Mongolia at a Glance
Population: 3.4 million
Major Threats: Floods, Wildfires, Storms, Epidemics, Extreme Temperatures, Landslides, Drought, and Earthquakes
Populations Affected: Rural and Urban Communities
Locations Affected: Ulaanbaatar, Darkhan, Selenge, Tuv, Dornod, Sukhbaatar, Khentii, Omnogovi, Khovsgoi, Govisumber
Industries Affected: Information Communication and Technology, Energy, Transportation, Agriculture
Compounding Issues: Livelihoods, Agriculture, Environment, Hygiene and Sanitation, Renewable Energy
World Risk Index Ranking: 148
Global Climate Risk Index: 48 (2021)
Mongolia, a landlocked nation, shares its borders with the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation. The country has a population of 3.4 million, with approximately half residing in the capital city of Ulaanbaatar. Despite a threefold increase in GDP per capita since 1991, Mongolia recorded a poverty rate of 27.8% in 2020 and continues to maintain a lower middle-income classification according to the World Bank. Additionally, Mongolia possesses significant mineral resources including coal, copper, and gold, with nearly 90% of its exports directed towards China. The agricultural sector contributes around 11% to the GDP, while about 40% of the workforce is engaged in nomadic livestock herding across extensive pasturelands. Services constitute 55% of the GDP, while mining accounts for 17% (UNFCCC, 2017).
Mongolia exhibits three primary geographical features: the expansive Mongolian plateau characterized by undulating grasslands (steppes), which covers almost two-thirds of central Mongolia; elevated mountain ranges in the North-East, West, and South-West; and the commanding Gobi Desert dominating the southern third of the country. The country frequently experiences flood events, particularly in the Ulaanbaatar area. The highest risk is concentrated in Ulaanbaatar, with limited exposure in other regions. The most significant flood damage is anticipated at the provincial level in the northern regions, especially in Darkhan-Uul and Selenge. Rivers flowing northeast from the central northern provinces, such as the Selenge River and its tributaries, extend to the Russian border. The Kherlen River, flowing east through southern towns, receives minimal annual precipitation.
Seismic activity in Mongolia is primarily located in the central and western parts of the country, where multiple active fault structures have been identified.
Major Threats and Economy
Regarding major threats and the economy, Mongolia experiences an annual average of approximately $24 million in financial losses due to floods and an estimated average annual fatality count (AAF) of 92. This underscores the dominant role of floods in causing economic losses in Mongolia. One of the most notable recorded events is the 1996 Ulaanbaatar flooding, which, if it happened today, could result in nearly $200 million in damages, affecting over 270,000 individuals. The disparity in economic exposure is influenced by precipitation distribution, with higher levels in the northern regions and lower levels in the south, resulting in varying vulnerabilities. This dynamic affects areas like Khuvsgul and Ulaanbaatar, where the annual average financial loss ranges from $2.5 million to $3.5 million. In contrast, regions such as southern Mongolia, with limited annual precipitation, face a concentrated economic exposure of around $200,000. This phenomenon can be attributed to the interplay between precipitation distribution and geographical features. Concerning earthquakes, Mongolia’s yearly average financial loss is estimated at about $0.6 million, with Ulaanbaatar contributing to almost two-thirds of this amount. Due to relatively lower exposure and vulnerability in regions with moderate seismic hazards, the nationwide projection for average annual fatalities stands at around 1.
Historically, Mongolia’s primary economic activities were centered around herding and agriculture, contributing over 12% to the country’s GDP. However, the growth of the mineral industry sector over the past two decades has led to economic expansion in line with demand. Urban migration seeking better job prospects and education has accompanied this growth. While mining product exports have surged and now contribute more than 20% to the GDP, this trend has started to impact the environment, wildlife, and rural livelihoods. Disruption of family income, a primary source of livelihood, has begun to compromise food security. The expansion of mining activities has also led to reduced land availability for both wildlife and communities. This change in land use is not solely attributed to mining, as increased human activities like farming, agriculture, and deforestation have also played a role. Mongolia faces additional challenges, including poor sanitation, limited water access, and a lack of job opportunities. Many rural residents suffer from respiratory conditions due to coal burning within their traditional dome-shaped tents.
Climate Change Impacts
Mongolia faces accelerated warming and drying due to the climate crisis, impacting traditional herder lifestyles and driving rural-urban migration. Elevated temperatures, particularly in the south and southwest, increase the risk of heatwaves, droughts, and pronounced seasonal shifts. The harsh Mongolian Dzud phenomenon, characterized by harsh winters following dry summers, is expected to worsen in frequency and severity. More intense rainfall may lead to landslides, flash floods, and erosion. These changes have substantial consequences on livelihoods and health, necessitating global action and local adaptation.
Climate change creates negative feedback loops between livelihoods and health. Rising temperatures, shifting rainfall, and water resource pressures harm agriculture and livestock herding, with Dzud events causing significant livestock losses and market disruptions. Natural disasters, like Dzud, intense rainfall, snowfall, dust storms, and floods, have doubled damage to livelihoods over two decades.
Pasture degradation worsens due to droughts, higher temperatures, and depleted water sources, affecting livestock yields and incomes. Climate change directly impacts human health through events like Dzud, leading to reduced child growth and increased respiratory illnesses from indoor coal burning. Indirectly, it raises the risk of zoonotic and tick-borne diseases, given the close proximity of herders to their livestock.
While undernutrition is not a major issue, micronutrient deficiencies, especially in children, are prevalent. Rural-urban migration due to climate change contributes to urban populations consuming processed, low-quality food, increasing noncommunicable diseases (NCDs). Knowledge gaps persist in understanding the impacts of climate change on mental health, sexual and reproductive health, water quality, and pastoralist herder well-being.
