In 2019, after almost a year of peaceful demonstrations, the Sudanese people managed to topple a 30-year-old dictatorship and achieve some measure of political stability. In September 2019, a transitional government led by Abdalla Hamdok was formed and was faced with the difficult task of tackling the economic crisis and reforming the country’s different sectors with the aim to prepare for elections in 2023. Sadly, however, Sudan’s democratic transition proved short-lived and in October 2021, the armed forces, led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, seized power, arrested the prime minister, dissolved the government, and called its actions “national duty, not an agenda.”
While Sudan was undergoing all of this political instability and tension, the country continued to suffer from the various climate change impacts as it is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change in the world. In 2020, Sudan witnessed its most historic floods with the Nile’s water levels reaching records that have never been recorded before. Seventeen out of 18 states were flooded, over 100,000 houses were destroyed, while almost 100 people died and half a million were impacted.
Droughts are also a major challenge facing Sudan, leading to conflict over resources. According to a post-conflict environmental assessment conducted by the UN Environment Program, the Darfur conflict which broke out in 2003 and resulted in the death of almost half a million people and the displacement of 2 million, has been driven by climate change and environmental degradation.
Other climate impacts on Sudan include an increase in temperature and scarcity of water pushing the communities to the limits and could render parts of the country “uninhabitable.”
Sudan has been living in a vicious circle for decades because of climate change impacts. Every year, the country witnesses extreme weather events which continue to weaken the infrastructure and before the country can even partially recover, the next extreme event hits.
One step forward, two steps back
Upon his appointment in August 2019, Prime Minister Hamdok worked on establishing a technocratic government with the aim of reforming the country’s sectors and achieving stability. Hamdok made it clear that climate change was on his agenda and one of his first international trips included attending the UN Climate Summit in September 2019. Ever since then, Sudan has taken multiple steps forward in addressing the climate challenge.
In 2020, The Green Climate Fund (GCF) approved $25.6 million in funding for a climate resilience project that would improve healthcare, food, and water security for 3.7 million people across 10 states. An additional $10 million in funding was approved for a project to enhance the adaptive capacity of local communities and restore the carbon sink potential of the Gum Arabic belt in Sudan. Getting these funding opportunities approved was a great achievement by itself for Sudan, as the country had historically been among the countries that struggled to access international funding for climate mitigation and adaptation.
In the same year, the Sudanese government launched its first-ever State of the Environment and Outlook report. The report included a comprehensive outline of the state and trends of the environment of Sudan from 2011 to 2020, and it provided an environmental vision to which the country can aspire in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Needless to say, Sudan was finally taking action to address the climate crisis and ensure that environmental concerns are factored into the country’s transition. But things did not last for long and the October 2021 coup severely undermined the environmental plans.
“The military has yet again disappointed the people of Sudan and wiped off the critical work that has been done. The coup has [changed] the timeline for the GCF projects and denied Sudan active participation in the COP 26 climate meeting,” said one current employee at the Higher Council for Environment and Natural Resources (HCENR) in Sudan who preferred to remain anonymous.
Soon after the coup, the former General Secretary for the HCENR, Professor Rashid Mekki Hassan who was appointed by Hamdok, resigned in protest of the military’s actions. The coup also took place a few days before the official start of COP 26, the annual UN climate meeting where governments negotiate critical climate topics. Due to the closure of the airport and the shutdown of the internet and phone lines, the majority of the Sudanese delegation could not attend the conference, leaving Sudan’s seat empty in most of the meetings.
COP 27: Another missed opportunity?
This November, the whole world will gather in Egypt for COP 27. This conference is highly important for developing countries such as Sudan as it is the platform where governments negotiate and demand stronger climate pledges from developed countries including technical and financial support.
This COP is particularly important because it comes right after the finalization of the Paris Agreement rules last year at COP 26. In Egypt, countries will focus on the implementation of these agreements, including the one on a new climate finance goal that fulfills the needs of developing countries to address climate change.
Another topic of vital importance will be the issue of loss and damage which refers to the unrecoverable damage caused by climate change impacts. At COP 27, countries most vulnerable to climate change, like Sudan, will be pushing for this topic to yield concrete outcomes including a financial facility dedicated to this issue.
As a country that is part of major climate negotiation groups including the African Group, the Arab Group, and the Least Developed Countries Group, Sudan has a lot of work to do before the conference in order to define its priorities and potential gains from COP 27. But with the continued political tension and the fact that climate change is not a priority for the military-led government, it is highly unlikely that Sudan will be able to unlock the full potential of COP 27.
This is a sad reality for the millions of people suffering from climate change in Sudan and yet another severe consequence of the military’s actions to disrupt the stability of the country, taking the Sudanese people back to square one.
Lina Yassin is a Sudanese climate researcher at the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED).