Afghanistan and climate change

Greetings from sunny Durban South Africa!

After a very long trip, we are here with representatives from around the world at the Conference of the Parties 17/Meeting of the Parties 7 of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (for you acronym lovers – COP 17/CMP 7 of the UNFCCC).

Students from Yale are participating in a variety of capacities – many are working with the Maldives and others are working with organizations such as Islands First and Latvian Non-Governmental Organizations. You will be hearing from these different perspectives along the way in this blog and you will likely see that, as they say “where you stand depends on where you sit.”

Two of us are working with the representatives of Afghanistan to support their involvement in the meetings. Most small and developing countries can only afford to send a small team to attend these meetings where many different things are happening simultaneously and it is difficult, if not impossible, to follow the many and varied topics covered by the meeting.

I feel like I have to go back to talk about working with Afghanistan since even my environmentalist friends would say, “don’t they have other things to worry about?” However, it is clear that peace and security goes hand-in-hand with sustainable development and livelihoods. With climate change, much of the world will experience more severe and inconsistent weather –more flooding, more droughts – leading to more insecurity. This connection has been identified by a team of former US military generals who described climate change as a “threat multiplier”, recognizing how climate change exacerbates security challenges.

Afghanistan is still recovering from one of the worst droughts in memory, which left much of the country without sufficient food. Much of the country’s water comes from snow and glacier melt, which is disappearing with the changing climate. Poppy plants are better able to withstand drought than most food crops; so when facing uncertain rainfall, farmers make the decision to provide for their families. Addressing climate change and helping people and infrastructure to adapt to changing patterns in temperature and rainfall will be crucial to achieving peace.

At the same time, there are tremendous opportunities to use renewable energy technologies such as wind and solar to improve the lives of the Afghan people, as less than 40% of people have electricity. There are examples of how small-scale wind installations have provided electricity that improved health, education, incomes, and food security in an area. For Afghanistan the challenge is to help people adapt to climate change, while promoting development. At this conference, Afghanistan will be looking to see how the countries that have caused climate change will support them in these adaptation efforts.