New report stresses benefits of reducing UN peacekeeping’s environmental footprint

Greening the Blue Helmets. Photo: UNEP

1 May 2012 – Reducing the environmental impact of United Nations peacekeeping operations can lead to increased financial savings for the missions as well as improved safety and security for local communities and UN personnel, says a new report by the world body.

Greening the Blue Helmets: Environment, Natural Resources and UN Peacekeeping Operations,” released by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), presents the findings of a two-year analysis of how peacekeeping missions around the world affect, and are affected by, natural resources and the broader environment.

The 16 missions currently led by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), and supported by the Department of Field Support (DFS), constitute the largest environmental footprint in the UN system.

In December 2011, DPKO had 121,591 personnel deployed across those 16 operations. “These personnel and their supporting infrastructure contribute to the recovery and security of countries emerging from conflict, but also place considerable demands on the local environment, including natural resources,” states the report.

In fact, a 2008 inventory conducted by the UN Environment Management Group calculated that peacekeeping operations alone represent over 56 per cent of the UN system’s total climate footprint of approximately 1.75 million tons of CO2 equivalent per year – about the same size as the climate footprint of the city of London.

“Greening the Blue is not just our motto, it is also our commitment to ensuring that peacekeepers have a lasting and positive impact in countries where they are deployed,” said the head of DPKO, Under-Secretary-General Hervé Ladsous.

To avoid and minimize the environmental impacts of peacekeeping missions, DPKO and DFS adopted an Environmental Policy for UN Field Missions in June 2009. It provides a series of minimum operating standards and requires each mission to adopt environmental objectives and control measures through all phases of the mission.

The policy focuses on a range of issues, including water, energy, solid and hazardous wastes, wastewater, wildlife and the management of cultural and historical sites. The policy’s objective is to decrease the overall consumption of natural resources and the production of waste, protect local environmental and public health and establish UN peacekeeping as a role model for sustainable practices.

The report identifies the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) as having made the most progress in introducing environmental practices, with initiatives ranging from the use of electric cars at its headquarters in Naqoura, to energy efficient power generation and the establishment of a community-led recycling plant for plastic bottles, cans and glass.

“The case of UNIFIL illustrates what all our peacekeeping missions are now trying to achieve,” said the acting chief of DFS, Anthony Banbury.

The report also discusses natural resources as drivers of conflict, and recommends that where diamonds, gold, oil and other resources are factors in a conflict, peacekeeping missions should be given a more systematic mandate to support national authorities in restoring the administration of natural resources, monitoring sanctions and prosecuting violations.

UNEP’s Executive Director, Achim Steiner, said that addressing the ownership, control and management of natural resources is crucial to maintaining security and restoring the economy in post-conflict countries.

“There has been little progress in systematically considering and documenting how natural resources can support, advance or undermine the aims of a peacekeeping mission so this report is the first attempt to understand the links and identify good practices and gaps,” he said.

The report is based on desk research, field visits and consultations with DFS and DPKO, including ten peacekeeping missions.

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