Skip to main content

By Secretary General Liv Kjølseth and Country Director Terje Watterdal


Norway is at the forefront when it comes to dialogue with the Taliban. The Norwegian Afghanistan Committee (NAC) believes that Norway must go even further and provide technical support to Afghan institutions working on climate adaptation and disaster management at the systemic level. 

In 2021-2022, Afghanistan experienced its worst drought in 20 years. We do not have a complete understanding of the consequences of the drought, as the Taliban authorities were not able to document its effects. A comprehensive living conditions survey conducted by the NAC in seven Afghan provinces in November 2023 shows that drought has now surpassed lack of security as the primary cause of income loss in Afghanistan. This illustrates how critical the climate issue has become. 

Afghanistan is severely affected by changes in precipitation patterns, melting glaciers, floods, overflow, and erosion, but also by drought and decreasing groundwater levels. The United Nations (UN) estimates that Afghanistan is the sixth most vulnerable country to climate change. At the same time, Afghanistan is among the countries least equipped to face the climate crisis. This is felt both in the stomach and the wallet in a country where over 80 percent of the population depends on agriculture for a living. 

It is possible to achieve good results through support of small farmers with the adoption of climate-smart farming methods, distributing adapted seeds, and building infrastructure that conserves water and protects against floods and landslides. This is essential, but not sufficient. The country needs access to climate financing, which has largely stalled since the Taliban’s takeover. Not least, Afghanistan needs expertise and capacity to address climate changes at the systemic level. 

What needs to be done  

The Norwegian government is far ahead in terms of dialogue with the Taliban. In his foreign policy statement to the Norwegian Parliament on 5th March 2024, Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide noted that it “can sometimes spark debate at home” when Norway engages in dialogue with actors who “do not share our values and are far from us politically or ideologically.” However, we believe Barth Eide is entirely correct when he points out that isolating these actors rarely leads to progress. 

Taliban’s climate policy  

The most important institutions for climate and environmental issues in Afghanistan are the Afghan National Disaster Management Agency (ANDMA) and the Afghan Environmental Protection  Agency (NEPA). After the Taliban’s takeover, several experts fled the country, and many positions in the Afghan environmental and climate sector were filled by religious scholars with limited knowledge about climate and natural resource management. The Taliban regard the climate crisis and its consequences in Afghanistan as serious and are quite eager to accept international support in this area. However, the Taliban is  criticized for not necessarily having the best understanding of the issues. 

The need for technical expertise is therefore evident, for example, in the construction of the Qush Tepa canal in the north, which is Afghanistan’s largest infrastructure project. The canal will divert water from the Amu Darya, the river that separates Afghanistan from its Central Asian neighbours to the north. The construction of the canal was decided already in 1970, and for the Taliban it has become a matter of prestige to complete the construction as quickly as possible. One concern is that the canal creates worries with neighbouring countries that are afraid that Afghanistan will take a disproportionately large share of the water resources – another is that the Taliban’s rudimentary construction methods lead to significant water loss. How Afghanistan manages its natural resources in general, and water in particular, has a regional dimension with significant potential for conflict. 

Under the previous government, the international community spearheaded projects to develop water management capabilities and improve Afghanistan’s ability to adapt to climate change by building and maintaining dams, improving irrigation, developing infrastructure for renewable energy, and enhancing resilience against food insecurity.  

Exemptions from sanctions are necessary 

Several projects were put on hold when the Taliban took power and the country was hit by international sanctions, and the country is also excluded from UN climate negotiations (COP), where important decisions are made. 

Climate changes do not accommodate regimes or national borders. The proposed exemption from the sanctions is about preserving global common goods and preventing regional conflict. This again requires institutional cooperation, research and development, and the implementation of comprehensive national plans. It also requires that Afghanistan is not cut off from important financing arrangements and international processes in the climate field. In short: There is a need to introduce an exemption from the sanctions in the climate and crisis preparedness field. The Norwegian government has already shown great courage in facing the new political reality in Afghanistan. Now we ask the government for more of the same. 


This text is a translation of an op-ed published in Norwegian on Panorama nyheter 16 April 2024.