“Mongolia’s student leaders aspire to leap past developed countries on climate issues”
Conversation with students and faculty at the National University of Mongolia, the oldest university in Mongolia established in 1942, and the Mongolian University of Science and Technology, was dominated by the topic of climate change and environmental governance. Students were engaged, well informed about global and local climate issues, and generally optimistic about the future. This attitude was remarkably refreshing compared to working with students in the developed world who are generally optimistic but expressing growing concern about slow progress due to lack of political will. Mongolian students are invigorated by the opportunity to plan a strategy to address climate change from the ground up, express optimism about government support, and are looking for ways to leap over barriers that have emerged in developed economies.
All of which is important, because Mongolia’s climate is undergoing radical change. A recent national analysis of temperature records shows an increase of 2.14 degree Celsius (3.85 F) since the 1940’s. Analysis by the World Wildlife Fund finds extreme weather events increasing with increased incidents of drought, cold weather events (called Dzud), heat waves, flood and sand storms. Temperatures are projected to continue to rise leading to melting glaciers that feed many Mongolian lakes and shrinking groundwater supplies affecting grazing. Finally, desertification, particularly in the Gobi region, due to shortage of water and precipitation is a serious problem.
Many of the students I spoke with experienced these extreme weather events personally. Several were from families that lost large portions of their herds in the Dzud of 2010, just one of three Dzud’s in the last decade. Temperatures dropped to minus 50 Celcius (minus 58 F) and heavy snows made grazing almost impossible, killing 50% of the livestock nationally, about 2.5 million head of goats, sheep, yak and cattle. Others from the Gobi region relay stories of dust storms and expansion of the desert driving migration to cities. Many migrants end up in temporary housing, trying to find jobs, commuting long hours, and disconnected from traditional nomadic ways of life. For many of the students, children of climate migrants, it led to a conscious decision to rapidly embrace a global economy and use education as the launching pad to opportunity and prosperity.
These factors are leading Mongolia to look for new models to help them manage adaptation and mitigation of climate change. Mongolia is a participant in the Kyoto Protocol, and has done substantive preparatory work to guide policy, including conducting a greenhouse gas emission inventory for a 1990 base year so they can measure future progress, adopting a National Action Program on Climate Change in 1999, and participating in several climate assessments over the last decade. In recent years Mongolia has undergone a process to identify and designate about 1/3 of its total landmass as permanent public lands and National Parks, modeled partly on the US system, which will allow for the large landscape resilience necessary for adaptation to occur.
Mongolian students and young people seemed uniformly anxious to get to climate solutions. They were remarkably frank about their belief that climate change skepticism is largely a western and predominantly American phenomenon.
Tomorrow: The most frequent question I fielded from Mongolian students was “what can we learn from your experience that will help us leap ahead? How do we create an environmental governance system that allows for economic prosperity but respects and protects the environment?”