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Solar power project in Somalia ‘shows UN could slash use of dirty diesel’

Thursday April 21, 2022

Dr Nawal Al Hosany spoke of financial incentives for governments to transition to solar, wind and hydroelectric energy. Reuters

UAE envoy Dr Nawal Al Hosany has debated ambitious plans to clean up UN-backed peacekeeping operations in Somalia by swapping dirty diesel generators for solar power, wind energy and other clean energy sources.

Dr Al Hosany spoke on Thursday at the launch of a report about boosting renewable energy use in Somalia, which has been ravaged by decades of war.

It is part of a broader joint effort by the UAE and Norway to help the UN cut emissions of planet-heating gases at its dozen peacekeeping missions across Africa, the Middle East and other global hotspots.

“Peacekeeping missions offer a beacon of hope for energy access and infrastructure in fragile communities,” said Dr Al Hosany, who represents the Emirates at the Abu Dhabi-based International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena).

“Because of the cost revolution in renewable energy, these missions, moreover, have a financial incentive to transition to solar, wind, hydro and other sources.”

Still, she said renewable energy was “not always the optimal solution” for far-flung UN missions, which typically use diesel vehicles and generators in deserts, jungles and other rugged terrain.

“This is a rare alignment of the stars. It behoves us to go through the evaluation process and ask: Do renewables make sense in this specific context?”

She spoke at the launch of a 52-page report, called Powering Ahead: The United Nations and Somalia’s Renewable Energy Opportunity, released by Stimson, a think tank, this week.

It highlights the UN’s first energy deal with a private company, a 10-megawatt power plant in Baidoa.

Armed extremists seek to overthrow the city, the regional capital of south-west Somalia, in which a weak central government is supported by UN and African Union troops.

At the same briefing, James Swan, the UN’s envoy to Mogadishu, said the power plant, which was announced in October 2020, would be “turned over to the south-west state authorities after 15 years [and] leave something behind for the Somali people”.

“UN missions in Somalia are flying two million litres of fuel around the country annually. This is obviously a huge cost,” he said.

“It’s a risk in terms of security; it’s a risk in terms of accountability. So finding ways to obtain electricity closer to the point of use has tremendous benefits for achievement of the mandate.”

In 2019, the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres announced plans to reduce the world body’s contribution to human-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 a dozen missions in some of the world’s most volatile conflict hotspots.

The large and costly operation has an annual budget of $6.7 billion and depends heavily on fossil fuels to supply bases in remote regions that have thousands of vehicles, helicopters, planes and ships in need of fuel supplies.


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