(L to R) Dr Nawal Al Hosany, Francesco La Camera, and Reem bin Karam at the launch of 'Beyond Food' at Expo 2020 Dubai Image Credit: WAM

Abu Dhabi: The UAE and the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) have launched ‘Beyond Food’, a new joint initiative that aims to provide people in communities in low-resource settings worldwide with crucial access to sustainable energy for cooking.

In collaboration with Nama Women Advancement Establishment (NAMA), the UAE and IRENA have teamed-up to foster cooperation and coordinated action to promote the deployment of clean cooking solutions across the world, in a bid to tackle one of the world’s most pressing human development challenges.

The partnership aims to expand and bring in more key actors working on this issue in the coming days.

Global target

Today, more than 2.6 billion people still rely on traditional fuels for their cooking needs. Access to clean and affordable energy for cooking lags well behind the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7 target of providing access to clean energy to all by 2030.

IRENA Director-General Francesco La Camera, said: “Ensuring universal access to affordable modern energy for cooking is a major global challenge with current efforts lagging far behind the targets set forth in the global agenda for sustainable development by 2030. This partnership seeks to advance the financing needed to bolster the deployment of clean cooking solutions while putting the issue at the forefront of the global development agenda in this critical decade of action.”

Delivering remarks at the launch event, Dr Nawal Al Hosany, the UAE’s Permanent Representative to IRENA, said: “It is alarming that globally nearly one out of every three people today still lack the resources or the infrastructure for a clean cooking environment, relying on cooking fuels like charcoal, wood, and kerosene. The consequences of this are two-fold: firstly, it creates and perpetuates unhealthy living environments, and secondly, it actually increases harmful carbon emissions.”

Finding solutions

Al Hosany added that finding innovative ways to help people benefit from cleaner food systems, agriculture and livelihoods is essential to ensuring long-term sustainable human development. “And I’m delighted to see that, with the launch of the Beyond Food initiative, the UAE is working with its international partners to do exactly that.”

Innovative solutions for electric cooking are increasingly viable, as well as commercially beneficial alternatives. Yet, while higher levels of investments flow towards renewable electricity projects, both on- and off-grid, the clean cooking sector attracts only a limited amount of international and local finance.

Reem bin Karam, director of NAMA, said that nearly 4 million people a year die from illnesses linked to cooking with polluting fuels, and women are most affected, according to the World Health Organisation. The linkages between cooking, gender equality, health, the environment, and a changing climate “cannot be denied or overlooked”.

She added: “Our participation in this initiative will ensure women are actively involved in the development of gender-sensitive strategies for cleaner and more efficient cooking technologies, but also in achieving the UN’s goal of universal access to clean cooking by 2030. Without urgent action, the environmental, social, and health toll caused by household air pollution will continue to disproportionately affect women and children, who tend to gather the fuel and tend carbon-emitting stoves.”

Empowering communities with cleaner cooking technologies and tools is also crucial to achieving many of the 17 SDGs. That includes reducing emission from cooking to achieve greater health and well-being (SDG3), eradicating energy poverty and ensuring sustainable energy security for billions of people (SDG7) and slashing the 25 per cent of black carbon emissions that come from current methods of cooking to help accelerate climate action (SDG13), among others.

Also speaking at the event via a virtual address, Damilola Ogunbiyi, CEO of Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL) and the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy for All, said: “Estimated financial losses worldwide form the use of traditional fuel for cooking are approximately $2.4 trillion [around Dh8.82 trillion], accounting for an adverse impact on health, loss of productivity and damage to the environment.

The CEO added: “Addressing the clean cooking challenge head-on will result in a range of cost cutting benefits in gender equality, climate action and improved health and wellbeing. Clean cooking solutions also present a significant opportunity for economic growth through job creation. Women in particular are a key stakeholder in this sector and stand to gain massively from access to better cleaner cooking solutions. We must continue to work together to prioritise clean cooking in national policy agendas.”

Beyond Food was launched during IRENA’s 7th Renewables Talks, held at Expo 2020 Dubai, which convened IRENA’s Permanent Representatives (PRs) and ambassadors to discuss practical approaches to achieving enhanced clean cooking action.