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UNECE Environmental Performance Review calls upon Mongolia to enforce post-mining rehabilitation of degraded land, ensure monitoring of air emissions of major polluters and carry out inventories of the use of asbestos and lead

Published: 13 December 2018

Mongolia is well on track with its efforts to implement and monitor the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and enjoys a remarkable ownership of the Sustainable Development Goals among public officials. Having made green development a clear policy objective, the country struggles to preserve its pristine natural ecosystems and the health and wellbeing of a traditionally nomadic population in the face of multiple challenges posed by rural-to-urban migration and the rapid growth of the mining sector. These are some of the main findings of the Environmental Performance Review (EPR) of Mongolia undertaken by UNECE.

The Review was launched in Ulaanbaatar on 13 December 2018. It highlights areas that the country is particularly strong in and describes many success stories, such as the reintroduction of Przewalski’s horse to its homeland, the phasing out of CFCs and the expansion of eco-schools. The Review equips the Government and stakeholders with recommendations to inspire future work to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and implement the country’s international commitments, in particular on climate change mitigation, combating land degradation and conservation of biodiversity.

Mongolia has developed a system of protected areas, covering almost 47 million ha, or 29.9 per cent of the country’s territory, in 2017. It is still one of the last wildlife species refuges of East Asia. The country is successfully advancing the community-based approach to the management of natural resources: three protected areas are managed by NGOs and 18.7 per cent of the forest area in the country is managed by local communities. However, a considerable part of wildlife habitats and migration corridors of wide-ranging and globally-significant species remain in the "non-protected" 70.1 per cent of the country. Biodiversity suffers from competition with domestic livestock and biodiversity conservation is seriously impeded by the lack of human, technical, operational and financial capacities.

Mongolia has made significant advances in disaster risk management over the past decade, largely driven by the lessons learned from droughts, dzuds, forest fires and other disasters that occurred in the country. The Government progressively developed policies and plans for disaster risk reduction. However, many development decisions have been made in the past with little regard to their consequences for the vulnerability of the population and infrastructure. Unplanned expansion of ger districts at the outskirts of cities has resulted in lack of access to basic services, high levels of air pollution during winter in some areas and, sometimes, the placement of ger districts in flood pathways. The current challenge, therefore, is to strengthen disaster resilience and use the resources available for disaster risk management as strategically and cost effectively as possible.

Mining activities have considerably increased over the past two decades. This has had an impact on the environment and on the health of workers, the population and livestock. The population in mining areas is subject to the cumulative impact of mining on air, soil, water, livestock and, consequently, their health. The country banned the import of mercury and its use in 2007 but there is still illegal use of mercury by artisanal miners, though the scale of this practice is diminishing.

Top environmental issues related to mining include uncontrolled chemical waste from leachate and poor rehabilitation of abandoned mining sites. An estimated 100,000 hectares of land have been degraded by coal and gold mining activities. Only a very small part of the land degraded by mining activities has been restored. The Government requires mining companies to build up financial reserves to ensure rehabilitation of mining sites after their closure. However, there are concerns about whether these funds are sufficient for financing the required works in such a way that they achieve current international best practice. Enforcement of post-mining rehabilitation of degraded land and the development of an action plan on the rehabilitation of abandoned and damaged mining areas are among the recommendations of the Review.

The Review also focuses on land degradation, which affects to some degree around 76.8 per cent of the total territory of Mongolia. Most land degradation occurs on rangeland where the livestock population has increased by 2.7 times over the period 1987–2016. In addition to impacts from livestock and the mining operations, land degradation occurs due to widespread use of off-road vehicles on dirt tracks. Paved and gravel roads account for less than 10 per cent of all roads. Off-road vehicles compact the ground and reduce its ability to absorb and retain moisture and nutrients. It is estimated that there are four times more vehicle tracks than necessary in Mongolia, causing the degradation of 700,000 hectares of land. Due to these multiple pressures, strong institutional coordination mechanisms for integrated land management are key to enable profound and sustainable results in combating land degradation in Mongolia, along with increased financial resources.

Air pollution represents a major area of concern if not a “national disaster”. Particulate matter (PM) is considered the main pollutant in Mongolia, especially in Ulaanbaatar. However, there is limited scientific knowledge of the composition and source of coarse particles. There is no regular monitoring of emissions of power plants and heat-only boilers that are major polluters, and insufficient air quality monitoring exists in ger districts. Government policies are more focused on the capital city, while bad air quality in other regions is insufficiently addressed. The Review calls for the gradual replacement of obsolete air quality monitoring techniques with a more efficient air quality monitoring network. Among the recommendations are ensuring monitoring of the emissions from major stationary air polluting sources and targeted efforts to monitor fine particles (PM2.5).

In general, knowledge of the impact of environmental factors on population health is limited to specific media, such as air pollution, but the impacts on health of asbestos, noise, chemicals and anthropogenic activities are not documented in Mongolia. Consequently, it is difficult to prevent population exposure. Asbestos is still in use, but there are no standards for asbestos exposure and no policy for detection of asbestos in buildings before demolition. Asbestos exposure and related diseases are neither monitored nor registered. Carrying out inventories of the use and distribution of asbestos, and of lead, is one of the first steps to be taken in this direction.

The EPR of Mongolia was conducted by UNECE in cooperation with UNESCAP upon the request of the Ministry of Environment and Tourism of the country. Three countries delegated their experts for the review: France provided an expert on health, food safety and environment; Germany seconded an expert on water management; and Portugal provided two experts — on international cooperation and on the Rio conventions. UNEP delegated an expert on environmental monitoring and information. The German Federal Ministry for Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety and the German Federal Environment Agency financially supported the review with funds from the Advisory Assistance Programme.

The Review and its Highlights are available online at www.unece.org/index.php?id=50079.

For more information, please contact:

Mr. Antoine Nunes

Programme Manager

Environmental Performance Reviews

E-mail: antoine.nunes@un.org


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