Every day, nearly 90,000 United Nations (UN) peacekeepers wake up with a mission to protect civilians and create conditions for peace. They do so at great personal risk. This year’s International Day of UN Peacekeepers recognizes their contributions, including those who have lost their lives. A better tribute is reducing that risk and improving mission safety. One way to do that may be surprising: expanding the use of renewable energy by missions. In our research looking at how to support greater UN use of renewable energy by peace operations, we have found that safety and security is a main driver for missions to seek change in the type of energy they use.
Renewable Energy Can Reduce Threats and Vulnerabilities Faced by Missions
Our recent report, Shifting Power: Transitioning to Renewable Energy in UN Peace Operations, identifies incentives and opportunities for expanding renewable energy use by UN peace operations, reducing reliance on diesel fuel, and strengthening energy access and peacebuilding in fragile states. What emerged were operational benefits, such as improved safety and security for peacekeepers — a priority of the UN Security Council and nations who deploy peacekeepers. Today, diesel fuel represents 95% of mission electricity supply, and that reliance drives some risks for peacekeepers. UN supply convoys are comprised of diesel fuel and other rations for UN sites, and protecting those convoys can require peacekeepers to act as armed escorts and security. This is not a small issue. From 2013 to 2017, over 50% of peacekeeper fatalities were sustained during vehicle movements such as convoys, escorts, and patrols; efforts to either shrink the size of these movements or to reduce their frequency should be prioritized.
Expert reviews of UN peace operations have identified the need for missions to adjust to a variety of security and logistical environments. The well-known 2017 report by former MONUSCO Force Commander General dos Santos Cruz identified increased challenges to the safety and security of UN personnel in peacekeeping from 2013 to 2017. The report found that security risks to missions included threats to its supply convoys that support remote locations.
Examples from the Field
A main risk comes from providing fuel to contingents and remote bases. Transporting fuel to peacekeeping missions’ areas of operations can be extremely costly in time and effort and increases the vulnerability of convoys to be targeted by armed attackers. In Mali, fuel convoys of 50-80 vehicles can take up to three weeks to deliver fuel and food rations to remote bases. In the Central African Republic (CAR), it can require three weeks for MINUSCA to supply fuel to its remote base in Obo. These journeys are often dangerous, and the cost of transporting fuel can be human as well as financial. The missions in CAR, Darfur, Mali, and South Sudan have all suffered casualties when convoys came under attack.
The challenge of fuel convoy safety is exemplified in northern Mali. In late 2015, improvised explosive devices hit roughly 66% of MINUSMA convoys operating between Anefis and Gao, and 80% of convoys between Gao and Ménaka. At times, fuel convoys were deliberately targeted to increase damage to the UN and its personnel because they were carrying highly flammable and explosive fuel. UN experts posited that attackers “were targeting a convoy that included a fuel truck, knowing full well that an attack on a fuel truck would cause an even greater number of casualties.” The security risks of transporting fuel also divert resources from other tasks of the mandate to provide protection for logistics convoys.
Since the Santos Cruz report, progress has been made. The Action for Peacekeeping (A4P) initiative and the Security Council have brought attention to peacekeeper safety and security. In May 2021, for example, the Security Council hosted a session on safety and security where Norway called on the UN to optimize its use of technology and equipment, including using renewable energy to reduce fuel requirements and the frequency of convoys. As part of the A4P initiative, safety and security is highlighted. Efforts since 2018 have helped decrease peacekeeping fatalities from violent acts even as threats remain high.
Despite this needed attention, little analysis has focused on reducing reliance on diesel fuels, which could reduce the need for convoys and peacekeepers escorts.
A Way Forward
Even as renewable energy options are growing, diesel will continue to support peacekeepers and mobility. Forward-deployed contingents or temporary operating sites, for example, will not access renewable resources on-site or by grid. Yet renewable options are being tapped by missions in the DRC, South Sudan, Somalia, Kosovo, and Mali, among others, and that should expand. There are ways to reduce the use of diesel, and in turn, lower the risks to peacekeepers by decreasing the frequency and length of supply convoys. We recommend that UN Headquarters, peace operations, and Member States recognize and support expanded use of renewable energy to enhance mission effectiveness and reduce risks to peacekeepers. Contingents should be incentivized to bring fuel-efficient equipment and hybrid generators. Missions should explore private-sector renewable energy-as-a-service options and energy-leasing arrangements. Such partnerships can leverage different Member States comparative advantages and innovation in the field. Shifting to renewables in the field is possible. Missions would benefit from more energy options and increased safety and security for peacekeepers. In turn, this approach would help deliver on other UN goals and targets such as the UN Secretariat Climate Action Plan (UNSCAP), which calls for 80% renewable energy use by 2030, and Phase 2 of the Department of Operational Support’s Environment Strategy, which emphasizes the importance of peace operations leaving behind a positive legacy in host communities.
Photo credit: UN Photo/David Manyua