Mongolia currently holds the title for fastest growing economy on earth. Most of its growth is from mining copper, gold, iron, and other metals. Mining companies are pretty much free to dig up the Mongolian Steppes. They also get a free pass to dump their pollution with practically no oversight. Corruption in government is everywhere.
But, Mongolia faces many environmental problems besides pollution (and an upcoming epidemic of cancer - invest in pharmaceuticals people!). Climate change is expected to tear apart the country at its environmental seams.
The country is 80% grasslands. Cattle ranchers depend on these grasses for healthy stocks. But, drought and desertification (healthy land turning into dry desert) is taking hold. Al Jazeera explains the problem much better than I can:
Mongolia faces desertification and climate change, but new ways of managing pasture land could help.
Mongolia is the country of endless plains and eternal blue skies. Eighty per cent of the land area is covered by grassland, giving home to about 35 million horses, cattle, sheep, goats and camels. Half of the country’s population of 2.7 million depends on livestock production, which contributes more than 20 per cent to the country’s GDP. More than these numbers can tell, nomadic pastoralism is a way of life. For centuries, herders have roamed the grasslands “following our animals”, as the herders’ adage goes, building, packing, and rebuilding their traditional gers or tents, to make their living from nature’s bounty.
And, yet, this ancient lifestyle is under threat. A decade ago, herders first observed the impacts of climate change with the increase in severe weather events like storms, droughts and extremely harsh winters, known as zud. The 2010 zud was one of the worst ever, resulting in the death of approximately 8.5 million livestock or 20 per cent of the 2009 national herd. Seven hundred seventy thousand herders were affected, of which 43,500 were left without a single animal; 164,000 lost more than half of their livestock. Herders and the government alike were not prepared and ill-equipped to deal with the consequences despite ample warning.
The 2009 national assessment on climate change in Mongolia summarised a number of major trends: Since 1940, the annual mean temperature has increased by 2.14 degrees Celsius, winter precipitation has increased and warm season precipitation has slightly decreased. Recent research on climate change projections for the rest of the century suggests that winters will become milder and snowy; summer seasons will become warmer; annual precipitation will increase up to 20 per cent; and anomalous climate phenomena, such as extreme winters, will become a common feature. Nomadic livelihoods, which fully depend on the weather, are becoming increasingly vulnerable as a result.
However, increased vulnerability is not only caused by the impacts of climate change. Overgrazing has also played a role in degrading scarce natural resources. Up to 30 per cent of Mongolia’s grassland biomass production has been lost over the past 40 years. At the same time, the Gobi desert, which dominates the southern half of the country, has been steadily expanding north at a pace of 150 km every 20 years. When travelling through central Mongolia, one can easily observe this process firsthand - where a few years ago, there were still pastures and patches of cropland, now only sandy fields remain.
Well worth reading the rest at Al Jazeera