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Tales of the 21st Century: Rohingyas Without home

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DHAKA, Bangladesh, Jan 8 2021 (IPS) – Mohammad Rakibul Hasan is a Bangladeshi documentary photographer, photojournalist, filmmaker and visual artist who has been visiting the camps in Cox’s Bazaar to document the Rohingya refugee crisis.

Rakibul Hasan is a recipient of the Lucie Awards Discovery of the Year 2018. He also received the 23rd Human Rights Press Awards from The Foreign Correspondents’ Club Hong Kong, Amnesty International and the Hong Kong Journalists Association, for his series “The Looted Honor” which documents Rohingya refugee rape survivors.

Rakibul Hasan has shared with IPS a selection of images document life in the Rohingya refugee camps.

At a COVID-19 sample collection centre in a Rohingya refugee camp, a healthcare professional takes a swab from a Rohingya refugee child. During the pandemic, refugees are receiving information about COVID-19 protection but at the same time many COVID-19 myths have spread across the camp. Although the number of positive cases and the fatality rate is low, many people are asymptomatic as noted by healthcare providers. In addition, many refugees experiencing flu-like symptoms are said to be hiding in their make-shift homes and hoping to recover without medical intervention.

In the world’s largest refugee camp, Cox’s Bazar, many aren’t wearing masks. This is despite the fact that many non-profit organisations as well as the Bangladesh government are providing basic protective kits and conducting awareness programmes educating those living here on how to protect themselves from COVID-19. Though the number of COVID-19 cases are low as per the data from healthcare centres in the camps, many refugees are flocking to medical centres and local pharmacies to collect medicine for fevers and coughs.

A healthcare professional checks a COVID-19 sample in a lab in Cox’s Bazar. A number of COVID-19 samples have been collected in the Rohingya refugee camps and all samples are sent to a designated testing lab operated by the Bangladesh government.

Drug trafficking and robbery by Rohingya refugees and local Bangladeshi smugglers around Teknaf, Cox’s Bazar, has become a difficult problem to solve.

More than one million Muslim minority Rohingya’s fled Myanmar in 2017 due to ethnic cleansing, which has been condemned internationally as genocide. They now live in refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Many are uneducated as the Myanmar government never allowed them to study in their country and currently many in the refugee camps still do not have access to education. It is a life of uncertainty. And the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed them to the edge.

A Rohingya refugee boy holding an umbrella as the cyclonic storm Amphan hit the coastal region of Bangladesh, causing excessive rainfall in the Rohingya refugee camps.

 

 

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60 Days on, India’s Biggest Farmers’ Protest Shows No Sign of Weakening

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Asia-Pacific, Development & Aid, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Food & Agriculture, Headlines, Population, TerraViva United Nations Food Security and Nutrition

Yesterday, Jan. 26, India celebrated its Republic Day. But it was marked by scenes of farmers driving their tractors in convoy and marching to New Delhi’s historic Red Fort. IPS senior correspondent STELLA PAUL unpacks the issues behind India’s farmers’ protests.

Apple farmers in Kashmir package their crops to send to a mandi or market yard. According to policy, wholesale transactions between farmers and traders must take place in a mandi, yet the market yards have become hubs of widespread corruption where a small group of sale agents have taken control. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Apple farmers in Kashmir package their crops to send to a mandi or market yard. According to policy, wholesale transactions between farmers and traders must take place in a mandi, yet the market yards have become hubs of widespread corruption where a small group of sale agents have taken control. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

“This road is my home now and it will decide my future,” Sukhvinder Singh, a 27-year old farmer from the Moga district of Punjab, tells IPS. Last November, weeks after the government of India passed three farm bills he felt were anti-farmer, Singh travelled to Singhu, a village near Delhi, to demand the laws be repealed. Since then, he has been living in a tent he shares with five other fellow farmer-protesters.

