Afghanistan is projected to be the sixth most badly affected country by climate change but is also among the lightest emitters of greenhouse gasses. Yet, it is not represented at the COP27 conference, a meeting of the member countries of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change now underway in the Egyptian city of Sharm el-Sheikh. Afghanistan signed the convention in 1992 and ratified it in 2002, but the conference is held under UN auspices and Afghanistan’s Taleban rulers are not recognised internationally, meaning a voice for the country will be absent. In the light of this absence, we wanted to bring together all of AAN’s reports touching on climate change together in a new dossier. The outlook for Afghanistan is bleak. It is facing major economic and environmental calamities, while having few resources itself to deal with the fallout and with little international help available because of the Emirate’s lack of international recognition. The drought-ridden parched fields in the remote district of Bala Murghab in Badghis province in October 2021, where climate change has already taken a toll. Photo: Hoshang Hashimi/AFP.
Afghanistan’s people and economy contribute just 0.03 per cent of all global greenhouse gasemissions. This works out as a yearly per capita emission of 0.28 tons of carbon dioxide, well below the world average of 4.79 tons and a tiny fraction of world leader Qatar’s 37.29 tons (see this website for more statistics). On the list of emitter countries, Afghanistan is ranked 179th out of 209.
UNAMA, in a statement published on the eve of COP27 lists the causes of Afghanistan’s “extreme climate vulnerability”: “Afghans’ high dependence on agricultural livelihoods, Afghanistan’s fragile ecosystem, acute environmental degradation, poor socio-economic development and the impact of more than four decades of war.” In consequence, UNAMA concluded, “[t]he Afghan people stand on the precipice of devastating climate projections.”
In the course of the recent 20 years of intervention and war, this description, although not new, had little influence on the policies of Afghanistan’s main donors. The climate crisis was overshadowed by other, apparently more pressing needs: the war against the Taleban and the establishment of – at least given the country’s own domestic means – gigantic defence and security forces. From 2003 to 2017, the percentage of Afghanistan’s public expenditure, largely donor-funded and donor-driven, given over to environment protection amounted to a mere 0.12 per cent of the total, as Abdul Matin Karimi of Hochschule für Technik und Wirtschaft (University of Applied Sciences) in Berlin wrote in a 2020 paper (p 31-2), the calculation based on International Monetary Fund data.
AAN early identified the effects of the climate crisis on Afghanistan as a major concern and research topic. The subject is included in one of its eight research categories, Economy, Development and the Environment. We have looked into aspects of water management, the melting of glaciers, and, often in the context of war and displacement, the country’s biodiversity and Afghanistan’s fauna and flora (see for example an earlier dossier, The Birds of Afghanistan).
In the most recent report in this category, The Climate Change Crisis in Afghanistan: The catastrophe worsens – what hope for action? published in June this year, guest author Mohammad Assem Mayar – a young Afghan scholar who has written three reports on this subject for AAN – stated that the climate crisis’s harm on Afghanistan “is already evident in the increased frequency of droughts, which are causing hunger and distress.” He predicted – correctly, unfortunately – that it was already clear “that 2022 will be yet another year of drought in most parts of the country.”
Mayar pointed out that there is reliable data on how the climate crisis is unfolding in Afghanistan, compiled by the country’s National Environment Protection Agency (NEPA; its website, now maintained by the Taleban authorities, here) with the technical support of the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) and the World Food Programme (WFP) in 2016, and available here and here:
- Afghanistan’s mean annual temperature rose by 0.6°C from 1960 to 2008 and since then, has increased by a further 1.2°C;
- climate change has doubled the number of droughts compared to the previous decades, not withstanding flooding during short-term extreme weather patterns at the other end of the scale (a media report here);
- over 14 per cent of Afghanistan’s glacier area, comprising almost 4,000 glaciers, was lost between 1990 and 2015 (see also this AAN report);
- all scenarios see Afghanistan getting hotter and receiving less precipitation; under a ‘moderate’ scenario, temperatures in Afghanistan would increase by more than the global average.
Pre-2021 reports containing this important data are still available on the NEPA website, providing topical continuity.
“Tackling climate change requires multi-dimensional actions” and a comprehensive national strategy as “best practice,” Mayar wrote. Yet, “local and small-scale adaptation measures can also help to reduce the effects of climate change.” This includes using renewable energy locally instead of burning coal, wood or shrubs, digging or repairing traditional rainwater storages and storage systems such as kanda (a sort of dug-out cavern), the underground irrigation system known as karez or qanat, small ponds and dams. How communities in Faryab were deploying some of these techniques was the subject of this 2012 AAN report.
