Lynne Featherstone – 2014 Speech on Clean Energy

Below is the text of the speech made by Lynne Featherstone, the Development Minister, at the Royal Society in London on 1st May 2014.

Thank you all for coming today.

It’s fitting that we are here at the Royal Society today, because science and technology have crucial roles to play in understanding and addressing the impacts of traditional cooking on people and the environment.

Improving access to clean energy for girls and women is one of my top priorities.

At the Sustainable Energy for All Advisory Board meeting in New York last November, I launched a campaign on improving access to Clean Energy for Girls and Women and also agreed to serve on the Leadership Council of the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves. The campaign highlights the economic, health and safety benefits that clean energy access can bring women in particular – allowing them to study at night, have better medical care, earn more and feel safer on the streets at night. Without action to support clean and efficient cooking, the aspirations of economic empowerment and the entitlement to safety and health, cannot be met for girls and women across the world.   If girls and women are collecting firewood, they are not learning or earning, and so can’t meet their own potential or their families’. We also know that as women gather firewood, they can be at risk of attack. Most shockingly, and the clearest signal of the need for decisive action, is the new World Health Organisation estimate – which Maria has just confirmed – that over 4 million deaths in 2012 were attributable to Household Air Pollution.

This increase, as we have heard, is due to a better understanding of the wide range of health issues that result from household air pollution – including cardiovascular impacts. And although many more men are affected by this issue than originally thought – household air pollution is still the second biggest cause of female mortality in the developing world, after childbirth.

4.3 million is a very large number, and combined with the 2.6 billion people still relying on firewood, charcoal and coal for their cooking every day – we are talking about a public health crisis that is part of daily life across the developing world.

It’s a sobering thought; millions of people are dying from pollution in their own kitchens, in the heart of their own homes.

And so, it’s very important that today’s conference is a turning point, bringing together the latest evidence and providing the springboard for collective and effective action.

Working together is critical.

Consider Malaria – another endemic health problem, but one where international action, co-ordination and private sector engagement is saving lives. This shows what can be achieved. We need to emulate this success in the clean cooking sector, so that deaths from household air pollution stop rising and start falling.

To make headway, and to achieve the Alliance’s target of clean cookstoves adopted in 100 million households by 2020, we need to learn from what has worked.     The success of the mobile phone market and the rapidly growing solar lighting sector has shown that market-based solutions can reach the poorest of consumers. Entrepreneurs are waking up to the potential of an enormous market of buyers keen for stoves that reduce the amount of money they spend on fuel and time they spend cooking.

Last year I visited CleanStar Mozambique, a British firm which has built a business selling clean-burning ethanol fuel produced by local farmers to customers in Maputo. The difference this makes to the lives of women cooking on liquid fuel for the first time is tangible. I met a woman whose health improved so radically that she could let her daughter go to school, instead of needing her to cook for the family at home.

Working with the World Bank and donors like Denmark and Norway, we are supporting clean energy entrepreneurs through the Climate Innovation Centres. These centres offer training and seed capital to clean energy and adaptation enterprises. Centres are already open and operating in Kenya and Ethiopia – while more are in the pipeline.    There is also now a substantial body of experience on the policies and incentives which can accelerate market shifts. We have seen a plethora of creative approaches emerge.

In Ethiopia we are working with the Energising Development programme to pilot the first Results-Based Financing Facility for clean cookstoves. We hope that approaches like this can help incentivise market-driven scale up, which reaches the poorest consumers.

But with the Sustainable Energy for All goal of universal access to energy by 2030 – and so many people still cooking on solid fuels, we need to pick up the pace.     This afternoon you will be hearing about DFID-commissioned analysis into how we can change cooking behaviour for the better. This kind of thinking is essential to inform the scaled-up approaches needed to transform cooking markets. And I know Radha will set out her vision in a few moments for how we get to clean cookstoves in more than 100 million households by 2020.

As we increase our efforts, it is vital we make sure our support is effective.

Transparent performance standards and testing facilities for cookstoves are essential. I will commit the UK today to follow up on the cookstove standards work which the Alliance is convening with UK help. We need to establish a minimum threshold for the stoves we support, to make sure they are effective, safe and sufficiently reduce smoke.

What counts after all, is that these stoves make a real difference. Families need to see a new stove is worth their investment, not only saving them money and time but also improving their health.     The problem is clear, the solutions are within reach and you are all working tirelessly to ensure that they are devised to the best standards. But there is one more point to consider.

I trust that you all feel as strongly as me about taking on this crisis as previous cohorts of experts and campaigners have done with other global health issues. But to do this we must look beyond ourselves and spread the word. Your expertise needs the support of the wider world – of the public and politicians. So, whilst wishing you a successful and productive afternoon, if you take nothing else away from today, pass on the message, spill some ink.

Gathered today are participants from many sectors, including health, climate, energy, business and many more. It is in our hands to find solutions – and to make the home not a place of danger and ill-health, but of safety and empowerment.

Thank you.