On Sunday night the temperature dipped to 7°Celsius but Singh’s voice sounded warm and loud, betraying the cold. “Its like spending another night in the field, guarding my wheat crops,” he says.

There are currently an estimated 300,000 farmers protesting at Singhu, which has now turned into a tent city.

Though mobilised by 32 different groups, the farmers are unified in their demand: a total repeal of all three new laws:

Farmers protests: Outburst of years of anger

The farmers’ protest on the edge of New Delhi started on Nov. 26, but this has been a movement years in the making.

According to food and farm experts, uncertain and erratic pricing, lack of access to the market, low returns, recurring losses and debt burdens have been part of an average farmer’s life across the country, including Punjab, for a very long time.

While a section of the experts think that the state must accept responsibility for the well-being of farmers and compensate them for their losses, the other section believes that the government should just embrace and promote a free market policy with minimal interventions and regulations over the agriculture market.

The government interventions have, till now, included Minimum Support Prices (MSPs) — a system where the states announced MSP for 22 crops before their sowing seasons. This also included the procurement of grains and pulses from farmers by the government to run its subsidised food distribution to the poor (PDS system), the regulation of wholesale trade with farmers, control of stocks with traders, and control of exports and imports.

However, the new farm policies have sided with the free-market policy advocates and adopted exactly the opposite of what farmers want: strict enforcement of the MSP and greater intervention by the government in the procurement and wholesale trade. 

“Indian farmers have been protesting for years, but the country failed to take notice. For example, in recent years, we have seen milk farmers pouring pails of milk on the streets and vegetable farmers have crushed their fresh produce under bulldozers – all in a way to protest the volatile and erratic pricing that forced them to suffer huge losses,” Kavitha Kuruganti, a well-known activist and farm expert from Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture or ASHA-Kisan Swaraj network, a national network of organisations working on food, farmers and freedom, tells IPS.

“But every time, the protest ended with a verbal assurance by the government or a piece of paper saying their grievances would be looked into,” says Kuruganti.

Sandhya Mohite, a marginal cotton farmer in Maharashtra state's suicide-affected Yavatmal region. Cotton is one of the crops where Minimum Support Prices (MSPs) system has worked but now, according to the country’s new farm laws, farmers will be no longer guaranteed a minimum price on produce. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Sandhya Mohite, a marginal cotton farmer in Maharashtra state’s suicide-affected Yavatmal region. Cotton is one of the crops where Minimum Support Prices (MSPs) system has worked but now, according to the country’s new farm laws, farmers will be no longer guaranteed a minimum price on produce. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

What farmers want vs what they are offered

In India, the wholesale purchase of produce from farmers is regulated by the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) Act 2003. According to the policy, wholesale transactions between farmers and traders must take place in a mandi — a designated market yard.The sale of produce under public scrutiny brought a level of protection from being cheated on weights and measures and price. There are hundreds of such mandis across the country, which are governed by an elected body of APMC authority. 

However, over time, the market yards have become hubs of widespread corruption where a small group of sale agents have taken control and influenced APMC officials with their economic power and ties to major political parties. Unable to stand up to these price fixers, the farmers have had no option other than to play along and bear the losses.

The government acknowledges the cartelisation and, as a solution, is allowing alternate channels such as privately-managed market places which can compete with the regulated APMC mandis for the farmer’s produce.

In addition, farmers will be able to sell directly to consumers. Large buyers, such as firms engaged in food processing, large scale retail or exports can also bypass the wholesale markets altogether and buy directly from farmers.

These ideas were first recommended by the Swaminathan Commission – an experts’ committee tasked by the government in 2004 to finding solutions to problems faced by farmers.

However, the Swaminathan Commission also recommended a higher MSP and protective regulations for farmers while doing contract farming for large private traders. But the new laws do not include either of these recommendations.

The farmers now fear that since the MSP is no longer mandatory, they will be forced to accept any price large firms offer. Food crop growers also argue that they cannot even transport their produce to the nearest market yard without incurring losses. And they question how can they reach and sell at markets faraway.

