Taliban pledges to tackle climate change as environmental activists flee regime

Britain’s evacuation effort in Kabul has entered its final hours

Samuel Webb
Friday 27 August 2021 15:20 BST
Crowds run from Taliban fire an hour before blasts

A Taliban official says the extremist group will help the world tackle climate change now it has seized power in Afghanistan, as environmental activists flee the new regime.

Abdul Qahar Balkhi, a member of the Taliban’s Cultural Commission, told Newsweek that the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan wants to work with the global community.

"We hope not only to be recognised by regional countries," Balkhi said, "but the entire world at large as the legitimate representative government of the people of Afghanistan."

"We believe the world has a unique opportunity of rapprochement and coming together to tackle the challenges not only facing us but the entire humanity and these challenges ranging from world security and climate change need the collective efforts of all, and cannot be achieved if we exclude or ignore an entire people who have been devastated by imposed wars for the past four decades."

His comments come as campaigners claim Afghan climate activists must be evacuated urgently from the conflict-torn country as they face the threat of persecution under the Taliban.

A group of nearly 260 activists and their families, aged between one and 80, have been waiting to be rescued for over a week, said spokespeople for Fridays for Future, the youth climate movement started by Greta Thunberg.

“If there’s anyone who can help in any way to evacuate the Fridays For Future activists from Afghanistan - please reach out urgently,” Swedish teenager Thunberg tweeted on Thursday night.

The Afghan campaigners have been engaged in climate activism and social justice work in their country.

“Everybody is scared and feeling quite hopeless as the situation is rapidly deteriorating,” said Sarah Greenfield Clark, co-founder of Climate 2025, a non-profit that supports emerging movements.

In 2010, a report by US military experts and geologists estimated that Afghanistan was sitting on nearly $1 trillion (£730 billion) in mineral wealth that could help alleviate the climate crisis. A huge amount of ironcoppergoldcobalt, lithium and rare-earth deposits are scattered around its provinces. These materials are vital in the manufacture of climate technology, such as state-of-the-art batteries.

Taliban fighters on the streets of Kabul

The resources can dramatically reform the economic prospects of Afghanistan, currently one of the world’s poorest countries. However, for years the potential couldn’t be tapped into due to ongoing conflicts.

But the demand for materials like lithium and copper is soaring around the world. The International Energy Agency said in May that global supplies of lithium, copper, nickel, cobalt and rare earth elements needed to increase sharply or the world would fail in its attempt to tackle the climate crisis.

Afghanistan has been hit hard by climate change. A severe draught in 2018 affected 13.5m Afghans.

That same year saw the collapse of a dam sparked by the rapid melting of glaciers near the city of Herat.

In 2018 the Somali militant Islamist group al-Shabaab banned single-use plastic bags.

Jubaland regional leader Mohammed Abu Abdullah said plastic bags are a “serious” threat to both humans and livestock and the waste they cause is bad for the environment.

Britain’s evacuation effort in Kabul has entered its final hours but has not been curtailed by the terror attack that killed US troops and Afghan civilians, the Defence Secretary has said.

Ben Wallace said today there are just "hours" left in the UK’s mission to help people flee the Taliban after closing the main processing site, near where the bombs were detonated.

Despite airlifting nearly 14,000 people out of Afghanistan in the past two weeks, Mr Wallace said "the sad fact is not every single one will get out".

He declined to give a timeline for the exit of British forces but acknowledged it would come before the Americans withdraw, with US President Joe Biden having set a departure date for Tuesday August 31.

Mr Wallace said the Baron Hotel processing centre, near where the bombings took place, was shut at 4.30am, as was the Abbey Gate to Kabul airport.

"We will process the people that we’ve brought with us, the 1,000 people approximately in the airfield now, and we will seek a way to continue to find a few people in the crowds where we can, but overall the main processing is now closed and we have a matter of hours," he told Sky News.

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