Notes from the Field

From Mongolia: A New Paradigm in Responsible Mining is Taking Shape

April 15, 2009

*The content of this blog article was updated on April 28, 2009

A paradigm shift is underway in Mongolia. The integration of “responsible mining” and ecological protection in government policy papers, public speeches by elected officials, and platforms of political parties, reflects Mongolia’s growing environmental awareness and commitment to developing the minerals sector in ways that will protect natural resources and benefit all Mongolians. This is the result of significant advocacy efforts on behalf of a committed group of representatives from industry, government, and civil society.

Over the past 12 months, the government of Mongolia has produced a series of policy planning and guidance documents covering issues from industrial development to infrastructure projecting out as far as 2021. Included in these development strategies and plans are detailed references to developing a responsible minerals sector. Declarations such as “protect ecologically vulnerable” made in the current draft of the National Development Policy, truly mark progress in policymaking.

Development of the minerals sector of this geographically vast, sparsely populated, and land-locked country is a key issue for Mongolians. Mongolia’s mineral wealth is attracting international interest with global investors vying for agreements and big country neighbors, Russia and China, are exploring ways to increase commercial linkages.

Despite being known internationally for its cashmere and unique tourist attractions, the wealth accruing from these industries are negligible in comparison with Mongolia’s minerals sector. Mining is the key to Mongolia’s economic development and growth, with the sector contributing 36 percent to Mongolia’s gross domestic product (GDP) and comprising 70 percent of its exports. Despite the worldwide economic crisis, global demand for gold and molybdenum is relatively high. The vast mineral reserves that remain untapped are potentially among the world’s largest copper and gold deposits.

Consistent with many mineral-rich countries, Mongolia faces the challenges of managing a boom and bust mining-based economy. Currently, there are more than 2,150 legal entities registered to explore or extract minerals in Mongolia and 31 percent of the country is licensed for exploration. In the past, mining exploration and extraction has gone on with little community engagement and lacking human health and safety standards. Legislation and regulation governing the sector have lagged behind the mining boom, adversely affecting biodiversity, water quality and quantity. Vast areas of mined land have been abandoned with no plans for reclamation.

However, the tide is turning. As a result of trends in corporate social responsibility, many Western mining companies have embraced responsible mining practices and are adhering to safety and environmental standards. At the same time, the government of Mongolia and civil society, with support from The Asia Foundation, have begun to engage more with industry on responsible resource use, resulting in the adoption of principles that guide the responsible development of the mining sector.

Since 2006, The Asia Foundation in Mongolia has convened a Multi-Stakeholder Forum that brings together representatives from civil society, government, industry and academia. After a year of regular meetings, a definition of responsible mining was developed and the Forum defined eight guiding principles. The Forum later elected a smaller group of 15 leaders, representing different sectors, to form a local non-governmental organization, named the Responsible Mining Initiative (RMI) that spearheads advocacy efforts.

In little over a year, the RMI has successfully advocated for integrating responsible mining into Mongolia’s National Development Strategy, Government Action Plan, and the current draft of the National Development Policy. Over time, responsible mining and the guiding principles have been further detailed and integrated into national policy and planning. These developments indicate the Government of Mongolia’s adoption of responsible mining principles in policy and lay the foundation for putting them in practice. They also demonstrate the success of advocacy initiatives for developing mining in ways that will benefit all Mongolians now and in the future.

Rebecca Darling is The Asia Foundation’s Director of Natural Resources and Development/Securing our Future Program. She can be reached at rdarling@asiafound.mn.

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  1. [...] groundbreaking Securing Our Future Program, which pioneered a multi-stakeholder approach to responsible mining and introduced water quality monitoring protocols across the country. This new program will [...]

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