Ranked among a group of nations that are highly susceptible to climate change, the mountainous nation of Lesotho is particularly prone to drought, soil erosion and land degradation, desertification, deforestation, loss of biodiversity, and degradation of wetlands and mountain sponges. These challenges are exacerbated by climate change and further hamper efforts to attain sustainable development and food security.

Reversing environmental degradation and adapting to climate change are among the key goals of Lesotho’s Vision 2020, and are part of the National Strategic Development Plan (NSDP) 2012/13– 2016/17, which focused on incorporating sound environmental policies and land use planning into strategies for sustainable growth. Fundamental issues include protecting water sources through integrated land and water resources management, as well as methods of boosting the environment’s natural resilience to climate change, conserving biodiversity and exploring environmentally friendly production methods.

The Lesotho Meteorological Services (LMS), which falls under the Ministry of Energy and Meteorology, is the coordinating agency charged with monitoring and reporting on weather, climate and climate change issues. A National Climate Change Committee (NCCC), which serves as an advisory body to the LMS, was formally established in 2013 to coordinate Lesotho’s climate change issues.

Recent accomplishments by Government in the area of environmental conservation include the publication of the National Lesotho Environment Outlook Report, which emphasises the necessity of tackling the underlying drivers of environmental degradation. Recommendations include strategic backing for growth which takes the fragile nature of the environment into consideration. This can be achieved by developing an integrated methodology for local and national planning, and the enactment of suitable policies in areas such as tourism, land, water, biodiversity, conservation, health and mining.

Other recent achievements by the Ministry of Tourism, Environment and Culture comprise the development of information, education and communication materials on persistent organic pollutants and waste; a national assessment of mercury inventories and a review of regulatory instruments; and development of the Maloti Drakensberg Park (MDP) Fire Management Plan. In order to increase biodiversity and promote the sustainable use of the environment, the Ministry’s medium-term goals involve:

  • Protecting and conserving flora and fauna resources inside and outside protected areas and ensuring their effective and efficient management
  • Supporting communities and entrepreneurs to develop and implement sustainable projects
  • Establishing appropriate environmental institutional bodies; for example, a Radiation Protection Agency, Lesotho Environment Management Authority, and National Biodiversity Agency

Lesotho’s recurrent budget for environmental management was set at M12.168 million for 2017/18. Development budget finances amounted to M60 000 for ‘Monitoring of Environment and Security’ and M650 000 for ‘Early Implementation and Ratification of the Minamata Convention on Mercury’, with both these projects being undertaken with funding from the Global Environment Facility (GEF).

The US $385 000 project ‘Enabling Activities to Review and Update the National Implementation Plan for the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs)’ is also funded by the GEF, with implementing agencies comprising the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), and executing agencies being the Department of Environment and Ministry of Tourism, Environment and Culture.

Climate change: a call for action

Lesotho’s Prime Minister, Dr Motsoahae Thomas Thabane, underlined the challenges the country is facing due to climate change while addressing the 72nd Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations (UN) in New York in September 2017. His speech focused on the devastating impact of prolonged droughts due to the El Niño effect, which has gripped the entire southern African sub-continent, leading to food shortages and other hardships. He called for urgent action in accordance with the Paris Climate Change Treaty concluded in 2016, and reiterate the appeal that small countries like Lesotho be empowered with technologies to deal with and adapt to climate change challenges.

Prime Minister Thabane has called on the international community to continue mobilising and providing additional financial resources for climate-friendly technologies to address the urgent adaptation and mitigation needs of Africa and other developing countries.


Lesotho’s primary environmental challenges include severe land degradation, inappropriate agronomic practices and overgrazing. Coupled with the impact of climate change and socioeconomic issues, these challenges threaten sustainable production, nutrition and food security. According to the BTI 2016 Lesotho Country Report, since more than half of Basotho engage in some form of subsistence farming, the economic prospects of the country and the lives of many ordinary citizens are inextricably linked to the state of the environment.

