Problems

Due to a combination of political, geographic, and social factors, Afghanistan is one of the most vulnerable nations to climate change impacts in the world [1]. Afghanistan has already experienced a mean annual temperature increase of 1.8°C since the 1950s [2]. The country is expected to face rates of warming higher than the global average, with a potential rise of 1.4°C–5.4°C by the 2080s and the 2090s, compared with the baseline of 1986–2005. Increases in annual maximum and minimum temperatures are projected to be greater than rise in average temperature, likely amplifying pressures on human health, livelihoods, and ecosystems. For instance, such temperature increases will likely place a strain on urban dwellers and outdoor laborers, with increased risk of heat-related sickness and fatalities [1].

Precipitation pattern analysis suggests that spring precipitation has already decreased in Afghanistan by up to a third, while winter precipitation has slightly increased [2]. Spring precipitation is of paramount importance for agriculture, as spring crops are typically rain-fed crops [2], [3]. In Afghanistan, there is a high dependence on agriculture for livelihood and subsistence, with the sector employing almost half the working population [1]. The regions that are most significant to agricultural production – the East, Central Highlands and North – are strongly affected by the decrease of spring precipitation [2]. These changes, however, lie within the range of natural variability and, therefore, cannot be conclusively linked to climate change [1].

Water, agriculture, forests, rangelands, biodiversity and ecosystems, health, and energy are considered the most vulnerable sectors in the country with significant adaptation needs [3]. While changes to Afghanistan’s rainfall regime, and hence water resources, are highly uncertain, an increase in the incidence of drought conditions is very likely, and the shifts in the runoff regime have already been documented. Over the long-term, loss of glaciers could fundamentally disrupt regional water and hydropower supplies [1].  

Staple crops such as wheat are highly susceptible to water shortages, with yields reducing by up to 50% during droughts in 2017–2018. Studies have shown that the irrigated agricultural production area can reduce by as much as 30% in years of water scarcity, indicating major livelihood impacts [1]. The combined impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, war, and prolonged drought threatens millions of Afghans with food insecurity [4]. Due to its resilience to drought, cultivation of the opium poppy has seen a resurgence in the early 21st century [1].

In Afghanistan, poverty and food insecurity are highly prevalent and are concentrated in the rural areas. Events such as the drought of 2011, which contributed to malnutrition in over 100,000 children, underscore the risks presented by climate change. Threats can also be articulated in economic terms. For example, drought in 2018 reduced wheat yields by more than 60% and a $550 million deficit was needed to feed the nation’s livestock (2.8% of GDP) [1].

Afghanistan faces some of the highest levels of natural hazard risk in the world. Risk is driven by hazard exposure, notably communities face very significant impacts from flood (and associated threats from land and mudslide), and drought. Risk is further amplified by very high levels of social vulnerability and a large deficit in coping capacity. As a result of climate change, it is anticipated that the incidence of extreme weather events, including heat waves, floods, and droughts will likely increase, as will climate change-linked disasters such as glacial lake outflows. Flood risk is widespread in Afghanistan, despite the generally arid, low-precipitation, environment. Data are severely limited, but there is sufficient evidence to say that flooding causes at least 100 deaths per year (likely a considerable underestimate). Flooding also increases the risk of waterborne diseases and has been identified as a causal factor in high rates of anemia among women of reproductive age in the country. Many of the climate changes projected are likely to disproportionately affect the poorest groups in society [1]. Climate change in Afghanistan has also been linked with violence, conflict, human rights abuses, and underage marriage [4].

Causes

While Afghanistan is severely affected by climate change, it is responsible for less than 0.1% of global emissions.

According to Afghanistan’s Second National Communication to the UNFCCC [2], in 2013, the country’s greatest contributor to overall GHG emissions was the Agriculture sector (accounting for 64.3% of total emissions), followed by Land-Use Change and Forestry (18.8%), and Energy (16.2%). Industrial Processes and Waste each comprised 0.3% of total emissions.

The Agriculture sector (including both crops and livestock) accounted for approximately 94% of Afghanistan’s overall CH4 emissions. This primarily originated from enteric fermentation from livestock (84%), with lesser amounts emitted in manure management (8%) and cultivation of rice (6%). Emissions of N2O from agricultural soils made up almost 100% of the emission of this gas in Afghanistan.