The big player scare

In December 2020, even as their protests gathered steam, farmers across Punjab pulled down hundreds of mobile towers belonging to Reliance Jio Infocomm — India’s largest cellular service network. The protesters targeted the network after it was rumoured that large corporations like Reliance industries, along with Adani group, would be entering the contract farming business, potentially pushing independent farmers out of their livelihoods. After over 1,500 Jio telecom towers were damaged, the company finally approached the court and also clarified in a statement that it had no farm business plans. But the fear lingers.

Harmandeep Singh, a farmer from Tarn Tarn, Punjab tells IPS: “Today they are saying there are no plans. But tomorrow it may change. These companies are so rich, they can buy any amount of land and push us out of the business. Who will stop them?”

However, the entry of big corporations in agriculture happened well before a more corporate-friendly Modi government came in power, Subramaniam Kannaiyan, General Secretary of South Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers Movements (SICCFM), tells IPS.

“In 2011, the then Congress Government had allowed 100 percent foreign investment in several sectors of agriculture, so the corporates have been there for a long time already. In fact, since we joined World Trade Organisation (WTO), opening up of the markets has become inevitable. However, there should be a balance and ways to support and protect the local, small farmers and for that the APMC should play a stronger role, not be done away with,” says Kannaiyan, who is also a member of the global small farmers movement La Via Campesina.

No takers for a 3rd party role

On Jan. 12, the Supreme Court of India formed  a 4-member committee to hold talks between the government and the farmers to resolve the protests over the farm laws. But the farmers were quick to reject the committee and refused to be part of it.

“When there is a dialogue underway between the government and the protesting farmers, there is absolutely no need for the Supreme Court to take on a mediatory role given that neither the government nor the union leaders have approached the Supreme Court and said, ‘please resolve this,” says Kuruganti, who is also a member of the 41-member farmers delegation that has been holding the talks with the government.

So far, there have been 11 rounds of dialogues which centre around not just ‘techno-legal’ issues but also on policy directions and policy implications — “areas where the Supreme Court has no role to play,” Kuruganti says, explaining why the farmers do not see any merit in joining the review committee.

“The problem today is, except for Punjab and Haryana, there is no large farmers union anywhere else in this country,” says Kannaiyan of SICCFM.

“This is why a movement of this magnitude can be led only by farmers from those states. But we stand by them strongly in solidarity.”

Digging their heels deeper

Yesterday, Jan. 26, India celebrated its Republic Day – the day the country’s constitution came into effect. The celebration usually includes a token display of the country’s military might by parading its nation’s defence weaponry.

But this week, the nation witnessed a different parade: a 100-km long tractor rally by the protester farmers. The government tried to prevent the rally by getting a court order and some of states also banned sale of fuel to tractors, but this failed to dissuade the farmers who were determined to carry out the rally. Many vowed to only return home after the 3 farm bills have been repealed.

Yesterday, thousands of protesting farmers marched to New Delhi’s historic Red Fort.

There were skirmishes between police and a small number of protesters, but the majority of protesters were peaceful. Police reportedly dispersed the crowd with tear gas and one protester died after a tractor overturned and fell on him.

“The government is trying to show the world that it has done a great job by building weapons. Now we want to tell the world that a country that a country is not made great by making weapons but by respecting its farmers and by restoring its economic lifeline – the agriculture which is not happening right now,” Mandeep Kaur, a woman farmer with small land holding from  Punjab’s Ludhiana who has travelled to Singhu several times during the past two months to join the protests, tells IPS.

Indeed, the Food Sustainability Index, developed by the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition and the Economist Intelligence Unit, ranks India 4th overall, behind Colombia and China, in a ranking middle income countries’ sustainability and greatest progress towards meeting environmental, societal and economic key performance indicators for agriculture.

