, as many urban LPG users switch to other solutions such as electricity.
The annual investment needed in the NZE to achieve full clean cooking access by 2030 is around USD 8 billion. However, current investment is inadequate in many countries. According to SE4All and the CPI’s Energizing Finance 2020, only around 3% of the investments required to achieve full cooking access were deployed in sub-Saharan Africa in 2018.