In Global Climate Talks, Let Afghanistan In

In a world struggling with the pressing issue of climate change, important voices often go unheard. Yet these voices are often those most affected by the impacts of the climate emergency. As the United Nations’ Climate Change Conference (COP28) begins in Dubai today, where is Afghanistan?

Yes, Afghanistan. Its absence in Dubai is more than a matter of morality. It is a missed opportunity to include experts from across the climate-hit country, one that harms the world.

Afghanistan signed the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992. But it has been excluded from international discussions since the Taliban seized control in August 2021, despite the war-torn country’s desperate climate-related needs. Afghanistan ranks fourth most at-risk in this year’s INFORM Risk Index and eighth on the Notre Dame Global Adaptation Index of countries most vulnerable to a warming climate and least prepared to adapt.

“Being a vulnerable nation, it is our right, obligation, and responsibility to be at COP28,” in part to assure Afghanistan’s access to climate-related finance and resources, said Ezatullah Sediqi, deputy minister of the previous Afghan government’s national environmental protection agency, at a recent Refugees International event. This is not to say that the Taliban should have a seat at the table, but that the many experts from Afghanistan who have devoted their lives to climate work should not be excluded from the negotiations.

International climate negotiations often give priority to developed nations while sidelining poorer countries, such as Afghanistan, which are the most exposed to the devastating impacts of climate change. This lack of attention and negotiating power hinders their efforts to respond effectively.

Afghanistan is an example of how climate change has disproportionate effects. According to Assem Mayar, a water resource management expert, the country has experienced about twice as many droughts in recent years compared to previous decades, and just a single wet year in the past seven. In addition, Afghanistan has few resources to help it adapt to these changing conditions. Mayar worries about “the growing severity of drought conditions in our country and the significant internal displacements it has caused.” 

Dr. Fazl Akhtar, a climate and water expert and senior researcher at ZEF, a German research institute, points out that agriculture, which employs about three-fifths of Afghans, relies on irrigation water. Eighty percent of that irrigation water comes from snow. However, annual snow fall in Afghanistan could drop precipitously if climate change continues to accelerate. The scarcity of drinking water, he said, has already affected citizens in Kabul, the capital, prompting many residents to relocate. 

Millions of other citizens have been displaced by decades of warfare in the country, leading to significant internal displacement as well as refugees, some who are being forced to return now from Pakistan, Iran, and even Turkey. Given that a significant proportion of Afghanistan’s population is displaced from their home community and large numbers of returnees are arriving, its National Adaptation Plan must consult these displaced people as stakeholders in plan development. It also must consider how displaced communities must adapt to the effects of climate change, either in their current locations or if they are able to return home at some point.

Drought conditions have also caused conflicts over strained water resources and exacerbated food shortages. Half of the populace does not have enough to eat. This is a function of these climate challenges as well as Afghanistan’s political struggles and the drastic cuts to humanitarian assistance due to international sanctions.

The impact of excluding Afghanistan from climate change negotiations goes beyond its borders, as it excludes the country’s experts from serving those around the world. Afghanistan is home to experts in the social, political, and scientific responses needed to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Without considering Afghanistan’s perspective, the global community is missing part of the toolkit to effectively address these problems. 

Furthermore, when one nation suffers, the consequences are felt worldwide. This is especially true of Afghanistan. Afghans have had to flee the country in recent years both because of violence and an oppressive regime and because of a humanitarian crisis exacerbated by climate change related disasters. Afghan refugees have sought safety and stability in neighboring countries and beyond. Afghanistan’s frequent droughts, floods, and other extreme weather events are not isolated incidents. They are part of the global problem of climate change, and their solution must be part of a global consensus.

To include Afghanistan, there are steps the international community can take. Merely listening is not enough; action is a must.

First, let Afghanistan nationals from civil society with expertise on this issue travel to Dubai. “There are experts, scientists, and concerned individuals who should go to COP28,” says Sediqi, the former environmental official, “and raise advocacy and awareness for the Afghanistan-affected people, working towards building their resilience and combatting climate change through effective adaptation strategies.”

Second, Afghanistan needs resources to manage climate change, mainly from foreign aid, donor organizations, and international humanitarian and nongovernmental organizations. “Engaging and supporting NGOs is vital,” said Akhtar, the climate expert. A top priority is investing in research to determine the nature and scope of the problem—and to quantify the assistance required. Before the Taliban seized power, Sediqi recounts, “the country was in a very good position in terms of accessibility to climate finance and climate talks. However, after August 2021, due to political reasons, it has prevented the voice of almost 40 million victims of climate change and disasters.”

Due to international sanctions, the Taliban government cannot receive financing to address the country’s climate needs through traditional means. However climate action is a priority under the UN’s Transitional Engagement Framework in Afghanistan, particularly its remit to preserve social investments and community-level systems essential to meeting basic human needs. The funding modalities available under this pillar can contribute to climate resilience and prevent further forced displacement. 

If international humanitarian organizations raise their voices in support of the affected Afghan people, money could be secured through these humanitarian channels, exempt from the sanctions regime. COP28 ought to give priority to vulnerable nations, including Afghanistan, in its 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It can do this by operationalizing the Loss and Damage Fund and significantly and urgently expanding adaptation funds available for climate-ravaged countries. This financial support should go directly to community-led projects which would also provide the justification for exempting climate-related funding to Afghanistan from being sanctioned. 

Success of the world’s response to climate change hinges on involving every nation, particularly those at the frontlines of the climate crisis. Doing so will not only improve Afghanistan’s future but ensure the resilience of our shared planet. It is time to act—for Afghanistan, for the world, and for the generations to come.

For more discussion of this topic, see our webinar Inclusive Climate Dialogue: Amplifying Afghanistan’s Voice in Global Climate Negotiations:

Featured Image: An Afghan family surviving drought and humanitarian crisis in Bamyan Province, Afghanistan on May 8, 2023 (Photo by Sayed Khodaiberdi Sadat/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images).