As Lesotho is a mountainous country, farming is often undertaken on slopes with fragile soil formations. The effects of climate change are especially noticeable in excessive levels of soil erosion caused by water run-off. The country is estimated to be losing about 40 million tonnes of arable soil per year as a result of a combination of factors, including perennial drought, population movement and poor land management practices, with the resultant sedimentation affecting river ecosystems while also exacerbating air and water pollution.

Furthermore, Lesotho’s natural resources are being unsustainably exploited, with the overharvesting of biomass such as fuel wood, which is used to provide energy for cooking and/or heating. Although there are many opportunities for the production of renewable energy in the form of wind and solar power, and the country already produces clean energy in the form of hydropower, this is not yet accessible to most citizens. In urban areas, environmental issues relate in particular to air and water pollution, with the pace of urbanisation intensifying the existing capacity challenges among local authorities.

While Lesotho’s CO2 emissions remain relatively low, they have nonetheless doubled between 2000 and 2015. The proportional contribution of the three key sectors to greenhouse gas emissions is: agriculture (63 percent), energy (31 percent) and waste management (6 percent). This depicts Lesotho’s socioeconomic circumstances, characterised by an economy dependent on natural resources, a low but growing energy sector and an industrial sector that is still in its infancy.

Water Security and Climate Change Assessment

Released in September 2016, the World Bank report entitled ‘Lesotho Water Security and Climate Change Assessment’ looks at the challenges faced with regard to water management, against the backdrop of habitual droughts, floods and future climatic variations in the region. Projected temperature increases due to climate change will have a detrimental impact of Lesotho’s water security, patterns of agricultural production and future opportunities to develop water transfer infrastructure. Simulations show that the continued development of existing water infrastructure, particularly in the lowlands, is central to improving both reliability and resilience.

The report recommends investing in monitoring and enhanced data acquisition to develop more sophisticated analyses of the complex issues surrounding natural resources. Better data in respect of agriculture, water and climate will help Lesotho to seize future opportunities while avoiding risks.

Land cover database

Development of the National Land Cover Database has been undertaken by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in partnership with the Lesotho Government through the Committee for Environment Data Management (CEDAMA). Up-to-date information on the status of natural resources is essential for evidence-based decision making, and the land cover database provides an important baseline for planning sustainable land management interventions and broader natural resource management activities.

The database, which covers the entire territory of Lesotho, has been developed through a multi-spectral image fusion technique using satellite imagery and aerial photography. This newly enriched dataset will strengthen organisational capacities in the generation and utilisation of spatial information for natural resources, agriculture management and agro-environmental studies. Furthermore, it will build and support the dialogue and technical information flow among Government institutions, national and local authorities, farmers and stakeholders in natural resources management.

The diverse range of applications includes:

  • Land cover change analysis of agriculture, forestry, rangeland, urban areas, etc.
  • Disaster risk maps
  • Erosion risk assessment
  • Rangeland monitoring
  • Above-ground biomass assessment and change
  • Monitoring frameworks for integrated water catchment initiatives
  • Development of a Land Resources Information System


Lesotho has adopted natural resources and sustainable land management practices through a number of sector-specific policies which tie in with the goals of the National Strategic Development Programme (NSDP).

The National Environment Policy (1998) laid the legal foundation for the Environment Act of 2008, which provides for the protection and management of the land base against the negative impacts of infrastructure development. The Act introduced Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs), audits and project monitoring.

Other important acts include the Forestry Act of 1998, which provides for the protection and preservation of forests and calls for land to be made available for forestry activities, including fuel wood production, as a means of preserving indigenous shrubs and trees that guard against soil erosion. Introduced in 2008, the National Forestry Policy aims to increase Lesotho’s tree cover to at least 5 percent by the year 2020.