Mongolia is undeniably vulnerable to climate change and exposed to heightened risks. Frequent occurrences of extreme winters, heavy snow, intense rainfall, and floods are the results of changing weather patterns. Landslides and land erosion have been added to the list of climate-related hazards. During these weather events, community activities are disrupted, and people spend most of their time inside dome-shaped tents (gers). Consequently, their exposure to indoor air pollution from coal burning increases, posing health risks. Many individuals experience respiratory conditions, and cardiovascular cases have increased due to sandstorms.
In 2018, official government reports indicated that 65 casualties were attributed to floods, with tens of people forced to leave their homes due to collapsed houses. While the number of casualties may be lower compared to other densely populated countries, in Mongolia, where population density is lower, 65 deaths are considered a significant loss. Mongolia’s vulnerability to climate-related hazards is evident, as recent climate events have displaced thousands of people.
Apart from the vulnerabilities, Mongolia is also prone to geophysical risks. Over the past decade, the country has experienced hundreds of seismic activities. In the 1950s, a powerful earthquake with an estimated magnitude of 7.8 struck Mongolia, resulting in around 30 recorded fatalities. Typically, earthquakes occur during daylight hours when people are outdoors, but the potential for higher fatalities exists if they were to occur at night. Numerous strong earthquakes in Mongolia are located at depths ranging from 10 to 20 km, while others are in Russia and China.
Mongolia is actively raising awareness among its population to mitigate risks and reduce losses associated with seismic events. Although taking initial steps is important, sustaining these efforts is crucial. Disaster-ready communities are well-prepared, regardless of the impact’s severity.
Adaptation and Local Context
To address challenges and mitigate the impact of climate change, Mongolia has participated in global initiatives aimed at reducing its environmental consequences, ratifying the Paris Climate Agreement in 2016, followed by the presentation of its Third National Communication to the UNFCCC in 2018 and the implementation of its Revised Nationally Determined Contributions in 2020. Domestically, Mongolia has enacted crucial policies such as the National Action Plan on Climate Change (2011–2021) and the Green Development Policy (2014–2030).
In alignment with the Green Development Policy, the Mongolian government has made a commitment to restore areas that have suffered from overexploitation by launching the Billion Tree national campaign. This initiative has not only enabled Mongolia to adapt to climate change but has also contributed to nature preservation, addressing environmental concerns, reducing carbon emissions, enhancing air quality, and fostering a greener environment.
The concerted efforts for adaptation and mitigation are primarily concentrated on bolstering the health, agriculture, biodiversity, water quality, and forestry sectors. These sectors are intricately linked and hold vital importance in the current context, leading various stakeholders to voice their concerns. Of particular significance is climate-dependent agriculture, which is highly susceptible to extreme weather events, resulting in diminished production, economic setbacks, reduced supplies, elevated market prices, compromised nutrition, and overall impacts on the well-being of both rural and urban populations.
Addressing the national campaigns and challenges confronting Mongolia is a formidable task due to its ambitious commitment to reduce carbon emissions by up to 40 percent by 2030. Beyond the core objective, the government grapples with several hurdles in executing this plan, including the absence of established best practices, limitations in human resources and technical expertise, and financing constraints. Investing in these priority areas undoubtedly strains the country’s economic resources.
Mongolia’s government remains receptive to foreign investments, provided they align with the delicate balance of pastoral ecosystem management and the enhancement of the livestock value chain. With a proactive approach to addressing climate change, Mongolia aims to bolster its capacity-building efforts, resulting in a greener, cleaner, more sustainable, and climate-resilient nation for the years ahead.
Opportunities and Recommendations to International Donors
The intricate interplay among ecosystems, hazards, vulnerabilities, and exposure has hindered previous advancements in implementing disaster and climate policies in Mongolia. However, through the support of comprehensive cross-sector approaches backed by international assistance, the government has taken significant steps to enhance the nation’s resilience and capacity as mandated by international agreements on disaster risk reduction and climate resilience. Consequently, international donors can focus on several programs, including:
- Understanding Disaster Risk: Administrative levels in Mongolia generally possess a solid understanding of disaster and climate risks, with institutions assigned to data collection and hazard forecasting. Nevertheless, risk assessments often remain confined to specific sectors and lack a broader scope.
- Strengthening Disaster Risk Governance: Mongolia has swiftly established a robust legislative framework for disaster risk reduction (DRR) and climate adaptation. The basis for DRR was outlined in the 2003 Parliament Law of Mongolia on Disaster Protection, entrusting disaster-related matters and roles to diverse entities.
- Investing in Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR): The government’s budget authority has been centralized through the Treasury Single Account System, with expenditures managed by the national investment plan. However, funds allocated for disaster reduction activities have been relatively limited, and frequently concentrated on recovery initiatives.
- Enhancing Disaster Preparedness: Mongolia’s lack of a post-disaster recovery program is attributed to constrained operational funds, leading to heightened preparedness at the national level and greater reliance on support from NGOs and local-level international organizations.
To strengthen the role of NGOs, the government introduced a new chapter on International Human Assistance in the 2017 Disaster Protection Law, ensuring aid adheres to humanitarian standards and prevents discrimination or profit-seeking. Mongolia employs Early Warning Systems to disseminate information about seismic activity and weather forecasts across diverse platforms. While NEMA can efficiently distribute warnings to provinces and soums, reaching remote herder communities remains challenging despite extensive initiatives. The Earthquake Disaster Warning System, established between 2012-2014, utilizes 60 siren towers, television networks, and radio stations to broadcast alerts. In summary, Mongolia’s collaboration with various stakeholders, NGOs, and international organizations has facilitated advancements in disaster preparedness, risk reduction, and resilience building, although obstacles persist, especially in remote areas.