Insights and Analysis

Seoul & Ulaanbaatar Mayors: ‘Cooperation Vital to Global Green Development’

October 7, 2015

By Dylan Davis, Meloney C. Lindberg

On September 21 and 22, mayors and vice mayors from eight cities across Northeast Asia gathered in Ulaanbaatar for the “Northeast Asian Mayors’ Forum” to exchange best practices and dismiss challenges in urban green growth. After two days of lively discussions, the leaders agreed on a communiqué that Ulaanbaatar Mayor Bat-Uul Erdene will present at the December Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), or COP21, in Paris.

Northeast Asian Mayors’ Forum

Ulaanbaatar Mayor Bat-Uul Erdene (at right) and Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon (left) at the Northeast Asian Mayors’ Forum.

Asia Foundation country representatives Meloney Lindberg (Mongolia) and Dylan Davis (Korea) spoke at the Forum with Ulaanbaatar Mayor Bat-Uul and Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon. Below are excerpts from their conversation.

This Forum marks an important milestone, coming just a year after a national strategy for green development in Mongolia was adopted. What is your vision of the way forward following this timely meeting?

Mayor Bat-Uul: Cooperation and partnership of Northeast Asian cities is vital to global green development. Many cities in this region play major roles in the reduction of global air pollution, and as such, our cities can further collaborate in this arena.

In 2014, we hosted the very first Northeast Asian Mayors’ Forum. It is opportune that this Forum, with a focus on green growth, is happening at the same time that Ulaanbaatar has just finished developing the first draft of its own Green Development Strategy. After exchanging experiences and ideas with other cities at this Forum, we will finalize our strategy for Ulaanbaatar.

The Forum also coincides with a Sister City visit from the Honorable Mayor Park of Seoul. In what areas related to the environment can Ulaanbaatar exchange and share with Seoul?

Mayor Bat-Uul: We have been importing best practices from Seoul for many years, and one notable area of collaboration is smart public transportation. Ulaanbaatar residents have just started using smart cards on buses, and a Korean company is helping to implement this initiative.

Seoul residents use their terraces and balconies as household garden spaces. In a similar way, we could easily implement that practice in Ulaanbaatar. We could also encourage ger area households to more efficiently use their khasha (fenced plots) spaces to grow vegetables.

One of the main aspects of green development is supporting a city’s low-income residents and enabling them to gain sources of income. For instance, Seoul uses empty spaces like small corners to create green spaces. While this helps create more green space, the people who plant those green spaces are also compensated for their work.

Ulaanbaatar and Seoul have been Sister Cities for 20 years and Ulaanbaatar even has a street named Seoul Street. In what areas do you see that Seoul can contribute to further promote this important sister city relationship in the future?

Mayor Park: Since Seoul and Ulaanbaatar established Sister City relations in 1995, we have pursued active exchanges in various fields including culture, environment, urban planning, and labor policies. On this visit, my first to Ulaanbaatar, we organized the Seoul-Ulaanbaatar Policy Exchange Workshop to commemorate the 20th anniversary of our sister city relations. The workshop provided a platform for practical exchanges. Participants engaged in policy exchanges in various fields such as smart city, disaster safety management, and urban planning.

I hope to further strengthen the friendship and partnership between Seoul and Ulaanbaatar. I believe the entire Asian region should come together and share their wisdom to tackle various common challenges.

Under your leadership, we have seen a great number of positive changes in transforming Ulaanbaatar into a greener city. What are you most proud of?

Mayor Bat-Uul: The city’s new administration started its work in 2012. Since this time, ecology and green development has become an independent sector within the administration’s structure. We have started looking into how other cities efficiently and effectively develop their green growth and green development strategies. The more we study about the topic the more we realize the importance of this issue. I don’t think it will take long for Ulaanbaatar to become a green city. Ulaanbaatar is a relatively young city. Now almost every ger area household owns a fuel- efficient stove.

In what ways has Seoul embraced green growth?

Mayor Park: Seoul’s “Green Growth Project” focuses on solving climate change problems and the energy crisis by creating opportunities for sustainable urban growth. Through our “One Less Nuclear Power Plant Initiative,” we have reduced 2 million TOE (equivalent to the capacity of one nuclear power plant) and raised energy independence from 2.9 percent in 2011) to 4.2 percent in 2013 through energy conservation efforts and new and renewable energy production efforts. The second phase (August 2014-present) aims to reduce 4 million TOE by 2020 and raise energy independence to 20 percent by 2020. Through our “Seoul Station 7017 Project,” we will transform the elevated road near Seoul Station into an environmentally friendly park that will also help revitalize the local economy.

Many of Ulaanbaatar’s residents are concerned about the environment and are eager to mobilize to make it a greener city. What ideas do you have to support citizens?

Mayor Bat-Uul: One of the main factors for healthy living in Ulaanbaatar is to have more green spaces and parks. The administration has put a great deal of effort into making this happen, including major new road construction projects that enable people to travel easily outside of the city to access summer camps in Gachuurt.

We spent around 3 percent of the last year’s city budget for green development. We plan to increase this number and accomplish bigger results. Apart from cosmetic works, there is an urgent need to update the city’s engineering infrastructure to improve insulation, reduce heat loss during the cold months, and enable safer tap water service. Such actions are required for the expansion of the city and considered vital for green development.

Mayor Park, you and Mayor Bat-Uul were both strong youth leaders in your student days and have focused on listening to citizen’s concerns and seeking concrete ways to address them during your respective political careers. What do you think are the most important issues to tackle to ensure citizens in Seoul or Ulaanbaatar can live in a healthy and green city?

Mayor Park: As a city that has experienced both the good and the bad side of rapid and compressed development, Seoul has much advice to give to Ulaanbaatar. First, all policies, including urban planning, should not be pursued by the central local government alone. Rather, they should be pursued with the communication and the collaboration of the citizens, and put top priority on quality of life of citizens and sustainable future of cities.

It may take some time for the citizens’ opinions to be reflected in the urban planning process, but in the long run, including citizen participation minimizes trials and errors, and is the safest path forward. Ulaanbaatar has a beautiful natural environment. Since it is difficult to restore an environment that has been destroyed, it is important to prioritize harmony between people and the environment when pursuing urban development.

In early December, The Asia Foundation will meet with one of the key organizers of this Forum, Ulaanbaatar Vice Mayor Bat-Erdene, to share his views and present the finalized green growth action plan. The City received technical support from a number of key international partners and technical experts.


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