In 2013, the Land-Use Change and Forestry sector formed the largest proportion (51.7%) of Afghanistan’s CO2 emissions, with the conversion of forest and grasslands comprising the bulk of the emissions of all GHGs by this sector [2].

Responses

Key policies and governance approach

Climate change governance in Afghanistan is still very nascent. A National Climate Change Committee (NCCC) has been established to facilitate multi-sectoral engagement as well as provide overall policy guidance and advice, and build the country’s institutional, scientific, technical, informational, and human capacity with respect to climate change for the sustainable implementation of the UNFCCC. The NCCC is led by NEPA and is comprised of representatives from relevant government and academic institutions [5].

In addition, a number of other national-level, inter-ministerial forums provide valuable entry points for addressing climate change in the areas of agriculture, biodiversity, forests and rangelands, energy, disaster preparedness, and water. In each of these areas, Afghanistan has developed and adopted a wide range of laws, policies, strategies, and plans that are relevant to climate change. Mainstreaming climate change into these areas and across a greater breadth of national planning structures will also be achieved through the thorough application of Afghanistan’s Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan (ACCSAP) [2].

The ACCSAP has the following aims: i) integrate and mainstream climate change into the national development framework; ii) support the creation of a national framework for action on climate change adaptation; iii) identify Low Emission Development Strategies; iv) improve coordination and partnerships between government institutions, civil society, the international donor community, and the private sector; and v) increase availability and access to additional financial resources for effectively addressing climate change. In addition, five Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMA) are proposed in the ACCSAP: i) support the development of policies and practices on energy efficiency; ii) implement policies and guidelines on sustainable urban development, including renewable energies, solid waste management and energy recovery; iii) enact policies and guidelines for sustainable urban transportation; iv) promote energy efficient cook stoves for rural communities; and v) regenerate forests and rangelands for environmental conservation and agriculture and food production [2].

As part of its national commitments to the UNFCCC, Afghanistan has prepared its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (2015) and two National Communications on climate change [2]. In addition, in 2009, Afghanistan completed its National Adaptation Programme of Action for Climate Change (NAPA). Afghanistan conducted its NAPA as a joint exercise with the National Capacity Needs Self-assessment for Global Environmental Management (NCSA), which is itself a mechanism for realizing a comprehensive assessment of a country’s capacity, and capacity needs, for the fulfilment of the Rio Conventions. The NAPA/NSCA process identified the country’s most vulnerable areas to climate change: agriculture; biodiversity and ecosystems; energy; forests and rangelands; natural disasters; and water. It further identified Afghanistan’s key priority areas for climate change: i) improved water management and use efficiency; and ii) community-based watershed management. The NAPA/NCSA also identified Afghanistan’s key challenges for addressing climate change, including a lack of expertise within relevant government institutions [5].

In recent years, Afghanistan has been actively engaging in the multilateral process to fight climate change with the aim of enhancing equality, knowledge sharing, and partnership with countries across the world. The country has taken a number of actions, including, for the first time in its history, the completion of a GHG inventory. In addition, the pre-Taliban government initiated a number of projects, including the development of renewable energy, which was funded by the Green Climate Fund (GCF). Before the Taliban took over, Afghanistan’s NEPA planned to submit its updated climate pledge at COP26. It planned to ask for greater financial assistance for projects to improve water management, as well as smart agriculture implementation to improve farm productivity and reduce environmental harm [4].

 

SUCCESSES AND REMAINING CHALLENGES

Through its NAPA, National Communications and the INDC, Afghanistan has been able to identify the constraints, gaps, and the financial, technical and capacity needs to enhance the national communication system and fulfil its commitments on climate change [2].

A major constraint is the non-availability and inaccuracy of data for the country’s GHG inventory. In particular, the time-series data that are required for the estimation of GHG inventories are not available for all key sectors, and accuracy of the data is uncertain as different sources have different data. The country also faces challenges of non-accessibility of data as data is often treated as proprietary, and the non-availability of data in electronic form, which renders collation and analysis of data difficult [2].

In addition, the country faces challenges related to assessing vulnerability to climate change, such as the country’s sporadic and poor quality socio-economic data that makes it difficult to conduct econometric modelling or robust cost/benefit analyses of adaptation and mitigation policy. Poor national security also restricts the ability to undertake structured fieldwork to assess potential mitigation and adaptation options. Afghanistan urgently needs to enhance the capacity of government and national experts to ensure that the best practice climate assessments, adaptation approaches and low carbon development strategies can be applied in Afghanistan in order build the country’s adaptive capacity [2].

