Climate Change Is Happening In Afghanistan

Qiyamud Din Ikram
Environmental Specialist
September 9, 2018

What is Climate Change?

Climate Change refers to alterations in the earth’s atmosphere and environment that have long term effects, such as climate warming, changes in the precipitation levels, or increased frequency of extreme weather events at the global and regional levels. Climate change also refers to any significant change in measures of climate (such as temperature, precipitation, or wind) lasting for an extended period (decades or longer).

Climate change is a global problem and already happening in the world today, and largely caused by human emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) such as carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), water vapor (H2O) and ozone (O3). Greenhouse gases trap heat in the atmosphere thereby increasing the earth’s average temperature, a phenomena known as global warming. CO2 and CH4 are the major contributors of greenhouse gases. The greenhouse gasses enter the atmosphere both by human activities and natural phenomena. Major sources of greenhouse gas emissions from human activities are: fossil fuel use, deforestation, intensive agricultural activities including livestock farming, transportation and industrial processes. While, the natural   sources of greenhouse gas emissions are animal and plant respiration.

Impacts of Climate Change

Climate change could result in to flooding, drought, and intense summer heat. Violent storms and other extreme weather events could also result from the increased energy stored in our warming atmosphere. Some regions will experience more extreme heat while others may cool slightly. All of these will have a significant impact on almost every aspect of our lives, ecosystems, economies and social system. We will suffer from lack of adequate water resources and agricultural produce. The   health can be negatively impacted, for example by the spread of disease vectors like mosquitos. Our ecosystems will suffer biodiversity and habitat loss. Climate change also challenges us to rethink our urban systems (including transport and buildings) and the way we do business (energy and manufacturing). The impacts of climate change might also result in conflict or force people to migrate (for example from low-lying coastal areas). To confront this global challenge, the UN Conference on Environment and Development adopted the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at Rio in 1992. The Convention, which aims at stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.

Climate change impacts can be limited through implementing measures such as climate change mitigation and climate change adaptation. Climate change mitigation includes efforts to limit GHG emissions in order to stabilize the global atmosphere, whereas climate change adaptation includes developing approaches to cope with and limit the negative impacts of climate change. Both climate change mitigation and adaptation aim to reduce the vulnerability of people, regions, and sectors to the expected impacts and risks of climate change.

Climate Change in Afghanistan

Afghanistan’s climate is characterized by dry and hot summers and cold winters, and most of the annual precipitation take place in the northern region in the form of snow. Afghanistan is one of the more climate vulnerable countries due to global climate change although it contributes only 0.06% of the World GHG total emissions. Afghanistan GHG total greenhouse gas emissions are below the world median of 40.4 tonne CO2 equivalent. Except for Tajikistan, Afghanistan emissions are significantly lower than its neighbors.

Since 1960, the mean annual temperature in Afghanistan has increased by 0.6 °C and mean decadal temperature by 0.13 °C. During the same period, the frequency of hot days and hot night has increased in every season. According to Savage et al. (2009), the mean annual temperature in Afghanistan is projected to increase by 1.4 to 4.0°C by the 2060s, and 2.0 to 6.2°C by the 2090s. The ‘Intended Nationally Determined Contributions’ (INDC) report mentions an expected warming of 1.5°C until 2050 and of approximately 2.5°C until 2100 under an ‘optimistic scenario’. According to Government of Afghanistan, the ‘pessimistic scenario’ projects a 3°C increase until 2050, with further warming up to 7°C by 2100 (IRA, 2015). Under both scenarios there are regional differences, with higher temperature increases expected at higher altitudes than the lowlands. In the Central Highlands and the Hindu Kush, warming over a 30-year period in the near future (2021-2050) is projected to range from 1.5°C to 1.7° compared to the base period (1976-2006), while in the lowlands the increase ranges from 1.1°C to 1.4°C. There have been changes in precipitation parallel to changes in temperature, albeit to a lesser extent.

Global warming is expected to intensify regional contrasts in precipitation that already exist: dry areas are expected to get even drier, and wet areas even wetter. In contrast to temperature projections, the uncertainty of model projections for precipitation is higher, and regional and seasonal differences are more distinct. The amount of rainfall over the country has decreased by 0.5mm per month or 2 percent per decade in the past fifty years (IRA, 2015).

