In the Race Against Climate Change, Ecosystems are Key

By Abdallah Al Dardari

June 6, 2021

Rangelands in Herat province – soil becomes less sandy; shrubs grow across the rangeland after the intervention. © UNDP / S. Omer Sadaat / 2018

Climate change is testing our planet to the limit, with every single ecosystem, from forests to farmland, facing its own unique challenges. Even if countries around the world succeed in the global effort to stop average temperatures rising more than 2°C, massive changes to our lives and environment are unavoidable.

Some of these changes can already be seen. In Afghanistan, for example, where it has warmed 1.8°C since the 1950s, glaciers in the Hindu Kush are melting and floods and droughts are getting worse. The impact of these changes is significant and is being felt most by those who rely on natural resources for their livelihoods — farmers and pastoralists.

So, while countries around the world must continue to reduce carbon emissions as quickly as possible, we also need to find ways to adapt to what is already becoming the “new normal”.

It is, in effect, a race to help farmers and pastoralists deal with the effects of a changing climate. To win this race, ecosystem-based solutions are as important as upgrading building code, putting up flood walls or repairing irrigation systems. Healthy ecosystems, such as forests, can protect communities from flooding and sandstorms and contribute to food security.

In Afghanistan, UNDP has been working closely with the National Environmental Protection Agency (NEPA) and the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL) with support from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) to promote this ecosystem-based approach.

One of the results of this partnership is the restoration of 593 hectares of rangeland. This land has been planted with drought-tolerant plants to hold the soil together and fight erosion, and with almonds, walnuts, pistachios and medicinal plants, which can be harvested and sold by local villagers. After seeing the benefits of such efforts, local communities have started to plant additional saplings on their own initiatives.

A new project, the Community-based Climate-responsive Livelihoods and Forestry (CCLF), is also being developed by UNDP, MAIL and GEF to introduce climate-smart forestry management systems to Afghanistan. It will map critical ecological zones, conservation areas and key plant species, providing much-needed data for the Afghan government to manage forest and rangeland sustainably in face of climate change. With the support of the forestry departments, it will set up community based forestry management to engage local people in restoring degraded woodlands and forests. 

UNDP is also working with GEF and the World Conversation Society (WCS) to prevent ecosystem degradation as part of a programme to conserve snow leopards. Through sustainable land-use planning, reforestation and reducing human-wildlife conflicts and poaching, it is protecting critical ecosystems for these majestic animals in the Wakan District.

Other ecosystem-based solutions such as agroforestry, ecological pest management and integrated water resource management should also have a role to play in adapting communities and livelihoods to climate change impacts, but more research is needed to assess their effectiveness in the various agro-ecological zones in Afghanistan.

In this race against time, we need all the help we can get from governments, civil society, scientists, the private sector and local communities. Importantly, we should always find ways to work with nature if we want the most sustainable solutions.

About the Author:

Abdallah Al Dardari is UNDP’s Resident Representative for Afghanistan. Before joining UNDP, Mr. Dardari served as the Deputy Prime Minister and Chair of State Planning Commission of Syria, a Senior Advisor to the World Bank, and Deputy Executive Secretary and Chief Economist of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia. Mr. Dardari holds an MA in international relations and economics from the University of Southern California and London School of Economics (LSE) and a doctorate in economics from Richmond University in London. He is currently a Post-Doctoral research fellow at IUAV Architecture University in Venice, Italy.