The National Range Resources Management Policy of 2014 provides guidance for the development of effective strategies that combat land and vegetation degradation and motivate for improved legislation and the implementation thereof. The goal is to attain sustainable development and management of rangeland resources for enhanced biodiversity, optimum productivity and improved livelihoods of the population. The policy envisages a three-tier structure, comprising national, district and community grazing associations. Used in conjunction with Sustainable Land Management (SLM), it enables extension officers to support communities with expertise on SLM techniques and practices, including rangeland management, conservation agriculture, water harvesting and wetland protection and rehabilitation.

The Energy Policy of 2015 envisions that energy shall be universally accessible and affordable in a sustainable manner, with minimal negative impact on the environment. In particular, it sets goals to reduce fuel wood usage as well as other fossil fuels, and promotes renewable energy and energy efficiency, focusing on increasing energy access in remote areas through the development of private sector led off-grids and energy trading centres.

Combating climate change

Lesotho was one of the first countries worldwide to ratify the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Kyoto Protocol. It is thus committed to working towards halting the advance of climate change by eliminating or reducing its causes, as well as making adaptations to the emerging climate.

The UNFCCC requires Lesotho to submit periodic reports on levels of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, climate mitigation and adaptation activities, vulnerability analyses and policy recommendations. Furthermore, the Lima Call for Climate Action requires countries to develop and communicate their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) towards achieving the stabilisation of GHG concentrations in the atmosphere. As a Least Developed Country (LDC), special provisions apply to Lesotho’s INDCs to reflect its special circumstances.

Against this backdrop, Lesotho submitted its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution report in September 2015, detailing a summary of national mitigation and adaptation contributions. This follows a series of inclusive national consultations on the nature of the country’s development trajectory between 2020 and 2030.

The Strategic Plan for the Ministry of Energy and Meteorology (2015/16-2020/21) outlines key intentions in areas such as climate change mitigation and adaptation, including national energy initiatives. With support from the European Union, the ministry is developing a Climate Change Policy which will include a response strategy and guidelines for integration of climate change and related activities in the various sectors of the economy. While the energy sector will require additional investment in energy-efficient equipment, grid extension and rural electrification projects, these levels of investment are not affordable without financial support.

Mitigation potentials in the waste management sector highlight the use of agricultural waste for energy. If just 20 percent of Lesotho’s estimated 310 000 rural households which depend on small-scale farming have sufficient livestock (between three and five cattle) to install a domestic biogas digester to generate gas for cooking, the fuel wood use could be reduced significantly. The potential emissions reduction would be some 29 200 tonnes of CO2 per year.

In the forestry sector, tree planting in degraded forest lands presents considerable potential for climate change mitigation. According to the latest mapping inventory, about 1.6 percent of Lesotho is covered in forests, which contain some 2 million metric tonnes of carbon in living forest biomass. If the current deforestation rate of 0.50 percent per year is reversed, it could potentially produce emission reductions of nearly 38 902 tonnes for each 200 hectares of tree cover.

The cost of the reforestation option would amount to US $24 million between 2015 and 2030 for the 120 000 hectares of land to be reforested, with an initial establishment cost of US $200 per hectare. Furthermore, given that biomass consumption remains the main source of domestic energy, significant financial support would be required to subsidise fuel-efficient cook stoves and alternative fuels and techniques for cooking.

The main opportunities for mitigation consist of energy efficiency and demand management, coupled with increasing investment in renewable energy programmes in the electricity, buildings (residential, commercial and institutional) and waste sectors. Lesotho is committed to unconditionally reducing 10 percent of its GHG emissions by 2030 against the Business-as-usual (BAU) scenario. The conditional target is 35 percent by 2030.

