DelAgua COO Euan McDougall at S&P Global Carbon Markets Conference: 'Scale, Impact & Integrity: Meeting the Triple Challenge in Clean Cooking Programmes'.
DelAgua’s COO Euan McDougall presented to delegates at the S&P Global Carbon Markets Conference today (Wednesday 8th November 2023).
Read his full speech below:
- Good morning everyone, I am Euan McDougall the Chief Operating Officer at DelAgua based in Kigali, our Regional Centre of Excellence and it is a pleasure to be speaking to you today on clean cooking carbon project development.
- Many thanks to S&P for inviting me to speak today to provide a spotlight on clean cooking and to highlight the benefit that the carbon markets can bring to countries across Africa.
- Rightly there is a focus on policy and regulation in the carbon markets today but I believe it is also crucial that we do not lose focus on the benefits that cookstove carbon projects provide to rural communities and in particular to women and children. I hope the slides throughout will help bring them and the communities we serve into the room here today in Paris.
Before I begin, it is critical to highlight the problem:
- 3 billion people are still cooking on open fires on a daily basis around the world
- Resulting in 4 million premature deaths each year from respiratory illness of which 400,000 of these deaths are children under 5
- Young children, often girls, are missing vital school days to collect firewood
- Trees and forests are being chopped down at an alarming rate to service the need for fuelwood for cooking within the home
- Deforested land is vulnerable to flooding and run off, reducing crop yields resulting in lower household income
- And fuelwood costs for cooking are a significant drain on this reduce household income
As a result a solution is needed but all of this comes at a cost
- To provide universal access to clean cooking by 2030 is likely to cost up to $4.5bn annually
- Carbon markets will undoubtedly play a significant part in addressing the critical need for access to a clean cooking technology
- There are concerns over the ability for cookstove carbon projects to scale to reach the many in need whilst maintaining integrity and quality
- As part of this spotlight, I will be providing insights into DelAgua, our approach to scale access to clean cooking solutions, delivering impact whilst maintaining integrity throughout the project lifecycle
Background on DelAgua
- DelAgua is a social enterprise based in Kigali, Rwanda with more than a decade of experience implementing large scale carbon development projects that transform the lives of the rural poor in the least developed countries across Africa.
- DelAgua, like many other carbon project developers, started our carbon project journey over a decade ago with the simple mission to improve health with a focus on rural communities in Least Developed Countries: that is helping the poorest people in the poorest countries in the world. This began with the provision of high-quality water filters and improved cook stoves to rural households free of charge together with ongoing support and education.
Working in partnership with Government has always been a key aspect of our project development approach with Memorandums of Understanding always signed between DelAgua and host countries prior to project implementation. This gives us confidence in the longevity of the community benefit, additionality and aligning with key Government objectives and targets in their energy access and transition agenda.
- Working in close partnership also means we can evolve and be responsive to specific needs, and it was on the advice of the Ministry of Health in Rwanda that we understood that respiratory illness was the more critical public health crisis issue and we moved our focus to delivering clean cookstoves as an alternative to heavily polluting and unhealthy three stone fire cooking habits. The cookstoves’ ability to boil water quickly meant that families also always had access to clean water.
- Respiratory illness in countries with low levels of access to improve cooking devices causes more deaths than TB, HIV and malaria combined and is often seen as the forgotten public health crisis across sub-Saharan Africa.
- In particular it is the rural poor who have been left behind so our focus is exclusively on this group , providing a high quality stove with integrated education free of charge. This sector of society is still primarily excluded from clean cooking technologies due to lack of affordability. 90% of the population in our countries of operation live well below the poverty line, and so our mission has been to provide the helping hand that is needed to transition away from three-stone fires to cleaner, healthier cooking technologies.
- It is not enough to simply provide a stove. You must help communities understand the health, gender, environmental, economic, and social benefits of the cookstove. A comprehensive education campaign is provided to each beneficiary household including one on one in- home training and then home visits twice a year throughout the 10-year life of the stove. This is expensive to deliver but vital to impact: we invest more on training, education and support as on buying the high-quality stove.
- This comprehensive programme is only made possible by carbon finance which is generating the long-term sustainable funding needed to distribute the technologies free of charge and at a scale that can make a tangible difference to the poorest communities.
- The potential of carbon finance, and the carbon markets, to make a difference in these developing countries is unprecedented, as it brings in a level of private sector funding rarely seen but urgently need to assist in addressing a countries energy access and development challenges.
- Governments appreciate what we deliver, and we have been able to sign MoUs with Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Liberia and The Gambia providing over 1.6m cookstoves to date, impacting 7.5m lives, always to rural communities and with the education and support to facilitate behaviour change.
- It is important to understand the scale of the challenge and the need for financing solutions that can operate at the scale to have the necessary impact.
- Confidence in carbon markets allows developers to raise sufficient capital to allow distributions to greater numbers of beneficiaries in a shorter period of time thereby speeding up the delivery of the clean cooking solution.
- Operating at scale allows developers to drop the unit cost of cookstove delivery including the device, distribution channel and subsequent follow up education and support.
- By providing the stove for free to the end user we can replace the cost of sale with the rigorous education and support which drives the significant behaviour change required of communities that have used open fires for their whole lives to cook for the family.
- All of this is financed by carbon funding, which has so far funded over 1.6m stoves across Africa. We are looking to expand our portfolio countries in 2024 and beyond.
I have talked about scale and touched on impact. I would like to emphasise how critical it is that the impact of carbon development projects is not forgotten. It is all too easy for everyone to overlook the impact on the ground carbon financing can have for people’s lives; too often we prioritise tangential policy debates and neglect the communities which we are trying to help. Carbon markets can create an environment where tangible, real world impacts are felt across the globe. Carbon credits can be transformational to households, communities, and countries alike.
