Notes from the Field

Mongolia’s Government Acts Against Climate Change

December 1, 2010

The signs of climate change are already evident in Mongolia as in many other countries in the world. Mongolia’s fragile ecosystems, pastoral animal husbandry, and rain-fed agriculture are extremely sensitive to climate change. As such, Mongolia’s traditional economic sectors and its people’s nomadic way of life are highly vulnerable to climate change.

Livestock grazing in Mongolia

In the winter of 2009, about 6 million of the country's roughly 44 million livestock, and a large number of wildlife, died because of the heavy and continuous snowfall and temperatures dropping below minus 40 degrees Celsius in most provinces of Mongolia.

Mongolia joined the United National Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in1993 and the Kyoto Protocol in 1999. The Government has taken considerable steps toward the implementation of the UNFCCC, by accomplishing the required commitments such as the Initial National Communication (INC), Technology Needs Assessment (TNA), and the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) to address climate change and other legal commitments.

Climate change can lead to natural disasters, which usually cause socio-economic damage and environmental degradation, thereby negatively impacting society and the economy. For example, Mongolia counts both a rapid increase of rodents and forest and steppe fires as natural disasters. Therefore, environmental degradation, in addition to large-scale property damage, should perhaps be included in the UN’s definition of natural disaster. According to data collected since the 1970s, Mongolia has experienced approximately 25-30 atmosphere-related natural phenomena, almost one-third of which caused natural disasters and several billion Tugrugs in damage.

Since the mid-1990s, excluding droughts and zuds (heavy snow fall), temporary extreme weather conditions have caused 10-12 billion Tugrugs in damage every year. This damage is largely due to the lack of protective mechanisms against natural disasters and the weakness of statistical data in forecasts. Continuous strong snowstorms (6 hours or more) that cover a large territory are one of the most dangerous extreme events, and can cause dramatic human fatalities. During this type of storm, herders are especially vulnerable. For example, from April 16-20, 1980, a strong snowstorm, with up to 40 m/s of speed, continued for 60 hours and caused 43 human deaths and unknown economic damage (during the socialist era, damage statistics were not open to the public). [Watch an Asia Foundation video about the zud of 2010.]

The herders are always afraid of natural disasters like zud. The zud is an extremely snowy winter in which livestock are unable to find fodder through the snow cover, and large numbers of animals die due to starvation and cold. In the winter of 2009, about 6 million of the country’s roughly 44 million livestock, and a large number of wildlife, died because of the heavy and continuous snowfall and temperatures dropping below minus 40 degrees Celsius in most provinces of Mongolia.

The impact was severe, as livestock herding accounts for about a third of employment in Mongolia. Around 35 percent of Mongolia’s work force is dependent on herding for a substantial part of their livelihoods, and about 63 percent of rural household assets are livestock. Therefore, impacts include worsening food security and rising poverty levels, which may cause an increase in rural to urban migration.

In 2010, the Government of Mongolia adopted a clean air amendment along with a new law based on the “polluters pay” principle, the Air Pollution Fee. An interagency and inter-sectoral National Climate Committee (NCC) was established. The committee consists of experts to coordinate and guide national activities, and to develop measures for adapting to climate change and mitigating GHG emissions.

A Governmental meeting was held on the last Friday of August, 2010 in South-Gobi, a place badly hit by spreading desertification. South-Gobi was chosen as the venue because the Government wanted to raise public awareness of problems posed by climate change. Meeting participants discussed a new program to battle climate change and decided to appeal for international assistance and attention. The coalition Government will do whatever it can, but people and organizations also have to change their habits and ways to adopt environmentally friendly methods of living and working.

This article originally appeared in The University of California’s Environmental Leadership Program alumni newsletter.

D. Davgadorj G. Erdenebayasgalan is the officer in charge of chemical and waste management in Mongolia’s Ministry of Nature, Environment, and Tourism. In 2009, The Asia Foundation sponsored her participation in the Environmental Leadership Program at the University of California, Berkeley.

View all posts by D. Davgadorj G. Erdenebayasgalan

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