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Renewable Energy for peace

Promoting the use of renewable energy as a tool for peace building and conflict prevention in conflict-risk, climate vulnerable areas.

Photo of Dan Kammen
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The Program on Conflict, Climate Change and Green Development is a new initiative bringing together expertise in conflict resolution, climate change and renewable energy. We are developing new thinking and inter-disciplinary approaches to help address the growing overlap between the impacts of climate change and violent conflict. Housed in UC-Berkeley’s Renewable and Appropriate Energy Lab (RAEL), the Program is focused on promoting and implementing renewable energy as a tool for peace building and conflict prevention in fragile conflict-risk and post-conflict settings. The international community can support local peace-building through the role that renewable energy can play in education, business, and sustainable water and agricultural systems.

The Program launched in 2016 based on a recognition that the countries and regions most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change – in Africa, the Middle East and South Asia – were also those most vulnerable to cycles of conflict. With a rise in violence around the world, record high numbers of forcibly displaced persons and global humanitarian expenditures, the relevant international institutions working on conflict prevention/resolution are struggling to keep up and have yet to meaningfully adapt to this new reality. Meanwhile, the global response to climate change has been overwhelmingly focused on the worst polluting countries rather than the worst affected: less than 10% of all global climate financing goes to Africa, the Middle East and South Asia combined. By integrating climate solutions with conflict prevention efforts, we believe better solutions are possible.

Renewable energy offers a unique entry point for our work. There has been an amazing revolution in renewable energy in recent years, marked by dramatic reductions in hardware costs and improved technology. Approximately .75 cents of ever dollar spent on global climate financing goes towards renewable energy, making it the leading tool in the global response to climate change. These same vulnerable regions have some of the highest rates of energy poverty in the world, but are not yet benefitting from the renewable energy revolution. Pay-as-you-go energy services and community mini-grids are both areas of RAEL expertise and global engagement, and provide opportunities for our Program to contribute immediately to bringing peaceful, local solutions to areas in crisis.

Conflict and crisis-risk settings generally lack the financing mechanisms and investment vehicles that have spurred renewable energy growth elsewhere in the world. Energy infrastructure is often unstable or lacking altogether in such contexts, and internationally supported humanitarian programs – which usually operate on short-term funding cycles, discouraging the higher up front costs of renewable energy - frequently rely on expensive, dirty and sometimes inconsistent diesel supply chains to power diesel generators. Transitioning to renewable energy  in such settings can offer both short-term humanitarian cost-savings while creating longer-term energy infrastructure and building blocks for peace.

Explain your idea

We are developing several different models for delivering energy/peace benefits. These include 1) In relief (refugee/IDP) camp settings; 2) Integrating renewable energy into peace building programming with international NGO Nonviolent Peaceforce; and 3) Promoting renewable energy as a peace dividend strategy. However, the idea we believe can have the greatest impact is developing a new financing mechanism - the Peace Renewable Energy Credit (PREC) - to help encourage and support the use of renewable energy in conflict and crisis settings. We are hoping to develop and initially apply the PREC to South Sudan, to help facilitate a transition to renewable energy in the humanitarian sector in South Sudan, as both a short-term humanitarian cost-saving strategy and a longer-term building block for peace. South Sudan, the world's newest country, is currently in the midst of a terrible civil war, and parts of the country were recently declared as a famine situation - the first such declaration globally since 2011. The international community spends over a $1billion per year in life saving humanitarian aid in South Sudan, a trend that seems likely to continue as the peace process has effectively collapsed and the conflict rages on. South Sudan is also the least electrified country in the world despite being an oil producing country, and what energy generation exists comes exclusively from imported diesel fuel to power generators. Energy costs (diesel imports and generator maintenance) represent one of the highest recurring costs in humanitarian operations, with donors supporting a separate diesel budget line for each and every NGO, humanitarian program, or relief camp. A humanitarian sector-wide shift from diesel to renewable energy (primarily solar) would have multiple benefits. First, it would be cost-saving for donors and humanitarian agencies within a relatively short period of time, between 2-5 years in different parts of the country depending on the costs of diesel. Second, it would create long-lasting (15-25 years) energy infrastructure in the least electrified country in the world. In some settings, such as individual NGO compounds, these solar systems could be used to anchor local mini-grids. In larger settings, such as Bentiu and Malakal IDP camps, these systems could eventually transition to the neighboring cities to support reconstruction and returns, when appropriate. The current short-term humanitarian crisis funding-cycles discourage investment in renewable energy due to the higher up-front expense. The PREC would help solve this problem by creating a new revenue stream, anchored in donor commitments to purchase new multi-year "peace renewable energy credits" generated by renewable energy projects in South Sudan among existing humanitarian grantees. Such an approach has environmental, economic and peace benefits, and create longer-term assets for peace while also supporting the ongoing humanitarian crisis response

Who Benefits?

