Pathways to Clean Cooking: The limitations of the SDG 7 Indicator

Pathways to Clean Cooking: The limitations of the SDG 7 Indicator

Photo: Nigel Bruce

By Rebecca Brennan, Key Correspondent for The Irish Forum for Global Health

Verena Brinkmann:  On the limitations of the SDG 7 Indicator with Regards to Biomass

Verena Brinkmann has been involved with household energy in the context of developing countries since 2004. She is currently the topic leader for cooking energy in the global multi-donor programme for energy access EnDev (Energising Development). During her address to delegates of the Pathways to Clean Cooking conference in Wexford May 29-31, Brinkmann attempted to determine what was most useful in terms of measuring the quality of access on the path to modern cooking energy services. She questioned whether the criteria being applied in measuring quality was appropriate. ‘Are we measuring the right thing?’

Brinkmann covered fuel usage, user behaviour, kitchen design and ventilation, all factors that play a role in the service aspect of using stoves for clean cooking. Access was a key concept for Brinkmann, and she stressed the need to accurately measure the quality of access to clean cooking.

The attendees learned about the ‘Cooking Energy System’ which looks at how inefficiently people are using clean cooking methods i.e. those people who have access to stoves and don’t use them or use them incorrectly. In consideration of that, Brinkmann discussed her investigations about what exactly must be measured when it comes to clean cooking. For example, when was it correct to consider different criteria e.g. site-specific relative improvements for the users in the field versus global minimum standards based on laboratory values? What is most useful on the path to access to modern cooking energy services?

Of course, there is quality of access and limitations, but she also highlighted the need for affordability, reliability and modern energy services which she feels are missing from the indicators which are currently being used in relation to clean cooking.

Brinkmann discussed three different measurement frameworks which could be used to measure the quality of services in clean cooking. Her main issue was with the indicators used to measure Sustainable Development Goal 7– access to affordable, reliable and modern energy. Reports on achieving SDG 7 are filled with reporting about households which, according to the WHO are still using non-clean devices and fuels, with that use not shrinking. Moreover, it is reported that the number of people using clean cooking methods is not growing. Brinkmann herself suspects it is the failure of the narrow focus and high ambition of indicators that have made achieving the target very difficult, which she cautions, can in turn have direct implications when it comes to measuring success and failure.