Mainstreaming climate change into Afghanistan’s development processes is an essential step towards building institutional capacity; however, Afghanistan also needs external investment and technical support to overcome these challenges. Afghanistan estimated that the implementation of its INDC will require a total of US$10.79 billion for climate change adaptation and US$662 million per year for mitigating GHG emissions and pursuing Low Emission Development Strategies [2].

Since the Taliban took power, the situation in Afghanistan has changed, with the major projects and plans funded by international organizations and investors in jeopardy [6]. Five Afghan men and a woman who were scheduled to attend COP26 as delegates had their applications rejected just days before the event. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) secretariat will not be registering Afghan delegates to COP26, according to a source [7].

 

 

Initiatives and Development Plans

The previous government had a number of initiatives and development plans to address the issue of climate change, and had secured more than US$90 million for green projects. Key programmes included a US$21.4 million rural solar energy project backed by the GFC, and a US$36 million effort backed by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and other funders to boost renewable energy, make agriculture and forestry more climate-resilient and safeguard ecosystems [6].

The Government of Afghanistan, with the support of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Least Developed Countries Fund, also launched a multi-million dollar five year project aimed at insulating vulnerable Afghan communities from the worst impacts of climate change.

With a particular focus on women and marginalized groups, the $US71.1 million project launched in 2017– financed with a $5.6 million grant from the GEF Least Developed Countries Fund and co-financing from the Government of Afghanistan ($5 million), Asian Development Bank ($57 million), World Bank ($2.5 million), and UNDP ($1 million) – aimed at promoting community-based preparedness and adaptation in the highly vulnerable provinces of Jawzjan and Nangarhar.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL) lead project focused on four main pillars: (i) enhancing gender-sensitive disaster risk reduction in, and by, vulnerable communities; (ii) establishing community-based early warning systems; (iii) promoting climate-resilient agricultural practices and livelihoods; and (iv) working with national, provincial and district-level government institutions to better integrate climate change into planning [8].

 

Goals and Ambitions

Adaptation priorities in Afghanistan include, but are not limited to [9]:

1. Reducing vulnerability of the country and its population through enhancement of adaptive capacity and resilience, and deployment of disaster risk reduction approaches.

2. Integrating climate change consideration into the national planning processes.

3. Promoting economic development and sustainable rural livelihoods through sustainable management of environmental resources and increase access to modern forms of efficient and sustainable energy services.

4. Improvement of technical capacity in governmental institutions.

5. Adaptive and integrated land and water management.

6. Improving access by rural communities and farmers to water to support food security, reduce poverty and improve agricultural productions.

7. Raising awareness for people of Afghanistan on climate change impacts and adaptation measures.

Opportunities

[2], [5]

  • As a first step toward mainstreaming climate change into national development plans, the ACCSAP should be implemented thoroughly.
  • To raise awareness of, and support for the mainstreaming of climate change into all levels of the country's governance processes, comprehensive capacity-building programmes should be implemented at the national, provincial, and local levels.
  • Climate change impacts and adaptation measures should be brought to the attention of policymakers through accurate and sound scientific analysis to encourage further mainstreaming of climate considerations into sectoral planning.
  • There is a need to develop harmonized data-collection frameworks that are aligned with IPCC guidelines, and a need for training and establishing a database for collating data for use in IPCC GHG inventory methodologies in key sectoral organizations like NEPA.
  • Each sector and vulnerable area should have its own set of technological requirements for adaptation and mitigation.
  • As there is important data missing for the key sectors, such as imports of petroleum products and energy production, there is the need to fill this gap by identifying sources that have reliable time-series data.
  • Current efforts, such as those spearheaded by the Climate Technology Centre and Network (CTCN), should be scaled up and prioritized in the national development agenda.
  • To build a body of knowledge and institutional capacity, MAIL and NEPA should launch a work programme of scientific research on climate resilience of the agriculture and livestock sector, and pilot drought-resistant crop varieties and affordable micro-irrigation technology (AMIT).
  • Coordination and partnerships between government institutions, civil society, the international donor community, and the private sector, based on inclusive and adaptive governance, should be practiced.