Taliban government joins climate change talks for first time

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The Taliban government has entered its first talks with the United Nations, donors and non-governmental organizations over the impact of climate change in Afghanistan, organizers said Wednesday.

After four decades of war, Afghanistan ranks as one of the countries least prepared to face the effects of climate change, which is spurring extreme weather and warping natural environments.

Foreign aid to Afghanistan has dwindled since the Taliban takeover in 2021, with donors wary of backing a government considered a pariah, leaving poor and climate-vulnerable communities further exposed.

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The Norwegian Afghanistan Committee (NAC) co-hosted three days of talks ending Tuesday, country director Terje Watterdal told reporters at a news conference in Kabul.

He said it was the first time Taliban officials “joined a parallel session, face-to-face and online, with a broad range of their counterparts in the West since the change of government in August 2021.”

The talks included universities, diplomats, UN agencies, donors and grassroots members of Afghan society.

All sides agreed that “both individual and collective action is required both inside and outside of Afghanistan,” Watterdal said.

“All government ministries committed their full support for the national and international organizations working to combat climate change and reduce the impact of climate change in Afghanistan.”

Split opinions

International opinion has been starkly split over how to deal with the Taliban authorities that have enforced an austere vision of Islamic rule in Afghanistan.

Some have said they should be frozen out of the international community until they roll back their curbs on women and girls, which have seen millions shut out of education.

Others have advocated for engaging with Taliban authorities on less controversial subjects which could benefit the population of the deeply impoverished nation.

Watterdal said it is “necessary to de-politicize key development issues, such as climate change.”

But he said talks had a 50/50 male and female split “to ensure that we also have the women’s perspective when it comes to climate change.”

Climate change plays a key role in the livelihoods of Afghans, with around 80 percent of the country’s 43 million population relying on agriculture for income.

During the talks, researchers said Afghanistan is only responsible for 0.06 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions but ranks sixth among nations most vulnerable to climate change.

Afghanistan has also witnessed a temperature increase of 1.8 Celsius (35.2 Fahrenheit) since 1950, outstripping the global average of 1.5C (34.7F).

This month, Afghanistan saw huge downpours of rain which followed an unusually dry winter and claimed more than 100 lives.

Deputy Director of the National Environmental Protection Agency of Afghanistan Zainul Abideen Abid said “Climate change management is a priority.”

“We call upon all relevant United Nations agencies to avoid mere sloganeering and take practical steps,” he said, asking for more funding to be unlocked for the country.

He also called for Afghanistan to be included in the COP29 summit in Azerbaijan in November. The Taliban government was not invited to last year’s COP28 in Dubai.

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