Compared to many regions, Africa as a whole has invested significantly in enabling legal and policy frameworks. For example, 52 out of 54 countries in Africa have ratified their Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), making Africa the most compliant region globally. Cameroon in its ratified climate change agreement aims to reduce its emissions by 32% by 2035 which is the year of her vision. The country aims to do this through the greening of agricultural value chains, sustainable forest management, increasing energy supply, and improving energy efficiency; 25% renewable energy in the electricity mix by 2035.
Here is the point- even if Cameroon has all the money, they will never reach this 32% until they put in place policy signals which the citizenry can tap to drive actions that help realize her visions as well as cut down emissions. Cameroon’s international commitment under the Paris Agreement to lower carbon emissions by 32 percent by 2035, gives us a sense of urgency to shift to the forms of energy with low emissions.
Favorable government policies can play a big role especially when it comes to fiscal interventions. A case in point is environmental fiscal policies that can stimulate innovation and investment in the energy sector like tax exemptions on solar, clean cooking stove products, briquettes, biogas, and cooking gas (liquefied petroleum gas). This has been done in other countries.
For example, in 2016, Kenya scrapped Value Added Tax (VAT) on cooking gas with the aim of encouraging more Kenyans to use LPG as a source of energy. The prices of LPG remained relatively affordable, and consumption shot up resulting in improved health, educational and environmental outcomes. One of the effects of the policy is that the use of LPG hit 320,000 tonnes in 2020. In 2012 for example, there were nine LPG filling plants in Kenya compared to about 105 plants today.
A 2020 report by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) indicated that over a three-year period leading to 2019, the use of LPG almost doubled from 151,700 tonnes to 312,000 tonnes. The 40 percent increase between 2018 and 2019 is an indicator of the effectiveness of the change in policy on LPG.
Cameroon’s annual consumption of charcoal exceeds 300,000 tonnes while firewood exceeds 2.2million tonnes. Up to 70% of the population depends on fuelwood. This is a clear indication of market opportunities for youth who are guided to invest in waste recovery to clean cooking solutions and climate action areas.
First, Scrapping away VAT on cooking gas will enhance livelihoods but three things need to happen– policy & regulatory limitations, human factors of preference & demand, and stabilizing supply by tapping local innovations by the informal sector. The policy will imply the incentives that governments need to put in place to stimulate investments in clean cooking. Cameroon can pave the way with a finance bill that exempts all classes of clean cooking from 16% VAT – biogas and biogas equipment, sustainable fuel briquettes, ethanol, LPG, etc. This will be a direct policy signal for investments – be it operational actors including ordinary citizens, to invest in these classes of clean cooking.
Second, regardless of the progressiveness of policies, implementation of the same depends on the willingness of the operational level actors who are the real implementers of policy. Through observation, waiver of taxes doesn’t really matter to many as they sit and complain rather than looking into what they can tap from the policy. Meaning that regardless of an enabling policy, the willingness and the unwillingness of the citizen’s matter.
Third, and related to the above is catalyzing local innovations in clean cooking to increase availability. Taking fuel briquettes, for example, these are non-capital intensive. Simple technologies that are accessible to the informal sector who form up to 80% of work in Cameroon and Africa, as well as the youth, can be applied to convert agricultural waste to clean cooking briquettes. This is literally generating value from free raw materials. Increased availability of such fuels will go a long way in influencing market demand because some people do not use these fuels or know about them because they are not readily available in the markets. For example, biogas access in the continent is at 1%, much lower than kerosene and charcoal. So, innovations to increase the availability of clean accessible, and affordable cooking options are an urgent need.
Policy only makes meaning when people seize on it and implement to create opportunities.
An African proverb to contextualize my parting shot – which is that “a canoe does not know who the leader is – when it turns over everyone gets wet”. In context, the uptake of clean cooking in Africa is not the responsibility of government alone, or some undefined entities – it is the responsibility of ordinary citizens like you and me. We are the ones to leverage the policy incentive signals to make wise buying decisions and choose to purchase fuel briquettes instead of charcoal or kerosene. We are the ones to choose to buy in biogas. Our youth are the ones to choose to retool their skills and learn how to develop accessible clean cooking solutions like fuel briquettes are market these to consumers in our communities. So, do not look for solutions elsewhere. The solution is you and me.
Dr. Richard Munang is a climate change and development expert and is the author of ‘Making Africa Work Through the Power of Innovative Volunteerism’. Follow him on Twitter: @RichardMunang