There are multiple beneficiaries from the development of the PREC, and the initial application in South Sudan. In the short-term, a PREC mechanisms will help deliver more consistent and cheaper energy solutions to humanitarian actors in South Sudan, freeing up resources (time and money) for core humanitarian programming. In both the near term and over the longer-term, the energy infrastructure that is developed will benefit South Sudanese, through both local mini-grids and larger systems that would be deployed in the larger IDP camps. Investing in renewable energy will also help reduce South Sudan's total dependence on oil revenue and fossil fuels for virtually all of its economic activities, a dynamic that has been very pronounced in the country and is contributing to the ongoing cycle of conflict. The humanitarian sector in South Sudan is a first step, and the PREC can ultimately help deliver energy benefits across South Sudan, and in other conflict/crisis settings.

How is your idea unique?

Our unique approach is, in part, a result of deliberate effort to "cross-fertilize" our ideas between different disciplines and backgrounds. One reason we created this Program was to help narrow the gaps between the communities working on climate change, renewable energy, and peace and conflict issues. By bringing together expertise and deep experience on all three, our team has developed new thinking and approaches to problems that go beyond the traditional solutions. For example: The idea for the PREC draws from successful financing mechanisms that have been developed to help support renewable energy investment in wealthier nations - such as the Renewable Energy Credit - and adapts them to help overcome some of the challenges and obstacles that are specific to humanitarian crisis situations and funding in South Sudan and similar contexts. As far as we know, our idea is the first of its kind, but with opportunity to grow and scale.

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Research & Early Testing: I am exploring my idea, gathering the inspiration and information I need to test it with real users.
  • Prototyping: I have done some small tests or experiments with prospective users to continue developing my idea.

Tell us more about you

I am the founding director of RAEL and professor of Energy, at UC-Berkeley. I was previously the first Chief Technical Specialist for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency at the World Bank. I now serve as a Fellow of the U.S. State Department’s Energy and Climate Partnership for the Americas (ECPA), and in 2016 was appointed as Science Envoy by US Secretary of State Kerry. David Moz­er­sky is the Found­ing Direc­tor of the Pro­gram on Con­flict, Cli­mate Change and Green Devel­op­ment. An expert on Sudan and South Sudan, he has been involved in con­flict pre­ven­tion efforts in Africa since 2001, with a spe­cific inter­est in medi­a­tion, nego­ti­a­tion and peace processes. He has worked with the Inter­na­tional Cri­sis Group, the African Union High-​​Level Panel on the Sudans, and Human­ity United, among oth­ers. He has writ­ten exten­sively about the con­flicts and peace­mak­ing efforts in the Horn of Africa, and has tes­ti­fied or pre­sented before the U.S. Sen­ate and House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, the Cana­dian Par­lia­ment, and South Sudanese Par­lia­ment. David is based at UC-Berkeley, and will lead the implementations of this program. Sherwin Das is a Senior Fellow in the Program on Conflict, Climate Change and Green Development. He most recently served as the Chief of Political Affairs for the United Nations Regional Office for Central Africa. He has designed and implemented conflict prevention and peace building strategies, policies and programming for the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, the UN Department of Political Affairs and the United Nations Development Programme in the Balkans, Eastern Europe and Africa. Following a stint in the UN’s Mediation Support Unit in New York, he served as the UN’s Peace and Development Advisor in Moldova. David Williams is a Senior Fellow in the Program on Conflict, Climate Change and Green Development. He was selected as one of Time Magazine’s Innovators of the Year. He has been an advisor for US Department of State, merit reviewer for the US Department of Energy's SunShot program, technical reviewer for Sandia National Laboratory, solar advisor for USAID, and contributor to National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Mr. Williams has been involved in developing renewable energy projects in the Caribbean, Americas, Europe, Middle East, Asia and Africa.

Expertise in sector

  • 7+ years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered non-profit.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Ashley Tillman

Hi Dan, thank you so much for sharing your work! Couple quick questions, can you expand on how your 'peace renewable energy credits' work? Also can you share a few additional details around where you are at in the implementation process?

Photo of Dan Kammen

Hi Ashley,
Thanks for your questions. On #1: we are still working through some of the nuts and bolts of the PREC, but the basic idea is to adapt successful existing financing mechanisms like "Renewable energy credits" (in the US), and apply them to conflict/crisis settings like South Sudan, to help encourage a greater use of renewable energy (initially in the humanitarian sector). There will be several aspects to this: It will require giving a value to renewable energy generated from projects in this context (in the US, RECs are traded based on 1 MwH renewable energy generated); it will require creating a market for these newly generated "credits" - we see the market initially being anchored in existing humanitarian donors already working in and on South Sudan (and funding diesel expenditures as a recurring high cost of energy); and with these, it will enable new projects to be built.
On #2 - we are in the process of convening a series of brainstormings and workshops on the PREC, to help us further develop the idea in consultation with folks with different kinds of expertise (renewable energy, credit markets, humanitarian programming, and peace and conflict resolution programming). These meetings will help us move towards implementation and operationalization of the PREC, with an initial focus on South Sudan's humanitarian sector, but with the potential to scale to many other countries and contexts. We have some publications and field projects that are in the works that will help to support the broader arguments around a transition to renewable energy in South Sudan, and how the PREC could be developed to help facilitate this transition.

I hope this helps answer your questions. Thanks!