Blue Helmets Prepare To Go Green

Thu, 01/04/10

Environmental issues such as competition for dwindling or lucrative resources often lie at the heart of conflict. Conflict in turn can devastate habitats, making recovery to sustainable peace a hard road. Recently, peacekeeping mandates have begun to address these issues. And work is under way at UN Headquarters on ways to deploy large peacekeeping operations with a reduced impact on the environment.

As green consciousness grows among peace operation planners, new ways are being sought to 'green' peacekeeping. The goal, according to Susana Malcorra, Under-Secretary-General for Field Support, is to “achieve a more environmentally sensitive, ecologically mindful mission footprint,” she told the General Assembly this year. 

In June 2009, Alain Le Roy, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping, promulgated an Environmental Policy for UN Field Missions to develop baselines and objectives for missions on environmental issues

“Each mission will take actions to integrate environmental measures into its planning and operations in order to avoid and minimize the impact of activities carried out by the mission and its staff on the environment and to protect human health from such environmental impact,” according to the policy objectives. The directive requires that each mission establish environmental policy, objectives and control measures to be implemented throughout the lifetime of the operation. Each mission is also required to design an environmental action plan and create a post of environmental officer. 

Key areas to be covered by mission environment policies include waste, energy, water, hazardous substances, wild animals and plants and cultural and historical resources management. Each mission also must develop an emergency management plan for environmental crises. 

Missions are to follow the environmental laws of host countries and where there are none or only a few, to follow multi-lateral environmental agreements to set their own minimum standards.

The policy is an attempt to address the fact that peacekeeping can inadvertently contribute to environmental degradation in the rush to deploy. In clearing areas for camps, for example, trees are removed— even in arid environments. In addition to felling hundreds of trees for its camps in Darfur, for example, the UN peacekeeping and humanitarian community decided to help the local economy by purchasing building bricks in situ instead of importing them. This sudden market for bricks and other wood products spurred Darfurians to cut and burn even greater amounts of forest—already in serious decline- -to produce them.

This could exacerbate the conflict, which many, including Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, have said was caused at least in part by dwindling resources. DPKO’s “New Horizon” agenda notes, “threats such as environmental changes…..threaten many States and contribute to growing political and security instability.”

The Departments of Peacekeeping Operations and Field Support are joining forces with the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP), whose Executive Director Achim Steiner has taken a keen interest in finding creative ways both to address the environmental roots of conflict and to alleviate any stress on the environment that might be caused by a UN operation.

"The primary role of international peacekeeping forces and aid agencies is to keep the peace and support vulnerable communities during difficult and distressing times. But they also have the responsibility to ensure that their presence and operations have a minimal ecological footprint and do not aggravate environmental degradation, which may be a dimension of the conflict," said Steiner recently.

“A more environmentally responsible aproach requires new thinking and capabilities", notes DPKO’s New Partnership Agenda. 

Some UN operations have embarked on pilot projects to reduce mission impact on the land. In Sudan, UNMIS and the Government of Sweden are investing $5 million to introduce technologies for the treatment of waste, wastewater and efficient use of water and energy on military posts with a goal of a 30 percent reduction in water consumption, 25 percent in energy expenditures and 60 percent of waste volume.

Thirteen missions are also participating in UNEP’s Billion Tree Campaign, having pledged or planted approximately 118,000 trees in 2009. 

Also during the past year, DFS completed the field missions’ greenhouse gas emissions inventory, requested by the Chief Executives Board of all UN organizations in 2007. Results were published in UNEP’s “Moving toward a Climate-Neutral UN: the UN System’s Footprint and Efforts to Reduce It,” launched at the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen on 15 December.

In preparing the inventory for missions, DFS looked at the greenhouse gases (GHG) and their carbon dioxide equivalent, emitted by air travel (commercial, troop rotation and UN flights), road travel, refrigerants, power generation and power purchases. (They did not include shipment of materials.) 

The findings, which DFS believes are underestimated—indicate that peace operations emitted about 1 million tons CO2-equivalent (in 2008), nearly two-thirds of that of the entire UN, or 1.7 million tons. 

Roughly speaking, the study showed that the amount of CO2eq emitted in 2008 for the whole year (about nine tons per staff member) on a peacekeeping mission was a ton more than that for a resident of the European Union. And when compared to residents of the host countries, the peacekeeping production of CO2-equivlent gases was far greater, i.e., 0.04 tons of CO2-equivlant per person in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for example. In short, peacekeeping operations behave like developed countries while operating in developing countries.

In 2008, DFS added a dedicated post at UN Headquarters to coordinate environmental initiatives, to help mainstream the issue in all operational activities and to develop a framework to help the missions implement the environmental policy. It will develop environmental guidelines and a GHG emissions reduction strategy by the end of 2010 along with training materials,—all to raise awareness and understanding of the importance of the environment to peacekeepers’ daily lives, to those of the local community they work with and for, and to the resolution of conflict and promotion of peace. 

Source: United Nations Peace Operations 2009, Year in Review

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