PIN Mongolia: Addressing the Climate Crisis

PIN Mongolia: Addressing the Climate Crisis

May 26, 2020

In Mongolia, People in Need is working with vulnerable populations to mitigate the devastating effects of climate change. 

For centuries, Mongolia’s vast, pristine landscape has captivated people from around the world. But today’s global climate crisis threatens the way of life for nearly every Mongolian, as reduced water availability in pastures combined with overgrazing and extreme weather are upsetting the natural balance. This, in turn, is having ecological knock-on effects far from the grasslands.

For example, as conditions for grazing worsen, herders are moving from the steppe into the cities in search of work. Once they arrive, many continue living in their traditional “gers,” or yurts, where they burn coal to keep warm in the harsh Mongolian winter, which chokes Ulaanbaatar and other cities with a dense smog. This complex web of interrelated issues – from ecological change to lost livelihoods – is culminating with heavy air pollution and the negative health impacts from pollutants in the air and soil.

By focusing on these specific problems, People in Need is working to develop targeted solutions. Many projects implemented by PIN Mongolia are linked to the central issue of climate change, which has become a key topic of concern for Mongolia’s leaders.

The world’s coldest place

In Ulaanbaatar, the world’s coldest capital city, the government has taken significant actions to address high rates of air pollution. This includes passage of a resolution in February 2018 mandating the introduction of improved coal by May 2019, which has led to some improvements in air quality. Additionally, the Ulaanbaatar city government has provided air purifiers to improve the indoor air quality in schools and kindergartens. And development partners to the Mongolian government have also supported efforts to reduce and mitigate air-pollution risks.

The project also introduced a hi-tech approach to identify candidates for outreach: using a drone with infrared cameras, we’re mapping ger districts at night to identify buildings that emit the most heat. 

And yet, despite all of these initiatives, air pollution continues to affect urban dwellers – particularly children, pregnant women, and the elderly. These sensitive groups suffer from higher incidences of bronchial infections and pneumonia.

To help Mongolia address these ongoing challenges, People in Need, through a series of European Union and Czech funded projects, has introduced interventions to reduce air pollution and lower its health impacts. For instance, PIN and its partners developed insulation made from sheep wool as a new material on the Mongolian construction market. Seven small- and medium-sized Mongolian businesses developed the capacity to produce the material, while complying with national and international standards and certificates. Universities and construction companies further supported the introduction of sheep wool-based insulation through technical trainings on its application. This project, which ended in 2016, helped companies produce over 52,000 m2 of the insulation material, which was enough to insulate 174 homes and save some 574 tons of carbon dioxide emissions.

As a follow-up, PIN is now focusing on raising awareness for the economic and ecological benefits of energy efficiency. Working with partner NGOs, the project supports independent energy advisors who can provide tailored recommendations on how to refurbish existing homes to minimize heat loss and save coal. The project also introduced a hi-tech approach to identify candidates for outreach: using a drone with infrared cameras, we’re mapping ger districts at night to identify buildings that emit the most heat. Owners of these households can then be directly approached by the energy advisors.

While both projects are coordinated with other actors and designed to complement broader air-quality efforts, they build on innovative ideas introduced by the PIN team. But it is another project, the Right to Breathe program that brings all of these initiatives together.

PIN works with local civil-society organizations to empower communities to compliment government efforts. For example, PIN built a network of air quality monitors, providing independent, highly reliable, real-time data on air quality across the capital and in three provincial centers. Today, anyone can check the current air pollution situation in these areas by visiting www.airvisual.com.

Supporting herders in rural areas

For the urban population, climate change is a much more distant concern than the imminent danger of air pollution. In the countryside, the order of priorities is reverse: climate change is understood to be an important contributing factor threatening herding, the traditional source of Mongolians’ income. The average temperature in Mongolia has increased by 2.1°C since 1940, more than double the rise of average global temperatures. This translates to less water in pastures, diminished carrying capacity of pastures due to lower grass yields, and increased frequency of extreme weather events, particularly the dzud (extremely harsh winters that kill millions of livestock). Mongolia currently has nearly 70 million heads of livestock, more than triple the average between 1950 and 1990. But with decreasing water availability, vulnerable herders (those with between 200-300 livestock) face an uncertain future.

While these challenges loom large, Mongolia’s future is still bright. Innovative initiatives developed by the government, development partners, and citizens give us hope. 

For these people, PIN provides support in a number of ways. With funding from the EU and in partnership with Mercy Corps, PIN has connected herders in all 21 provinces to early-warning systems, such as weather and pasture forecasting. We have also provided training for local government officials in Livestock Emergency Response Guidelines and Standards (LEGS), and helped nearly 700 local officials increase their dzud preparation and recovery strategies for herders and households.

PIN’s Empowered People – Improved Livelihoods (EP-IL) project, also funded by the EU, introduced innovative business ideas and stimulated local CSOs, businesses and authorities to coordinate their efforts toward regional development in two provinces (Arkhangai and Uvurkhangai). EP-IL focused on empowering small and medium-sized entrepreneurs, as well as supporting the development of targeted provinces and soum (district-level) cooperatives. Overall, the program increased citizen’s participation in local development policies and decision making, changed attitudes about local development policies, strengthened civil society organizations, and promoted multilateral cooperation and long-term planning. During its implementation, the project collaborated with 40 cooperatives and entrepreneurs, ten civil society organizations, and ten soum governors.

Future is bright

Engaging diverse populations in multiple ways to address the climate change challenge allows us to frame our work in a coherent narrative, which helps focus our country strategy, engage donors, and motivate our team as well as our beneficiaries. PIN Mongolia has also implemented several smaller projects (such as university teacher exchanges) to complement and support our core programs.

While these challenges loom large, Mongolia’s future is still bright. Innovative initiatives developed by the government, development partners, and citizens give us hope. People in Need will continue to bring new approaches to support and amplify these initiatives in the years to come.

A few priorities:

  • Continue supporting the government, CSOs, and the Mongolian people in the fight against air pollution;
  • Convene public and private sector entities to address the climate crisis;
  • Work with small- and medium-sized enterprises to create sustainable livelihoods in rural areas;
  • Continue to support capacity building in Mongolia’s disaster risk reduction ecosystem, particularly with an emphasis on supporting vulnerable populations.  

*Cover photo: Régis Defurnaux

Author: People in Need