- Ensuring cookstove project developers continue to have the highest level of impact is key. Everything begins with the end user – there is no point providing a solution that is not fit for purpose and our consideration is always how can we maximise the impact we have on the lives of the women who use our stoves daily.
- This involves selecting the stove that is right for them and is of sufficient quality to deliver a step change in performance that women notice and value, along with in-home training and support.
- To do this we have trained over 7,000 community health workers in Rwanda who visit every single home biannually to provide education and support which focuses not only on how to use the stove, but more importantly why. This is key to empowering women to make informed and educated decisions based on a new understanding of the health risks of cooking over open fires, and the benefits of adopting clean cooking methods for them and their families.
- This ‘why’ focusses on the improved respiratory health for beneficiaries and their families, the reduced amount of time needed to collect wood and the likelihood of children spending more time in school as a result – for families who purchase wood instead, a 70% reduction in wood usage also means a 70% saving across rural communities within Rwanda.
- The community health workers that deliver this education are already well embedded and trusted members of the communities where they work, as they have been chosen by their communities to assist with other health-based challenges such as childbirth and vaccinations on behalf of the government.
- This is an approach we have also taken into Sierra Leone and The Gambia, also recognising that each solution must be tailor made to suit the unique cooking practises of the regions.
- In Sierra Leone, we use the country’s youth volunteers who were integral to providing education and support to rural communities during the difficult years of the Ebola outbreak in 2014 to 2016.
- In the Gambia, we use village development committee members who are often tasked with multiple development projects at a grassroots level, and by using these grassroots connections, we can directly access every single one of our end users. This is why we believe we can have long-lasting impact at scale with high levels of usage of the stove.
- The institutions we work with are selected in consultation with the host government – we ask them which community network is most appropriate to ensure high levels of trust and confidence in our clean cooking projects going forward.
- Carbon projects, and the carbon credits generated, are not just about reducing emissions, but also empowering local communities. Our approach involves hiring local talent as country directors, engaging with local populations, creating jobs in rural communities, and building capacity within the community. This not only ensures the sustainability of the projects but also strengthens the impact in the areas we operate in.
Driving integrity comes from a selection of levels: Government level, project level and international policy level.
- Working with Governments is a critical step to promoting carbon market inclusivity and drive investment into the sectors that matter most for the host countries.
- For long term sustainability for carbon markets there needs to be a high level of consistent local involvement and engagement with national and regional Government and to locally trained and empowered staff.
- These partnerships are also key to identify those beneficiaries most in need who simply do not have an ability to pay for a high-quality cooking device.
- Through working with Governments to assist hit their policy agenda mutual trust and confidence is created. Building trust facilitates project level understanding which supports the rigorous process to sign a Letter of Authorization which we are proud to say has just been signed in Rwanda for DelAgua’s projects.
- Regular reporting to local Government on stove distribution locations and HH support visits allows the DNA, in the case of Rwanda REMA, to do their own field visits to provide satisfaction that requirements as part of local frameworks have been met before the issuance of the LoA.
- At the project level, stove tracking is key. Tagging a stove to a beneficiary allows for confidence in exact stoves numbers in the field and the ability to showcase repeat education and support during audit cycles. The application of technology across the project development cycle is critical to provide comfort as well as providing transferrable skills to local staff in rural communities.
- Calculating and using values specific to project location in calculations including calculations and fNRB.
- Controlling the project with 360 visibility from distribution right the way through education, support, monitoring, validation and verification.
- Project Developers also need to be involved with international policy creation including the standardization of methodologies being proposed by the 4Cs.
So, what does the future look like for an integrity focussed cookstove sector?
- Obviously, policy is key. Confusion and uncertainty leaves governments and investors in limbo and is causing stasis for project developers – timelines that are set for integrity initiatives need to be abided by to provide confidence in the market.
- Policy is also a significant risk factor with international, national and local interpretation changing rapidly as we have seen with Zimbabwe in recent months.
- But we cannot single out countries in Africa as having rapidly changing policy environments; the same is true for the Global North and multinational organisations. Stability is needed across all integrity initiatives that are understandable to all stakeholders.
- Of carbon project types, cookstoves are an excellent way for governments to understand the benefits of carbon financing to improve their national economy and enhance development because the benefits and results are so tangible.
- At the project level, there needs to be a drive to calculate local baselines and fNRB figures to show the reality of local situations rather than a fall on ‘conservative’ defaults that do not reflect geographic differences across the globe. When calculating national default values, the locale needs to be engaged and consulted to build upon the great work that is being done in national forestry departments and agencies.
- Technology for stove usage monitors and other technical devices will get cheaper and better; however, there is a need to balance focus on innovation with affordable technology that can deliver large scale impacts today rather than tomorrow.
- Carbon markets that provide confidence to investors and end users alike are markets that will support the development of cookstove projects and facilitate the critical need for a clean cooking transition.
- We, and many other developers, are looking forward to new initiatives including ICVCM, the revised 4Cs cookstove methodology, VCMi, evolution of rating agency methodologies and new CORSIA eligibility rules that provide support to the carbon markets to allow cookstove carbon projects to continue to scale whilst maintaining impact and integrity.
- However, the sheer breadth of changes confirms that stability in policy is needed over the next few years. Cookstove projects can be nimble but it will still take us time to implement new policies and developers can not be expected to change overnight.
In summary, carbon finance presents a major opportunity to transform lives at scale. It is here for the long term and a truly powerful way to fund development in rural communities which, unfortunately, often remains too risky for traditional capital. Cookstove projects are scalable and deliver significant impact at a grassroots level and we welcome policy change to reaffirm confidence in cookstove integrity to create carbon markets that we can all be proud to be a part of.