Clean-cooking energy transitions in Ghana – behind the conceptual framework

Transitioning from biomass cooking fuels to cleaner cooking fuels will help meet health and environmental objectives. We describe the development of our stage-based conceptual framework and how we think it can be adopted and applied to clean-cooking transitions in other contexts.
Published in Earth & Environment
Clean-cooking energy transitions in Ghana – behind the conceptual framework
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Many people in the Global South depend on cooking fuels that are polluting – emitting pollutants such as fine particulate matter (PM2.5), black carbon, and carbon monoxide [1,2]. The burning of these biomass fuels has important negative consequences both for public health and the environment [3]. Yet progress towards clean-cooking transitions – towards the use of fuels that emit little or no pollution – has been limited [3,4,5].

In our recently published article in Nature Energy, we present a framework for conceptualizing clean-cooking transitions and apply that framework to Ghana to analyze factors associated with different transition choices across stages of clean-cooking energy use. We find that several commonly cited predictors for the transition to cleaner cooking energy use differ in statistical significance, direction, and size of their association with transition across stages. This leads us to discuss the importance of stage-specific interventions to promote a clean energy transition.

Our conceptual framework is tailored to our study’s local context but stems from doctoral research by the article’s lead author (A.K.). In his doctoral dissertation, A.K. adapted the transtheoretical model of change (TTM) from the domain of health behavior change (see Prochaska & Velicer) to the context of clean-cooking transitions in India [6,7]. In the TTM, behavior change (e.g., towards the use of clean-cooking energy) is a process through a series of six stages [7]. In our article, we develop a conceptual framework for the transition to clean-cooking energy use (use of liquified petroleum gas, LPG) in Ghana by adapting concepts from the TTM model and other literature. 

Image of conceptual framework
Figure 1. Stage-based conceptual framework of clean-cooking transition

In our conceptual framework (see Figure 1), the default behavior is the use of polluting biomass cooking fuels, and the desired behavioral change is the exclusive use of clean-cooking fuels (in our study’s context, LPG). In stage 1, households are utilizing no LPG. As households progress across the different stages (moving towards the right) they are first adopting LPG (stage 2), increasing their use of LPG relative to that of polluting fuel(s) (stage 3), and finally abandoning polluting fuels altogether (stage 4). We represent transitions between stages as transition choices (arrows). The three transition choices are 1) uptake of LPG, 2) LPG as main fuel, and 3) LPG as exclusive fuel. We also recognize that households may revert to earlier stages in periods of economic hardship (dashed lines).

Our conceptual framework incorporates concepts from the TTM model and prior work from Herington et al. [7,8]. As in the TTM model, we utilize a stage construct to help delineate temporal periods. Similar to Herrington et al. (Fig. 1) and the TTM model, we distinguish the first adoption (stage 2) from the exclusive use of LPG fuel (stage 4). This is most akin to incremental change (fuel stacking) vs transformational change (exclusive clean fuel use) described by Herington et al. [8]. Importantly we also distinguish between stage 2 and stage 3 by whether LPG is primary fuel or not. This further characterizes cooking fuel stacking into two distinct stages, where the relative of level LPG compared to biomass cooking fuels matters.

These transitions may not be stable over time and households may transition backwards if they choose to disadopt LPG. The TTM model includes a discussion of regression to earlier stages [7]. While in our article we focus on transition choices progressively through the stages described, it is important to recognize that they are not unidirectional; this may be a direction for future research.

Our framework, which we adapted to the context of Ghana and apply in our analyses, can be adopted as is or tailored to other local contexts. Firstly, we focus on LPG as a scalable clean-cooking fuel [3,9]. As such, the stages are defined by use of this cooking fuel relative to other polluting fuels (e.g., charcoal, firewood, etc.). Those considering adopting this conceptual framework ought to consider the clean fuels that are viable options in their local context (e.g., LPG, electricity, natural gas). Then the conceptual framework can be tailored in terms of the use of that/those fuel(s). Secondly, to apply this conceptual framework to analyses it is important to collect or access data that allows researchers to distinguish among the stages. In our article, we take advantage of a national household survey which we designed to collect data on primary, secondary, and tertiary fuel use in Ghana.

We hope researchers adopt and apply this framework to other contexts. This requires two main considerations (1) whether the framework is tailored suitably to the local context and (2) whether the data exist or can be collected to distinguish what stage individuals or households are in with their cooking practices. Future research can benefit from examining the factors that are important predictors of clean-cooking transition choices in other contexts.

References.

  1. Tracking SDG 7: The Energy Progress Report (IEA, IRENA, UNSD, World Bank & WHO, 2021); https://www.irena.org/-/media/Files/IRENA/ Agency/Publication/2021/Jun/SDG7_Tracking_Progress_2021.pdf
  2. State of Global Air 2020 (Health Effects Institute, 2020).
  3. The State of Access to Modern Energy Cooking Services (Energy Sector Management Assistance Program, 2020); https://mecs.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/The-State-of-Access-to-Modern-Energy-Cooking-Services.pdf
  4. Quinn, A. et al. An analysis of efforts to scale up clean household energy for cooking around the world. Energy Sustain. Dev. 46, 1–10 (2018).
  5. Guta, D. et al. A systematic review of household energy transition in low- and middle-income countries. Energy Res. Social Sci. 86, 102463 (2022).
  6. Kar, A. A behavioral perspective on transition pathways to clean cooking fuels : the case of liquefied petroleum gas usage in India. Electronic Theses and Dissertations (ETDs) 2008+ T., University of British Columbia (2019).
  7. Prochaska, J.O. & Velicer, W.F. The Transtheoretical Model of Health Behavior Change. J. of Health Promot. 12(1), 38-48 (1997).
  8. Herington, M. J., Lant, P. A., Smart, S., Greig, C. & van de Fliert, E. Defection, recruitment and social change in cooking practices: energy poverty through a social practice lens. Energy Res. Social Sci. 34, 272–280 (2017).
  9. Puzzolo, E., Cloke, J., Parikh, J., Evans, A. & Pope, D. NATIONAL SCALING UP OF LPG TO ACHIEVE SDG 7: Implications for policy, implementation, public health and environment. (Modern Energy Cooking Services, 2020).

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