Can Renewable Energy Pay a Peace Dividend?

Co-authored by Sherwin Das, David Mozersky and David Williams, the co-founders of Energy Peace Partners, which leverages transformative clean energy solutions to support peace and development in the world’s most fragile regions.

What if the hundreds of millions of dollars spent each and every year burning fossil fuels to power peacekeeping and humanitarian efforts could instead create lasting energy infrastructure powered by the wind and the sun?

That's an important question that has been all but absent from the ongoing efforts to end armed conflict, emphasized during yesterday’s International Day of Peace. Instead, despite the increasing acknowledgement that there are growing links between conflict and climate change renewable energy is not a mainstay in these international field operations. That, it turns out, is a wasted opportunity because renewable energy is not only a principal tool in the fight against climate change, it also provides a unique opportunity to expand our toolkit for consolidating peace in volatile regions.

Put simply, the lack of clean energy deployment in the international community's crisis response mechanisms is unjust. Instead, the clean energy revolution currently underway is bypassing some of the most fragile and least electrified countries in the world. States like the Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, Somalia and South Sudan have electricity penetration rates of less than 20%. Instability and insecurity hinder significant renewable energy investment in these and other troubled nations, even though it is their populations who have the most to gain.

Many of these countries are home to peacekeeping and humanitarian missions, the international community’s preferred instrument for addressing global crises. These operations are almost exclusively powered by dirty diesel generators for on-site electricity, and as a result they pay some of the highest energy costs in the world. That's because they are victims of a pay-as-you-go approach to energy that is perpetuated by temporary, albeit continuing, mission mandates that prioritize cheap upfront costs over long-term savings. The result is a recurring cycle of diesel dependence in, ironically, some of the sunniest places in the world. Collectively, these operations spend many hundreds of millions of dollars each year on diesel systems. Despite this enormous expenditure, the host communities are often left in the dark, and the potential for renewable energy remains largely untapped.

Imagine for a moment though that these international missions and the communities they serve deployed 21st century clean energy solutions instead. They would benefit in three important ways. First and foremost, they would save money at a time when unprecedented humanitarian demands worldwide are outpacing available resources. Second, they would help to tackle the climate crisis by reducing pollution and decreasing carbon emissions from field operations. Third, and perhaps most importantly for the mission, they would introduce new clean energy infrastructure that can last for 20 years or more in some of the world’s least electrified places. This could lay the foundation for the utilities of the future in a post-crisis phase and assist communities to reap the development benefits associated with increased energy access. In doing so, these systems could serve as the future building blocks for peace and development.

This is a win-win opportunity for the international community and vulnerable local populations, but it won't magically happen despite the obvious benefits. Here's what's needed to get the ball rolling:

First, the United Nations and influential member states, must commit to unpacking the complex energy-related issues in fragile countries that lead to a fossil fuel dependence where field operations are deployed. Second, renewable energy alternatives to the existing diesel pay-as-you-go approach must be supported. This will require new thinking, innovation, and partnerships, including with the private sector, which could facilitate the upfront financing of clean energy systems that is currently discouraged. The Peace Renewable Energy Credit (PREC), which Energy Peace Partners is developing specifically to support renewable energy deployment in conflict and crisis settings, offers a potential solution. Third, better collection, disaggregation and transparency of data on energy procurement, delivery and usage by field missions is necessary for devising effective energy solutions, including clean energy options. Fourth, new policy is required to ensure energy infrastructure deployed during peacekeeping and humanitarian operations extends energy access and transitions energy assets from the missions to states and local communities over time.

Yesterday’s 36th International Day of Peace is a continual reminder for the international community that we must maintain a drumbeat for peace. But while our calls for peace are constant, our approach must continue to evolve. It's time we recognize the changing world around us and take advantage of the clean energy revolution to help pay a peace dividend.

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