It has been found that decrease of precipitation during springtime (March-May) for the North, the Central Highlands and the East from 2006 until 2050 between 5-10 percent. This decrease is offset by a slight increase of precipitation during autumn and wintertime (October-December) in these regions.  Overall, the decrease of precipitation during springtime is particularly relevant since this is the period of main plant growth for agricultural production. In addition, this precipitation decrease is projected to take place in the regions with the highest agricultural productivity of Afghanistan (East, North, and Central Highlands). In combination with the overall increase in temperature and the related increase in evapotranspiration across the country, this will most likely negatively impact the hydrological cycle, agricultural productivity, and availability of water resources.

Climate Change Impacts in Afghanistan

Climate change is having serious impacts on Afghanistan’s people and ecosystems, making it among the world’s most vulnerable countries to climate change.   Climate change predictions such as changing precipitation and temperature patterns will lead to lower productivity of agriculture, droughts, food security problems as well as biodiversity and ecosystem problems.

According to some recent research studies, currently 22 provinces are facing climate change and related impacts in Afghanistan. Moreover, climate change has significant impacts on agriculture and agricultural productivity, droughts (about 17 provinces are facing droughts this year), biodiversity and ecosystems disturbance, forests and range lands problems and water resources. These research studies also suggest that:

  • The major climate hazards for Afghanistan include floods and landslides, droughts and its more gradual form of aridification. Aridification and loss of cryosphere resources contribute the lower levels of water availability, exacerbating the loss of green covers and pasturelands.
  • Climate change can affect agriculture due to increased atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations, which will improve crop-growing conditions in some areas but not others, likelihood of intensified pest and disease problems in some areas leading to crop losses, and drier conditions and increased water stress affecting crop yields in areas, such as South Asia, where water is already scarce and source of much conflict. Afghanistan is particularly vulnerable to falling crop yields caused by glacier retreat, floods, droughts, erratic rainfall and other climate change impacts.
  • According to SIGAR Report that 2/3rds of Afghanistan’s provinces experiencing drought due to precipitation deficit of 70% in recent months. Over next six months, 2 million plus people will face food insecurity.
  • Unseasonal rainfall increases the risk of floods while the general increase in temperature increases the risk of more rapid spring snowmelt. The combined impact of these two factors is likely to be land degradation, loss of vegetative cover, land mismanagement, floods and landslides resulting in large-scale human loss of life as was the case in Badakhshan in spring of 2014, and damage to infrastructure.
  • Meteorological droughts which occur in arid and semi-arid areas, are frequent in Afghanistan. It has been found that the localized drought occur every three to five years and countrywide drought occur every 20 to 30 years. (Azimi and McCauley, 2002). Persistent droughts are projected to 2030 as the norm rather than a temporary or cyclical event.
  • Afghanistan ranks among the countries that are most vulnerable to floods, mainly either as flash floods or gradual excess precipitation floods. Flash floods which occur mainly from February to June in Afghanistan. Heavier rain and snowfall during the early part of the year are reflected in high intensity flash floods (Beekma and Fiddes, 2011). River floods occur during the snowmelt period, primarily in June and July. It is estimated that more than half of the population is physically exposed to ‘flood risk’ (including 15 percent of the population being exposed to ‘high flood risk’).
  • Due to lack of vertical vegetative cover and rains, landslides takes place in Afghanistan. For example, in May 2014 landslide in Badakhshan displaced 4000 people and accounted die 400 lives.
  • Afghanistan mountainous cover 60% land area and have snow in some mountain regions. Due to lack of vegetation and deforestation and also the new snow and rain cause the avalanches. Because the existing snow accumulated the new snow and finds no resistance and hurtles down.
  • Afghanistan has abundant water resources and it is greatly vulnerable to climate change. The vast majority comes from winter snowfall and few from precipitation. Increase temperature causes the glaciers melting that decline the found water recharge and leads the lowering of water table. Moreover, evaporation and evapotranspiration will be increased by temperature increase which affects the water cycle.
  • Food security is the other problem due to non-availability of water supplies. Afghanistan is having only 12 percent of arable land. Climatic changes like floods and water scarcity have great affected the top soil and causes land degradation.
  • Afghanistan has only 2% of forest cover of the total land area and it has been greatly impacted by the climate change risks and challenges as temperature increases and water availability decreases. Afghanistan forests have been damaged severely as a result of deforestation for commercial logging, local demand for firewood, droughts etc.
  • Biodiversity loss has been found throughout the country. Population growth is the main cause for the biodiversity loss. Population rise leads in increase pressure on natural support base, leading to deforestation, overgrazing, hunting. Droughts and water non-availability are also the cause of biodiversity loss. According to Afghanistan’s National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP), Afghanistan is home to more than 700 species of mammals, birds’ reptiles, amphibians, fish, butterflies and 3500-4000 native vascular plant species.