On Jan. 22, after the 11th round of discussions, the government offered to delay the implementation of the farm laws for 12 to 18 months – allowing farmers the additional time to prepare themselves for the future.  However, as the farmers refused to settle for anything less than a full repeal of the legislation, the government declined to announce dates for further discussions. 

The impasse has failed to move the farmers from their stance, but some are asking the government to not make it a show of ego.

“Accepting the demands of the farmers and repealing the farm laws should not be seen as a victory of the farmers or the loss of the government; it should be seen as a victory of democracy,” Kuruganthi says.

Meanwhile, farmers from several states including Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Assam, Kerala and Telangana have lent their support to the protest movement.

And today, Jan. 27, a day after the Republic Day protest, Kuruganthi says “the protest movement will continue peacefully”.

 

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Asia-Pacific

60 Days on, India’s Biggest Farmers’ Protest Show No Sign of Weakening

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Asia-Pacific, Development & Aid, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Food & Agriculture, Headlines, Population, TerraViva United Nations Food Security and Nutrition

Yesterday, Jan. 26, India celebrated its Republic Day. But it was marked by scenes of farmers driving their tractors in convoy and marching to New Delhi’s historic Red Fort. IPS senior correspondent STELLA PAUL unpacks the issues behind India’s farmers’ protests.

Apple farmers in Kashmir package their crops to send to a mandi or market yard. According to policy, wholesale transactions between farmers and traders must take place in a mandi, yet the market yards have become hubs of widespread corruption where a small group of sale agents have taken control. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Apple farmers in Kashmir package their crops to send to a mandi or market yard. According to policy, wholesale transactions between farmers and traders must take place in a mandi, yet the market yards have become hubs of widespread corruption where a small group of sale agents have taken control. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

“This road is my home now and it will decide my future,” Sukhvinder Singh, a 27-year old farmer from the Moga district of Punjab, tells IPS. Last November, weeks after the government of India passed three farm bills he felt were anti-farmer, Singh travelled to Singhu, a village near Delhi, to demand the laws be repealed. Since then, he has been living in a tent he shares with five other fellow farmer-protesters.

On Sunday night the temperature dipped to 7°Celsius but Singh’s voice sounded warm and loud, betraying the cold. “Its like spending another night in the field, guarding my wheat crops,” he says.

There are currently an estimated 300,000 farmers protesting at Singhu, which has now turned into a tent city.

Though mobilised by 32 different groups, the farmers are unified in their demand: a total repeal of all three new laws:

Farmers protests: Outburst of years of anger

The farmers’ protest on the edge of New Delhi started on Nov. 26, but this has been a movement years in the making.

According to food and farm experts, uncertain and erratic pricing, lack of access to the market, low returns, recurring losses and debt burdens have been part of an average farmer’s life across the country, including Punjab, for a very long time.

While a section of the experts think that the state must accept responsibility for the well-being of farmers and compensate them for their losses, the other section believes that the government should just embrace and promote a free market policy with minimal interventions and regulations over the agriculture market.

The government interventions have, till now, included Minimum Support Prices (MSPs) — a system where the states announced MSP for 22 crops before their sowing seasons. This also included the procurement of grains and pulses from farmers by the government to run its subsidised food distribution to the poor (PDS system), the regulation of wholesale trade with farmers, control of stocks with traders, and control of exports and imports.

However, the new farm policies have sided with the free-market policy advocates and adopted exactly the opposite of what farmers want: strict enforcement of the MSP and greater intervention by the government in the procurement and wholesale trade. 

“Indian farmers have been protesting for years, but the country failed to take notice. For example, in recent years, we have seen milk farmers pouring pails of milk on the streets and vegetable farmers have crushed their fresh produce under bulldozers – all in a way to protest the volatile and erratic pricing that forced them to suffer huge losses,” Kavitha Kuruganti, a well-known activist and farm expert from Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture or ASHA-Kisan Swaraj network, a national network of organisations working on food, farmers and freedom, tells IPS.

