A journey across Mongolia brings to life the mitigation potential of the country’s vast boreal forests.
Our car travelled gingerly across the frozen surface of lake Khusgvul, one of the world’s most pristine waters, making me recall the stories of trucks which often disappear through broken ice. Wondering at the beautiful landscape calmed my nerves and provided me little opportunity to be concerned about an icy bath should the ice break, though reassurances from colleagues that it was meters thick laid my fears to rest. The frozen lake is truly a sight to behold, surrounded by mountains, forests stretching to the shore, and parched dry grasslands, dormant before they turn into a fragrant bloom in the summer.
The spectacular landscape, with its mountains, forests and cultural heritage, has not gone unnoticed with hordes of national tourists taking advantage of these pleasures in the summer, a unique ecotourism opportunity which I recommend for a summer vacation. In the extreme cold it is hard to believe that annual temperature rise in Mongolia is three times more than the global average. However, the cold winters (reaching minus 45 degrees centigrade), paired with hot summer temperatures, places a myriad of pressures on the ecosystems that are rarely faced by most REDD+ countries.
Khusvgul province is a good place to start developing practical solutions. The Khusvgul Provincial Governor, Mr. Ganbold.L, had earlier welcomed us with Mongolian warmth and expressed that the provincial REDD+ Plan will help to tackle the key problems faced by the province, including “grazing, forests and water”. More than a third of the forest resource of Mongolia is located here with over 4 million hectares of forest which covers protected areas, enterprise forests, and community forests. The forward-thinking Governor can see a wealth of transformational opportunities here.
Forests are under-utilized in Mongolia, and sustainable forest management regimes can help make them more resilient to climate change, drought and pest attack. The enhanced forest resource can lead to better grazing, water and livelihood outcomes. Mr Ganbold is keen to develop opportunities which lead to livelihood support, wood-based energy and enterprise development.
The local people living around Lake Khusvgul include the Tsaatan people, who derive their livelihoods as reindeer herders. There are probably only 40 families left in Mongolia (some living across the border in Russia) with about 1,500 reindeer, an integral part of their livelihoods and culture. Other communities living around Lake Khusvgul can benefit from increased ecotourism opportunities and it is hoped that enterprise opportunities will arise hand in hand with sustainable forest management. The UN-REDD Mongolia team are developing an Action Plan for sustainable forest management as part of the National REDD+ Strategy which will be approved in 2018.
This is part of a National to Provincial approach adopted in Mongolia to tackle climate change and meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through improved landscape management. In December 2017, a high-level meeting was convened by the Minister of Environment and Tourism Mr. Tserenbat, who gave his support for development of a high-level policy document for REDD+ to tackle climate change and meet the SDGs.
Since this landmark decision, work has been ongoing with some milestone steps being achieved including submission of Mongolia’s first Forest Reference Emission Level to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in January 2018, the first boreal forest country to accomplish this. Although few countries face such extreme weather conditions as Mongolia, the principles and practices of REDD+ are equally applicable in contributing to forest management and sustainable development outcomes. The country is making good progress in completing the four elements of REDD+ and moving from readiness to implementation to protect its forests, livelihoods and water resources for future generations.
Mongolia is the world’s 19th largest country, landlocked between Russia, China and Kazakstan, though it has a small overall percentage of forest cover, it supports over 13 million hectares of boreal forest and 3 million of a desert woodland, known as saxual. This comprises an area greater than Germany’s forest estate. Mongolia is known as land of the eternal blue sky, with over 250 sunny days, though its temperature is extreme ranging from -55 degrees Centigrade in the winter to +40 degrees in the summer, its environment supports glaciers, deserts, oases, forests and extensive grasslands.
Mongolia has been supporting REDD+ since 2011, with a full national program commencing in 2016. Extensive work has been done on stakeholder engagement, design, forest measurement and developing strategies for improved forest management. We take you few a gallery of photographs submitted through an awareness competition to highlight this wonderful countries ecology, economy and people. Further information can be found on the country website www.reddplus.mn; or this wonderful video with our Champion Bela, Miss Mongolia Earth video, or better still visit this fantastic tourist destination, the summer is best.
Article and photographs by Chris Dickinson, Chief Technical Advisor, UN-REDD Mongolia.