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Administrator Gina McCarthy, Remarks at Cookstoves Future Summit, As Prepared

Welcome, dignitaries & participants from around the world.

Millions of families around the world are exposed to the harmful pollution that comes from cooking over traditional cookstoves and open fires.

I remember our first conversations on cookstoves back in 2009 with Lisa Jackson, Secretary Clinton, the UN Foundation, and others. That led to the launch of the Alliance 15 months later to address what we know is the fourth worst health risk in the world--second among women and girls. How can one sit by and not try to solve it? Especially when relatively modest investments yield so many benefits. I remain driven to succeed in our fight to systemically and strategically take on this challenge, by the words of Madeline Albright, "there is a special place in hell for women who do not help women.” We'd all prefer that part of hell to be a very lonely place, and one that we never get to see.

That’s why the work of the Alliance is so important and exciting. People had their doubts about whether it would succeed. They wondered if support would come, if technologies would be ready, and if we could develop a business plan that allowed us to make headway on this persistent threat to families in every country. But here we are, four years later, and we’ve made tremendous progress with emerging cookstove standards, the release of WHO indoor air quality guidelines, stronger data to inform our strategy, and new technologies being produced and adopted across Asia, Africa and Latin America—with more in the pipeline.

That said, the Alliance has a long road ahead. Our short-term goal remains: having 100 million homes adopt clean and efficient cooking solutions by 2020; and by adopt I mean use, not just buy or be given. Our long term goal is to achieve a significant and lasting reduction in the terrible toll of 4 million lives lost each year from household air pollution. That’s why the U.S. Government is investing in solutions.

We see a path forward—from financing emerging businesses to broadening our evidence base to investing in key markets
. We see an important opportunity to support focused research and implementation efforts that will reduce health impacts today and define what's possible tomorrow. Action today is focused on more than just securing health benefits. Cookstoves account for over 20% of global emissions of black carbon, a short-term climate pollutant. Climate change is a threat to every community in every country, especially those who struggle to put food on the table and have little or no access to energy infrastructure.

Women and children do most of the fuel collection, which can take up to four hours every day. And in conflict areas, that task can be life threatening. No one should have to put their lives in jeopardy simply to feed their families. Cleaner cooking solutions not only help women and children stay safer and healthier, they free up time to work or go to school and empower women to start up enterprises revolving around the manufacture, distribution, and repair of stoves. That benefits the entire community.

Governments have an important role to play in this effort which is why I am here. When the U.S. Government invests in research, like we are through NIH and CDC, we gain the data and expertise we need to improve technologies to capture health, climate, and social benefits. For example, NIH is leading most of the major health studies looking at cookstoves. CDC did one of the most exhaustive field evaluations to date. EPA’s testing lab is recognized as the most independent stove and fuel testing lab in the world. And EPA has also been leading the charge in developing ISO standards for clean and efficient stoves and fuels. When we invest in field activities, we build the infrastructure needed to deploy and distribute solutions. That’s what the State Department, USAID, the Peace Corps, and EPA are doing. When we make it easier to deliver cleaner technology later on—that means more jobs today.

When we invest in financing mechanisms, like OPIC and USAID are doing, we enable businesses to design and sell cookstoves and fuels in a sustainable and scalable fashion. This helps grow the market for cutting edge cookstoves and cleaner fuels. Government financing is an essential tool—but not the only tool. That’s why our overseas private investment corporation, which mobilizes private capital to solve development challenges, has committed up to $50 million in debt financing for businesses that manufacture, sell, or purchase clean cookstoves and fuels. We’ll have much more to announce tomorrow on this important topic.

The Alliance represents the first, the most aggressive, and the most successful effort to date in protecting women and children from the extreme dangers posed by the use of dirty, inefficient cookstoves. The World Health Organization told us last week what our long term goals must be, and what “clean solutions” we need. Thankfully in some places those “clean solutions” are within reach, but in many, many places we have work to do to break ground.

But that’s not unusual. At EPA we’ve tackled significant environmental and public health challenges that relied heavily on taking a bold first step in a longer journey. That’s why investments need to be made in research, in field studies, and in technology testing and improvements. Cookstoves, just like air pollution and climate change, require that we learn, study, and innovate so we can make steady improvements until our goal is within our grasp. That’s what the Alliance is all about.

The Alliance is about acting and acting now. It’s about taking immediate steps to protect women and children across the world. And it’s about pushing hard to build the capacity for growth and infrastructure that are sorely needed. And let’s keep in mind that, where cooking is concerned, women everywhere will tell you that “too many cooks spoil the broth.” In other words -- "cooking is my domain so don’t mess with my stove. Not unless I’m sure that can feed my family with whatever you’re selling." Every country has its own culture, its own food preferences, and lifestyles. Cookstoves have to fit in and cook the food families want to eat. And every country and every community has different access to biomass, electricity, or gas. So we have to be realistic and aggressive—all at the same time. But make no mistake, this effort isn’t just about cookstoves. It’s about advancing the full participation of women and girls in the political, economic, and social realms of their countries—a key goal of U.S. foreign policy.

We know that when women and girls are empowered, educated, and equipped to contribute to their societies, their families and countries are more likely to prosper, and be more stable and secure. And we recognize that these stoves only last a handful of years. That’s actually good news. This turnover of cookstoves gives us a chance to take advantage of technological progress and evolving science, so better solutions get out there where they can save lives. This kind of iterative process avoids mistakes and encourages innovation. And we have to keep in mind that “people will be people.” We see old stoves being used alongside cleaner stoves with cleaner fuels. Let’s not fight it. Let’s make sure that all stoves in use are as clean as they can be.
The 12 million stoves that alliance partners sold in 2013 are improving people’s lives today and building the capacity for our longer term goals of clean, healthy, sustainable energy for all.

With other countries, the private sector, NGO’s, and researchers, we’ve grown to over 1,000 partners. We’re going to gather a lot of new commitments tomorrow. Now’s the time for action. This has the potential to be the most impactful work any of us do in our careers. That’s the opportunity on the table. I’m incredibly proud to be a part of this initiative. I wish everyone rich deliberations and actionable contributions that get us closer to our goal of 100 million homes by 2020.