Actions Needed to Address Climate Change Impacts in Afghanistan

As party of the UNFCCC which Afghanistan joined in 1992, it is direly needed to have climate change mitigation and adaptation action plans to cope with climate change impacts and reduce the GHG emission across the country. Afghanistan is also a signatory party to United Nations for Convention on Biological Diversity (UNCBD) which is signed in 1992 and ratified in 2002. Now Afghanistan is bound to reverse or reduce the rate at which biodiversity is being lost.  Ecosystem based adaptation is the best approach to maintain and restore both ecosystem and biodiversity. Both UNFCCC and UNCBD consider the conservation and restoration of the ecosystem and protecting the biodiversity.

The poorest countries such as Afghanistan are likely to be most adversely affected due to inadequate infrastructure, instability – disallowing national efforts in mitigation – and lack resources to mobilize against the adverse impacts of climate change on livelihoods. But based upon these climate change risks and impacts and future scenarios and projections it is evident that Afghanistan’s environment will experience considerable change in the upcoming years. These factors should be considered and addressed in Afghanistan’s strategy for sustainable development to cope the climate change impacts. Afghanistan needs more than 17 billion Afghanis (US$ 235 million) annual budget to combat with climate change, but currently, Afghanistan Government has 100 million Afghani (US$ 1.4 million) budget annually to cope with the climate change.

It is very necessary to have climate change adaptation and climate change mitigation, based on sound scientific analysis of those changes and uncertainties, be integrated into sectoral planning to reduce the negative impacts of climate change in Afghanistan and increase resilience.

It is also crucial to establish the vulnerability, adaptability, and resilience of rural communities in coping with climate change-related events as a means for informed development programming in the years to come.

Coordination among the government organization is necessary for proper implementation of the climate change policies, programs and projects. International Donors, Government Agencies, academia, civil societies etc. should strengthen their contribution and support to offset the climate change impacts. Capacity building at government level and awareness rising among all should be needed. Afghan Government should initiate and implement climate change adaptation and mitigation projects and programs in each developmental sectors and sustain a sustainable development.


Azimi, A., and McClauley, D. (2002). “Afghanistan’s Environment in Transition”. Manila: Asian Development Bank.

Beekma, J. and Fiddes, J. (2011) “Floods and Droughts: The Afghan Water Paradox.” In: Afghanistan Human Development Report 2011-The Forgotten Front: Water Security and the Crises in Sanitation. Kabul: Centre for Policy and Human Development.

Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (IRA), (2015). “Intended Nationally Determined Contribution. Submission to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change”. Kabul: Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.

Matthew Savage, Bill Dougherty, Mohammed Hamza, Ruth Butterfield, Sukaina Bharwani (2009). Socio-Economic Impacts of Climate Change in Afghanistan. A Report to the Department for International Development. Stockholm Environment Institute.

McSweeney, C. M. New, and G. Lizcano (2008), “UNDP Climate Change Country Profiles: Afghanistan”, UNEP, available from: http://country–‐

National Environmental Protection Agency and United Nations Environment Program. (2015). Climate Change and Governance in Afghanistan (5th. Ed), see:  

National Environmental Protection Agency. (2016). Afghanistan Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan, see:

Thomas, V. (2016). Climate Change in Afghanistan: Perspectives and Opportunities. Heinrich Boll Stiftung. 1st ed. Afghanistan: Kabul.