GLOBAL – The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has in October this year, launched a four-year Global Strategy for Sustainable Energy with the aim of boosting refugees’ access to safe and sustainable energy, while minimising its own environmental impact.

 The refugee agency says that its strategy would promote the transition to clean, renewable energy at refugee camps and hosting sites, including for individual households, communal areas and support facilities.

Current estimates show that more than 90 per cent of refugees in camps have limited access to electricity, making it difficult for them to cook, keep warm, learn, work or find their way around at night while also exposing them to various protection and health risks.

A lack of clean energy results in many refugees burning firewood or charcoal to meet their critical, household needs, while community and support facilities are often fuelled by diesel generators. All these sources of energy have heavy environmental and financial costs.

Andrew Harper, UNHCR’s Director of Programme Support and Management who was speaking during the launch of the strategy said, “Climate change is not only a cause of displacement in itself, but it also means that most of those displaced end up fleeing to some of the most vulnerable areas in the world”.

“This poses significant humanitarian and environmental challenges. We need to ensure that those forced to flee are able to meet their basic energy needs in exile, while also minimising environmental degradation and protecting the livelihoods of host communities,” he added.

UNHCR has been working for several decades to reduce the environmental impact of refugee crises with various initiatives including establishment of solar farms in Azraq and Za’atari refugee camps in Jordan and the provision of clean cooking fuel in Niger.

UNHCR has also been pioneering modern and innovative land restoration projects such as the “Green Refugee Camp” project in Cameroon, which ensured the reforestation of more than 100 hectares of severely degraded land in and around Minawao Refugee Camp and the creation of 175 local jobs.

The project was selected as a model for Global Best Practice for delivering on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) during the UN General Assembly SDG Summit this year.

UNHCR’s new Sustainable Energy Strategy builds upon current initiatives to mainstream access to sustainable energy and minimize environmental impact across UNHCR field operations worldwide.

The strategy focuses on; ensuring that refugees meet their essential energy needs; improving refugees’ access to clean and affordable energy; and ensuring clean energy to run refugee community and support facilities such as central water supplies, street lighting, schools and health centres.

To implement the strategy, UNHCR will advocate for and facilitate access to clean energy for refugees and displaced populations.

UNHCR intends to work closely with energy providers to promote the connection to national energy grids, as well as decentralized renewable energy mini-grid systems, to support both refugees and host communities in the area.

Some of the Key partners helping UNHCR expand its environmental and energy initiatives include: the IKEA Foundation, the Dutch Postcode Lottery and the governments of Denmark, Germany, Japan, Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands and the United States of America.