Development partner assistance

The ‘Strengthening Capacity for Climate Change Adaptation through Support to Integrated Watershed Management Programme’ aims to implement sustainable land and water management practices (SLM/W) and resource conservation measures in selected watersheds to reduce vulnerability and enhance adaptive capacity at community level. The focus is on crop, livestock and agro-forestry systems in the three most vulnerable livelihood zones. Approved for implementation in 2015, the US $2.089 million project is financed by the Least Developed Countries (LDC) Fund, and is being implemented by the FAO with the assistance of a wide spectrum of government ministries and departments.

The Least Developed Countries Fund was established in November 2001 under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to address the needs of least developed countries whose economic and geophysical characteristics make them especially vulnerable to the impact of global warming and climate change.


The LDC Fund also finances ‘Reducing Vulnerability from Climate Change in the Foothills, Lowlands and the Lower Senqu River Basin’, an initiative to mainstream climate risk considerations in Lesotho’s Land Rehabilitation Programme for improved ecosystem resilience and reduced vulnerability of livelihoods to climate shocks. With a total cost of US $35.998 million, the project was approved in 2015 and is being implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), with executing agencies including the Ministry of Forestry, Range and Soil Conservation and the Ministry of Gender, Youth and Sports.


Factors threatening biological diversity include habitat loss and destruction, introduction of alien (exotic or non-native) species, human-generated pollution and contamination, population growth, exploitation due to over-hunting, over-fishing or over-collecting, and global climate change. In Lesotho, specific threats are overgrazing, unsustainable harvesting (particularly of medicinal plants), uncontrolled fires, urban and agricultural encroachment, invasive alien species and pollution. Increased activity through tourism also poses potential threats.

Among several conservation areas created in Lesotho by the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA) in the 1990s to restore some of the biodiversity lost as a result of the LHWP are: Katse Botanical Gardens, Tšehlanyane National Park, Bokong Nature Reserve and the Liphofung Cave Cultural Historical Site. The Katse Botanical Garden is Southern Africa’s first botanical garden dedicated to featuring alpine species. LHDA initiatives are discussed in greater detail in the ‘Tourism’ chapter.

Maloti-Drakensberg Transboundary World Heritage Site

The Maloti-Drakensberg Transfrontier Conservation Area (TFCA), incorporating Lesotho’s oldest national park (Sehlabathebe) as well as the adjoining uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park in South Africa, was proclaimed in 2001. The Maloti-Drakensberg Transfrontier Conservation and Development project was launched by the two countries’ environmental ministers and the World Bank, and management plans for the TFCA were completed in 2008.

This uniquely biodiverse region is now a World Heritage site, following the June 2013 inscribing of Sehlabathebe National Park as an extension to the uKhahlamba Drakensberg World Heritage Site in South Africa by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee. The Maloti-Drakensberg Transboundary World Heritage Site covers an extent of 14 740 square kilometres which encompasses the mountains that span the north-eastern border between Lesotho and South Africa – the magnificent Maloti and Drakensberg ranges. The area is an important centre of endemism for montane plant species and is home to more than 2 500 species of flora. In addition, this is the primary water catchment area for both Lesotho and South Africa, and its wetlands serve as an essential water purification and storage system.

The caves and rock shelters of this spectacular natural location contain more than 600 sites of culturally significant and historically rich rock art, representing the spiritual life of the San people who lived in this area over a period of 4 000 years. This is the largest and most concentrated group of paintings in Africa south of the Sahara. The National Heritage Resources Act of 2011 provides for the preservation and protection of all the San engravings and paintings found in Sehlabathebe National Park.

While there is a drive to improve tourism and related livelihood options in the area, challenges include the inaccessibility of some attractions as well as a lack of adequate resources to improve, maintain and expand tourism assets. The site is also under increasingly serious threat from various unsustainable land-use and management systems, as well as issues related to cross-border crime such as stock theft, drug smuggling and attacks on hikers, all of which call for more concerted and coordinated efforts for mitigation and management between Lesotho and South Africa. To counter these threats, a Transfrontier Security Strategy was developed jointly by the relevant agencies and is currently being implemented.