UAE launches push to clean up diesel-burning UN peace missions

World body needs to replace diesel generators with solar panels to meet its clean energy targets

FILE PHOTO: A worker walks between solar panels at Centragrid power plant in Nyabira, Zimbabwe, June 23, 2020. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo/File Photo
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The UAE and Norway launched an ambitious attempt to clean up UN peacekeeping operations by switching out diesel generators for solar cells and other renewable energy sources.

UAE ambassador to the UN Lana Nusseibeh told an online meeting that the UN needed to quickly clean up blue helmet operations in Somalia, South Sudan and beyond to meet its carbon-reduction targets.

“When you're burning diesel, time is literally money,” Ms Nusseibeh said on Thursday.

“We're in the best position in peacekeeping history to make an informed assessment on sustainable energy and then to act swiftly.”

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres in 2019 announced plans to reduce the organisation’s contribution to man-made climate change by increasing the use of renewable energy by 80 per cent by 2030.

To achieve this, the UN needs to rely less on diesel generators in its peacekeeping operations, in which more than 100,000 blue helmet troops, police and civilians operate across 14 missions in some of the world’s hot spots.

The large and costly operation has a $6.7 billion annual budget and depends heavily on fossil fuels to supply bases in deserts, jungles and elsewhere, with more than 11,000 vehicles, 132 helicopters, 58 planes and six ships in need of fuel supplies.

While the costs of solar and wind energy set-ups have fallen greatly in recent years, introducing clean energy plans at diesel-dependent UN bases in remote parts of Africa, Asia and elsewhere will not be easy, Ms Nusseibeh said.

"The financial value of renewable energy is greatest in contexts where it is displacing diesel, which is the primary fuel source for UN peacekeeping missions and the communities that they interact with," the envoy said.

“When paired with batteries or hybrid systems, renewables are also less vulnerable to supply disruptions than solely diesel systems.”

Solar energy panels at remote UN peacekeeping bases would benefit nearby villagers, who could have access to electricity from the base instead of sending women and children out to gather firewood and water, Ms Nusseibeh said.

An accompanying 105-page report by the Stimson Centre think tank, Shifting Power: Transitioning to Renewable Energy in UN Peace Operations, laid out plans for switching diesel generators for clean power in global hot spots.

Researchers studied UN blue helmet operations in Lebanon, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which is the biggest and costliest UN operation, with an authorised force of 22,500 people.

They also examined data from missions to the Central African Republic, Kosovo, Mali, Somalia and Darfur, a turbulent province in western Sudan from which peacekeepers are currently pulling out.

The clean energy project was part of the UAE’s bid to win a two-year seat on the UN’s most important body, the Security Council, at a vote of the General Assembly that will take place this summer.

"If we're elected, we hope to continue examining concrete climate-related opportunities, like renewable energy, as a non-permanent member of the Security Council in 2022 and 2023," Ms Nusseibeh said.