Insights and Analysis

In Mongolia: Local Environmentalist Receives the “Green Nobel”

April 25, 2007

By Christopher Plante

On Monday, Tsetsge Munkhbayar of Mongolia, founder of a mass citizen’s movement to protect Mongolia’s national waterways, won a 2007 Goldman Environmental Prize–the largest accolade in the world for grassroots environmentalists. Often referred to as the “Green Nobel,” the $125,000 annual award was established in 1990 by San Francisco civic leader and philanthropist Richard N. Goldman and his late wife, Rhoda H. Goldman, to recognize outstanding individuals who are combating pressing environmental challenges, and was created to allow these people to continue their important work.

The only Asian recipient of the award this year, Mr. Munkhbayar, 40, was recognized for having successfully pressured 35 of 37 mining operations working in Mongolia’s Onggi River basin–a precious drinking water supply for rural Mongolians–to permanently stop harmful, ruinous mining and exploration activities. Beginning in 2001, and with a volunteer staff of more than 2,000 people, Mr. Munkhbayar’s Onggi River Movement organized multi-province roundtable discussions and launched high-profile radio and television campaigns to build public awareness.

The Asia Foundation’s first grant to Mr. Munkhbayar and the Onggi River Movement was made in 2004. Then, in 2006, he inspired the creation of the Mongolia Nature Protection Coalition–a collective of eleven separate river movements in Mongolia actively fighting destructive mining, forestry, tourism, and agriculture activities. The Foundation supported the creation of the Coalition with financial grants and technical assistance, such as workshops in organizational management.

Richard N. Goldman, the founder of the prize, said that this award acknowledges Munkhbayar’s personal risk and vision. “Munkhbayar was chosen because of the huge impact he has had on the issue of responsible mining and water protection in Mongolia. Not only has he worked with governmental leaders in crafting appropriate legislation, but he has also made it a point to continue educating the public about their water resources and their democratic right to have a voice in protecting them.”

“The health of Asia’s environment is fundamental to the health of all its citizens,” said Doug Bereuter, president of The Asia Foundation. “As a grantee, Mr. Munkhbayar epitomizes our long-standing commitment to empowering people and organizations on the grassroots-level to creating a healthful, prosperous Asia. We congratulate and commend him on this significant award and his lasting work.”

Since 1990, the Goldman prize has been awarded to 119 people from 70 countries. Prize winners are selected by an international jury from confidential nominations submitted by a worldwide network of environmental organizations and individuals. Since receiving a Goldman Prize, eight winners have been appointed or elected to national office in their countries, including several who became ministers of the environment.

Chris Plante is the Director of The Asia Foundation’s Environment Program; Bill Foerderer Infante is The Asia Foundation’s Country Representative in Mongolia.

Related locations: Mongolia
Related programs: Environment and Climate Action


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