The opportunity to deploy relatively plentiful resources was wasted to a large extent during the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (2001-21). Mayar wrote that despite some efforts at developing institutions, legalisation and policies and strategies and on securing financial means for tackling climate change, the Islamic Republic carried out very little climate change adaptation. Then, after the Taleban takeover in 2021, a lot of NEPA’s professional staff left the country, including its general director and deputy director for policy. The Taleban further removed the technical deputy director who had stayed and the provincial directors. This has diminished the country’s already limited capacity in this field. As in all other state institutions, the Taleban also put their own at the top of NEPA, appointing in April 2020, Hafez Aziz ul-Rahman, an Islamic clergyman, as his title indicates, as its ‘acting’ head and Zain ul-Abedin Abed as deputy director for policy and planning.
Afghans’ struggle to survive climate change has also been hit by the general cut of development money following the Taleban takeover, and the barring of Afghanistan from international funds aimed at helping poor countries adapt due to its government now being unrecognised: 32 projects aimed at climate change risk mitigation or adaptation with a total budget of USD 895 million were halted after August 2021, as Mayar has tweeted.
The Taleban issued two statements at the start of COP27, by the spokesman of their foreign ministry, Abdul Qahar Balkhi and his deputy, Zia Ahmad Takal, both via Twitter on 7 November. Balkhi, while not complaining about the Islamic Emirate’s absence at the conference, did point to Afghanistan being over-proportionally affected by global heating and, making one of the Taleban’s current standard political points, asked for international development assistance with the aim of preventing “potential losses and building community resilience.” He claimed Afghanistan has “sustained more than two billion dollars in losses so far this year due to the negative effect of climate change” without explaining how he arrived at that figure. Takar also called for keeping tackling the climate crisis “away from political issues,” again indirectly pointing to the international non-recognition of the Taleban regime (see this media report).
NEPA, meanwhile, judging from recent entries on its Twitter account, seems to be concentrating its efforts on environmental education in schools, which is not cost-intensive.
COP27 opened on 7 November and is running until 18 November 2022.
Below are details of AAN’s reports touching on the issue of climate change and Afghanistan, starting with the most recent:
The Climate Change Crisis in Afghanistan: The catastrophe worsens – what hope for action?
Mohammad Assem Mayar
6 June 2022
Crops not Watered, Fruit Rotting: Kandahar’s agriculture hit by war, drought and closed customs gates
Ali Mohammad Sabawoon
7 April 2022
Living With Radical Uncertainty in Rural Afghanistan: The work of survival
21 February 2022
Global Warming and Afghanistan: Drought, hunger and thirst expected to worsen
Mohammad Assem Mayar
6 November 2021
Droughts on the Horizon: Can Afghanistan manage this risk?
Mohammad Assem Mayar
Shrinking, Thinning, Retreating: Afghan glaciers under threat from climate change
The Geneva Ministerial Conference on Afghanistan: An agenda for peace and development?
Blue Gold: The quest for household water in Kabul city
Said Reza Kazemi
30 August 2018
Less Rain and Snowfall in Afghanistan: High level of food assistance needed until early 2019
30 July 2018
July 2018: https://www.afghanistan-analysts.org/en/reports/economy-development-environment/less-rain-and-snowfall-in-afghanistan-high-level-of-food-assistance-needed-until-early-2019/
Kabul Duck Alert: Afghan capital still important stopover for migrating waterbirds
Before the Paris Conference: The state of Afghanistan’s climate and its adaption capability
Thomas Ruttig and Ryskeldi Satke
30 November 2015
Protecting Beauty: Shah Foladi – a new conservation area for Afghanistan
17 July 2015
A Perfect (Snow) Storm: What can be done against avalanche damage in Afghanistan
10 March 2015
“Green Is Happiness, Green Is Peace”: Gardening Afghanistan, from Babur to Bost hospital
27 December 2014
Slippery Slopes: Ecological, social and developmental aspects of the Badakhshan landslide disaster
9 May 2014
Kanda and Backyard Pools: Faryabi Ways of Coping with Water Shortages
13 October 2012
Lack of Capacity and Capital: Is Afghanistan Under-Selling the Ainak Copper?
25 August 2012
Plants of Afghanistan 1: Centre of Global Biodiversity
10 June 2012
Land Grabs in Afghanistan (1): Nangrahar, the disputed o-rangeland
16 June 2012
Guest Blog: Andkhoi between Drought and Insurgency
9 December 2011
The Great Hindukush Gold Rush (2): Afghanistan is not Chad (yet?)
20 August 2011
Afghan Government Declares Kabul Smog Holiday
30 November 201
Kabul’s kitschy wedding cake architecture
27 August 2010
This article was last updated on 9 Nov 2022