China-Afghanistan Links Will Boost the Chance of a Climate-Rulebook Deal as Global Political Shift Comes About (6)

–China, India, Pakistan, Russia will be Happy the U.S. is Out of One of Their Backyards
–Four reasons why Afghanistan is important to climate talks



Aug. 20-27, 2021 — The U.S. getting out of Afghanistan improves the chance of a biting global-climate-rulebook deal in November.

My conviction isn’t absolute on this one, but the USA seems uncharacteristically humble about its ability to make progress in Afghanistan. The nature of its departure also bodes well in the sense that there are limited reports so far of Taliban atrocities as they take control.

I interviewed Jonathan Goodhand, professor in conflict and development studies at the SOAS (the School of Oriental and African Studies) University of London (see Note 1).

The fact that the U.S. does”not have troops on the ground means that regional powers, including China, will be happy about that,” Goodhand said. (More below.)

China’s already signalled its willingness to work with the Taliban through a recent high-profile meeting between Wang Yi, the Chinese foreign minister, and Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar of the Taliban, according to Financial Times on August 17.

When it comes to climate talks, it’s easy to underestimate the strategic importance of Afghanistan.

Firstly, it’s location is near plenty of nations that have leverage in the climate negotiations because they are super big (China, India) or have not contributed much on a per-person basis to the climate crisis.

See this map:

Last week, China said it “welcomed” the chance to deepen ties with Afghanistan, a country that has for generations been coveted for its geo-strategic importance by bigger powers, AFP/France24 reported (see note 3). China’s keen to ensure terrorists don’t use Afghani soil to underpin minority Uyghur separatists in the sensitive border region of Xinjiang.

To be sure, the U.S. is certainly not leaving Asia. On Aug. 23, the White House announced a series of new agreements with Singapore aimed at combating cyberthreats, tackling climate change, addressing the COVID-19 pandemic and alleviating supply chain issues, NBC reported (see notes 4 and 5). The announcements coincide with Vice President Kamala Harris’ visit to the region, as part of the Biden administration’s efforts to counter Chinese influence there.

Harris reiterated U.S. statements that China’s attempts to claim ownership of certain parts of the South China Sea were against international rules and “unlawful”. “We have enduring interests in this region,” she said.

Other neighbors of Afghanistan, for example the three Stans to the north, have deep links with Russia, a strong competitor with the U.S. when supplying natural gas to Europe. Gas is crucial in cutting emissions in the next decade as it replaces coal and fills in the gaps when solar and wind generation isn’t contributing.

Russia’s president Vladimir Putin called on the international community to unite and support the Afghan people and prevent terrorism, Xinhua reported Aug. 21.

Pakistan to the east has been one of the strongest climate negotiators, refusing to bend to western wishes unless it gets a framework that includes historic responsibility for the acute crisis that is global warming. Note the recent leaked UN report that shows that global emissions need to peak within four years.

Iran to the west of Afghanistan is yet another important climate negotiating nation.

In case, like me, you didn’t know this little piece of history, check it out:

V&A Museum Epic Iran exhibition, London

The above notes this: “After Prime Minister Mossadegh’s efforts to nationalise Iran’s oil industry were thwarted by a U.S./UK coup in 1953, this dissent joined forces with a radical form of Islamism. This led to the 1979 Iranian Revolution, the end of Iran’s monarchy, and the eventual establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran” (Please feel free to read the rest in the pciture.)

Does that mean Iran could have been a Middle-East Norway, except for the U.S. (most to blame for the climate crisis) and the U.K. (which is leading the climate talks through November and beyond)? WTAF?

For me, the bottom line seems to be that meddling by the U.K. and US has arguably suffocated the economic ambitions of much of this region for a long time. True, those two nations have been seeking to help build national and outward-looking institutions to strengthen Afghanistan, for instance.

If the west now wants this region to help it peak global emissions within four years, giving it back some “autonomy” now might be a good thing. ( I will update this column …to be sure …with neighbours like these [leaders in the new Asia] who needs other friends so much, right? Please send comments and help/corrections to

It’s time to end the mindless pursuit of black gold and suppression in this region and go instead for green and clean — the “new gold” according to both China’s Xi and the USA’s Biden-Harris. See this nice depiction of a barrel of oil, also from the Iran exhibition at the V&A museum in London:

Back to Afghanistan, Goodhand’s best-case scenario for the country might be coming about, but it’s certainly not entirely clear, he said.

It’s extremely difficult to make predictions about the situation, he said. “The first part is about the stability of the transition (of power) and second part is the moderating of Taliban behavior.”

“The scenes from the airport show there are still a lot of Afghans who want to get out. But if you’d said to most Afghans two weeks ago …if there is a choice between a continuation of civil war and fighting in the streets of Kabul or a reasonably peaceful and stable transfer of power to the Taliban … and it’s Taliban mark II rather than Taliban mark I…somewhat more inclusive and somewhat more moderate … then they would have taken it. The stability of the transition is not guaranteed, but I don’t see any major armed opposition emerging.”

“The moderation of the Taliban is also uncertain; I’ve got friends on the ground who say they feel really safe and the Taliban are making the right noises and they are quite optimistic. At the same time, the Taliban are systematically identifying people that were associated with the armed forces or human rights defenders. They seem to have addresses of people. They seem to have names. So there are some disturbing things,” Goodhand said.

Note that two blasts on Aug. 26 near Kabul airport killed about 85 people, including 13 U.S. soldiers, according to Reuters.

Secondly, the world needs Afghanistan to tighten its climate “pledge” for 2030 — made more than five years ago.

The x axis is a bit unclear but you get the drift by reading the text.

The above snip from the country’s nationally determined contribution to Paris and it shows the country was then seeking $18 billion for adaptation and to limit emission gains.

Now, the world is seeking to cut emissions by half through 2030, so this contribution will be seen as not ambitious enough.

Thirdly, UNFCCC rules require all nations to agree the Paris rulebook in November at the Glasgow talks (while not necessarily using all parts of the rules themselves). So Afghanistan’s support for any rulebook deal is important.

It may be difficult to get the new Taliban government, as it forms, to focus on climate the next three months and I doubt it will update its climate pledge by November. Yet, the climate negotiation process still needs to look after the government so that it doesn’t become adversarial to the planned deal.

Afghanistan’s acute challenges include dealing with damaging drought, Goodhand said.

Indeed, the UNFCCC process needs to take into account during the next three months and beyond the requirements of all nations struggling to provide their people with basic safety and essential products like food and water — especially when those problems are not of their own making. And the climate crisis is clearly a case in point and it’s increasingly magnifying problems for countries, especially those already struggling.

Fourthly, Afghanistan is key in climate negotiations because of its potential supply of rare-earth materials.

Afghanistan is one of the poorest nations in the world. But in 2010, US military officials and geologists revealed that the country, which lies at the crossroads of Central and South Asia, was sitting on mineral deposits worth nearly $1 trillion, CNN reported (see note 6).

This potential haul makes it all the more remarkable that the U.S., which itself has a limited rare-earth-supply chain, is exiting the country.

(Corrects to say it’s easy to underestimate the importance of Afghanistan. Updates with more from Goodhand, three other reasons. I had some technical problems with this article. Apologies for any confusion.)


  1. Interview was on Aug. 20.
  2. This from Sky News on Aug. 21: Every day the scene outside the British evacuation camp changes, every day it seems to get worse and this day there is a new sense of desperation.

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