Afghan climate activist Abdulhadi Achakzai was his country’s only representative at the UN COP27 climate conference, which recently took place in the Egyptian resort of Sharm El-Sheikh.
The South Asian nation was excluded from the summit as the country has remained diplomatically isolated after 20 years since the Taliban came to power last August.
At the start of the climate summit on November 6, the UN mission in Afghanistan called for urgent collective climate action and stated that the country was “one of the countries least prepared for climate shocks.”
It added that Afghanistan is the sixth largest country in the world affected by climate-related threats. The country often faces droughts, flash floods and landslides, which affect livelihoods and infrastructure.
Achakzai, his country’s unofficial representative at the international summit, took the opportunity to educate delegates about the climate crisis in Afghanistan and put the issue on the participants’ agendas.
Experts have blamed climate change for the frequent natural disasters in the country and are calling for international funding to solve the problem.
“I would stop everyone I’ve met and ask them, ‘Have you heard about Afghanistan? ‘I would then tell them about the situation in our country and the suffering our people are suffering as a result of climate change,” said Achakzai, director of the Environmental Volunteer Network (EVN), an NGO based in the capital Kabul.
The non-profit organization is committed to increasing awareness and training on climate issues across the county.
“Everyone seems to agree with me when I said Afghanistan was one of the countries hardest hit by climate change, but only a few were willing to take action,” Achakzai told CNN Breaking News.
The money has dried up
International organizations and interest groups remain skeptical about working with the Taliban, who currently govern the country of 38 million people. The financing of development and climate projects has dried up due to international sanctions.
The Taliban expressed their disappointment at being excluded from COP27 at a press conference on November 10.
“Climate change has no national borders and the issue should not have been politicized,” Hafiz Aziz Rahman, acting head of the Afghan National Environmental Protection Agency (NEPA), criticized Afghanistan’s exclusion from the conference.
Rahman highlighted the frequent droughts that plague Afghanistan, even though the country has played little role in causing climate change.
Ramiz Alakbarov, Deputy Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for Afghanistan, agreed that urgent attention must be paid to the country’s climate problems.
“Action is now needed for Afghanistan. We can hardly wait. The Afghans don’t have time to wait. It requires all sides to find common ground and a common cause to work towards a sustainable future for Afghanistan,” said Alakbarov.
“We also need to be aware of this: This problem is not specific to Afghanistan. It is a larger regional problem, and if we don’t act now in Afghanistan, it will result in a significant setback in climate protection for the entire region.”
However, international funding for climate solutions in Afghanistan has fallen drastically since last year.
The Afghan environmental agency NEPA announced in August that since the takeover of the Taliban, the international community has suspended 32 environmental projects worth $805 million.
Exclusion from climate dialogue
The Afghan academic and scientific community, meanwhile, is warning of serious consequences if Afghanistan is excluded from dialogue on climate strategies.
“The immediate climate problems include frequent droughts and flash floods followed by forest fires, [and] the decline of glaciers,” emphasized Najibullah Sadid, Afghan climate researcher and associate researcher at the University of Stuttgart in Germany.
Sadid added that most Afghans depend on agriculture for their livelihoods and economy, droughts and floods caused by climate change have significantly affected livelihoods and exacerbated food insecurity in the country.
According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, more than 223,000 Afghans were affected by natural disasters across Afghanistan this year alone. Save the Children now estimates that almost 13 million children will be affected by extreme weather events such as droughts and floods.
The effects of climate change will further aggravate the situation in the country, which is facing a severe humanitarian crisis and economic collapse.
Experts have also emphasized the need to adapt to climate change, as Afghanistan saw a 1.8 °C rise in temperature between 1950 and 2010 — double the global average.
“It is important that we address life-saving adaptation mechanisms, such as expanding irrigated agricultural land that is resistant to drought,” said Mohammad Assem Mayar, a water management expert and lecturer at Kabul Polytechnic University.
But experts say a lack of international funding is a major obstacle in Afghanistan’s fight against climate change.
“The steadily declining funding for climate change, which can be transferred to Afghanistan via existing money transfer mechanisms, must be increased,” suggested Mayar, referring to methods used by international organizations as a result of the sanctions.
Financing climate adaptation refers to supporting specific projects that help local communities adapt to their changing environment. “In addition to expanding irrigated agricultural land, the effects of the drought can be reduced, for example, by building small reservoirs and introducing water-saving technologies,” said Mayar. “Similarly, during floods, diversion dams, watershed management, and several small reservoirs could help reduce flow peaks.”
He asked the international community to resume projects through UN agencies to reach rural communities that are severely affected by climate change.
“Isolating Afghanistan means punishing its people, which isn’t fair,” Mayar said. “Climate change is not going to stop, and without support for adaptation, it is tantamount to gradually pushing the Afghan people to a death sentence.”