Clean cookstove models on display. The Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves received $413 million in global pledges during the Cookstoves for Future Summit held Nov. 20-21 in New York. Photo by: Eric Bridiers / U.S. Mission Geneva / CC BY-ND

Cookstove design, production and distribution are not usually high on the international development agendas, despite the fact that up to 3 billion people worldwide rely on open-fire cooking, which results in 4 million deaths a year and accounts for 21 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions.

That’s why the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves seeks to deliver clean cookstoves to 100 million people by 2020, and at the recent Cookstoves Future Summit in New York the organization received $413 million in global pledges to help it achieve that goal.

One of the main personalities backing this initiative is former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who launched the Alliance in 2010.

In her speech, Clinton said she realized four years ago that dirty cookstoves were a health and environmental challenge, but one that — if approached correctly — could become an economic opportunity.

She emphasized the importance of clean cookstoves on women’s and girls lives, citing examples of her visits to several developing countries where she would see rudimentary cookstoves burning dirty fuel.

“Every single day [the smoke] is poisoning women and children,” Clinton explained, but the issue barely gets any media traction even if it is the fourth leading cause of death in the world.

The Alliance has grown from 19 to more than 1,000 partners in just four years. The Alliance strives to involve the private sector, but Clinton noted one of the main obstacles is the “understanding that every marketplace is different.” The former U.S. secretary of state called on companies to support innovations in design and study the varying lifestyles, fuel availability and preferences of consumers in different markets to really make the industry expand.

In New York, one of the biggest pledges to support the Alliance came from the United Kingdom. Baroness Lindsey Northover, lead spokesperson for the U.K. Department for International Development in the House of Lords, announced that Britain will give about $50 million to fund public education programs in countries where open-air cookstoves are prevalent to teach about the dangers of carbon pollutions and methane smoke inhalation, improve cookstove functions and create schemes to encourage investment from British companies.

Ghana’s contribution of $5 million is comparatively much smaller, but a critical one as it will focus on the availability of clean fuel in country’s rural areas through infrastructure development.

On the other hand, Norway will spend $40 million over the next four years focusing mostly on tempering the environmental effects of dirty cookstoves, said Minister of Foreign Affairs Borge Brende. Norway is currently supporting partnerships with the Climate and Clean Air Coalition and the World Bank to improve air quality in Asia as well as bilateral programs to foster the use of clean cookstoves in Tanzania, Ethiopia and Nepal.

The single largest commitment at the conference was $200 million through 2020 from the United States. U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Rajiv Shah explained that USAID hopes to mobilize up to $125 million in private financing by providing loan guarantees to private capital debt investors in the clean cookstove sector, while the Overseas Private Investment Corp. will renew its commitment of up to $50 million in debt financing support for clean cooking businesses.

USAID is structuring a guarantee facility to mobilize $100 million in private financing for manufacturers and distributors of clean cookstoves and cooking fuels from partners like Bank of America, Deutsche Bank and other institutional investors.

On the first day of the event, Alliance Executive Director of the Alliance Radha Muthiah noted that while “there is no one-size-fits-all solution” to the problem, $500 million in grants and financing will definitely help the Alliance achieve its goal of getting cleaner cookstoves into 60 million homes by 2017 and ultimately 100 million homes by 2020.

The $413 million mark in total pledges fell short of the initial target, but Muthiah said she hopes to have sparked the interest of private sector actors to see cookstoves as not just a global health or environmental issue, but also a business opportunity with a consumer base of up to 3 billion potential customers.

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About the author

  • Mythili Sampathkumar

    Mythili Sampathkumar is a New York-based journalist covering development, the U.N., foreign policy, and U.S. politics. Her work has appeared in outlets like The Independent, LA Times, NBC News, Foreign Policy, Vox, and PRI.