“Green Development” magazine invited B.Bat-Erdene, the Minister of Nature and Environment for its very first issue on the green environment and talked about how the newly appointed minister sees the environment and green growth in Mongolia.
-You were appointed as the Minister of Environment and Tourism three months ago, yet in this short period, many seminars and policy discussions were organized. We all know that Green development policy is included in the New Revival Policy. A green finance regional forum was also held. How do you see the sector’s policies and activities?
-The results and efforts of the Ministry (MET), in charge of environmental policy, are reflected in the current reality. Climate change and global warming have become a serious issue. In Mongolia, land degradation has reached almost 77 percent. The number of rivers and streams that are drying up and disappearing is twice the number of rivers that are being restored.
We have forgotten to take care of the environment while putting too much emphasis on the economy for the past 32 years. We know that China, Japan and Korea have been raising issues related to dust storms. We are losing a lot of rich soil and land due to these yellow dust storms every year.
The President of Mongolia, U. Khurelsukh initiated the “Billion Tree” national campaign and said he would spend more than 50 percent of his time being the president on environmental issues. Prime Minister L.Oyun-Erdene is bringing the revival of the Green Growth Policy to the table by integrating it into the New Revival Policy.
The tourism sector is included in the Industrial Revival Policy. The government is paying considerable attention to the environment. The United Nations, international organizations and countries in the region have taken notice that Mongolia is beginning to pay more attention to its environment at a state level.
Parliament is going to make the necessary changes and amendments to the related laws and policies. For example, the Speaker of Parliament, G.Zandanshatar demands clarification on the amendments to the Law on Forest, Law on Water, and Law on the Environment from the ministry. Such support from the President, the Prime Minister and the Speaker are a great boost for the MET. Now we need to work out results that should be achieved in the near future. By 2030, a great future is anticipated for us. By implementing the Billion Tree project, many problems associated with water, forests, biodiversity, medicinal herbs and wildlife of Mongolia could be solved.
In general, I should say many problems in the environmental sector are expected to be figured out by that time.
-The Green finance regional forum, whose main agenda was green development, was held on 29-30 March. On the agenda, the main topic was green financing. Could you give us some more detailed information regarding green financing?
– The private sector in cooperation with banking and financial institutions have established a “Green Fund”. Many organizations, such as commercial banks, non-banking financial organizations, the Bank of Mongolia, and insurance companies also support this fund. The Green Fund is a financial mechanism that supports business entities that work in the area of tree planting and growing seedlings.
These businesses and individuals don`t want any grants or free support from us. They only want soft loans, equipment, technology and innovation. In this case, the government will provide an opportunity for them to purchase the necessary technologies with a soft loan. This seems to be the perfect example of a public-private partnership.
When we talk about public-private partnerships, we sometimes forget the public. We need to consider participation of the public and professional organizations in this field. The point is, the state will set a clear policy, create a mechanism for private businesses to interact with each other and give policy support to the public.
The Prime Minister emphasized that the New Revival Policy is all about the revival of business entities and business people. Only such revival will guarantee the revival of the economy of Mongolia.
-You visited 17 aimags and received firsthand information related to environmental issues. What is the current situation?
-Land degradation has reached more than 97 of its territories in some aimags and around 76 percent in a few aimags. This is a very serious problem. Land degradation, soil pollution, desertification and water scarcity are all above the average level in our country. Desertification has reached almost 77 percent of Mongolia’s land area.
The “Billion Tree” national campaign has become a wake-up call for the sector, its professionals and work force. It also raised awareness among the public that we must protect the environment and our biodiversity. We have become accustomed to seeing our development only through the lens of progress in the economy. Environmental issues have been neglected for 32 years. Developed countries allocate a certain amount of their state budget to environmental issues. They don`t want to live in an environment where there are no green zones and the air is polluted.
Global warming is affecting Mongolia more and more. According to the World Health Organization, global warming should not exceed 1.5 degrees from pre-industrial times. If it is higher than this by a single digit, we will see catastrophic events. However, our country has warmed by 2.2 degrees which is 0.7-1.0 degrees higher than many other countries.
-You mean the red light is on?
-It is even more serious than that.
-Though we didn’t pay much attention to this excessive warming at all.
-We need to look forward rather than dwelling on the past. By 2030, certain results must be achieved. The next eight years are a vital period and we cannot afford to just think that everything is business as usual
Now, we need to talk about water. Without water, trees will not grow. There is a significant amount of soil degradation due to overgrazing. With regard to this, it can be said that there was a lack of coherent government policies. In the past, government policy leaned toward the idea that if you have more livestock, you will be richer. This result was achieved. Though, on the other hand, this policy has caused serious damage to the environment. Now, more and more herders are looking for hay and fodder for their livestock. There are many herders who are constantly on the move in the search for better pastures due to overgrazing.
First of all, we are working on a strategic plan to restore forests and water resources. In the past, many international projects and programs have been wasted due to a lack of counting the economic costs. If they were successfully implemented, the environment would not be in such a bad state. Hence, trust in Mongolia by international organizations has declined. A lot of money has been spent without any benefit. As a result, soft loans, funding and investment from donors for Mongolia have come to a halt.
We live in one world. That is why Russia, China, Japan, Korea and other European countries are just as concerned about our environmental issues.
-What is the public participation in green development? Too many people seem to be indifferent and they do not really care about it.
-Not only Mongolians, the whole world is not giving sufficient attention to this issue. In our opinion, economic incentives must always consider environmental issues to achieve the desired results. For example, we need an evaluation system. This will be an incentive for citizens to plant trees. Let’s give a bonus for each tree planted and grown by our citizens. The e government should encourage it. Let’s direct some taxpayers ‘money to this initiative.
While traveling through the countryside, I found out that a tree was planted for every newborn baby. There was also a movement in Bayankhongor aimag where trees are planted in honor of the deceased. These are some simple examples of how we need to think creatively about the economic incentives.
-You are in charge of the ministry which has received so much blame lately. How do you feel about that?
-Putting personal impressions aside, I should say three young managers were appointed at the same time at the leadership of the Ministry of Environment and Tourism. That’s an advantage. One of the positive things I saw when I came to the sector was that there were a lot of international projects and programs, namely projects to combat global warming and climate change.
We have a limitless opportunity to communicate with the world on the green earth and environmental protection. When I meet with ambassadors from more than 20 countries, everyone agrees on the fact that considering environmental issues is vital. For example, if Mongolia’s water supply is in trouble, then the water supply of our neighbors will also be in danger, and if Mongolia does not solve its yellow soil problem, desertification will spread throughout the region.
As for tourism, people travel to gain knowledge and have a unique experience. In Mongolia, we have the advantage of showing our beautiful nature to the world.
Rangers are people who really work hard. Their monthly salary is around 500,000 MNT and they spend around 9 or 10 months of the year in nature. Still, they almost never complain about their salary. This is such an advantage.
All we have to do now is to take advantage of these big goals and work for a Green Revival Policy.