“But every time, the protest ended with a verbal assurance by the government or a piece of paper saying their grievances would be looked into,” says Kuruganti.

Sandhya Mohite, a marginal cotton farmer in Maharashtra state's suicide-affected Yavatmal region. Cotton is one of the crops where Minimum Support Prices (MSPs) system has worked but now, according to the country’s new farm laws, farmers will be no longer guaranteed a minimum price on produce. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Sandhya Mohite, a marginal cotton farmer in Maharashtra state’s suicide-affected Yavatmal region. Cotton is one of the crops where Minimum Support Prices (MSPs) system has worked but now, according to the country’s new farm laws, farmers will be no longer guaranteed a minimum price on produce. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

What farmers want vs what they are offered

In India, the wholesale purchase of produce from farmers is regulated by the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) Act 2003. According to the policy, wholesale transactions between farmers and traders must take place in a mandi — a designated market yard.The sale of produce under public scrutiny brought a level of protection from being cheated on weights and measures and price. There are hundreds of such mandis across the country, which are governed by an elected body of APMC authority. 

However, over time, the market yards have become hubs of widespread corruption where a small group of sale agents have taken control and influenced APMC officials with their economic power and ties to major political parties. Unable to stand up to these price fixers, the farmers have had no option other than to play along and bear the losses.

The government acknowledges the cartelisation and, as a solution, is allowing alternate channels such as privately-managed market places which can compete with the regulated APMC mandis for the farmer’s produce.

In addition, farmers will be able to sell directly to consumers. Large buyers, such as firms engaged in food processing, large scale retail or exports can also bypass the wholesale markets altogether and buy directly from farmers.

These ideas were first recommended by the Swaminathan Commission – an experts’ committee tasked by the government in 2004 to finding solutions to problems faced by farmers.

However, the Swaminathan Commission also recommended a higher MSP and protective regulations for farmers while doing contract farming for large private traders. But the new laws do not include either of these recommendations.

The farmers now fear that since the MSP is no longer mandatory, they will be forced to accept any price large firms offer. Food crop growers also argue that they cannot even transport their produce to the nearest market yard without incurring losses. And they question how can they reach and sell at markets faraway.

The big player scare

In December 2020, even as their protests gathered steam, farmers across Punjab pulled down hundreds of mobile towers belonging to Reliance Jio Infocomm — India’s largest cellular service network. The protesters targeted the network after it was rumoured that large corporations like Reliance industries, along with Adani group, would be entering the contract farming business, potentially pushing independent farmers out of their livelihoods. After over 1,500 Jio telecom towers were damaged, the company finally approached the court and also clarified in a statement that it had no farm business plans. But the fear lingers.

Harmandeep Singh, a farmer from Tarn Tarn, Punjab tells IPS: “Today they are saying there are no plans. But tomorrow it may change. These companies are so rich, they can buy any amount of land and push us out of the business. Who will stop them?”

However, the entry of big corporations in agriculture happened well before a more corporate-friendly Modi government came in power, Subramaniam Kannaiyan, General Secretary of South Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers Movements (SICCFM), tells IPS.

“In 2011, the then Congress Government had allowed 100 percent foreign investment in several sectors of agriculture, so the corporates have been there for a long time already. In fact, since we joined World Trade Organisation (WTO), opening up of the markets has become inevitable. However, there should be a balance and ways to support and protect the local, small farmers and for that the APMC should play a stronger role, not be done away with,” says Kannaiyan, who is also a member of the global small farmers movement La Via Campesina.

No takers for a 3rd party role

On Jan. 12, the Supreme Court of India formed  a 4-member committee to hold talks between the government and the farmers to resolve the protests over the farm laws. But the farmers were quick to reject the committee and refused to be part of it.

“When there is a dialogue underway between the government and the protesting farmers, there is absolutely no need for the Supreme Court to take on a mediatory role given that neither the government nor the union leaders have approached the Supreme Court and said, ‘please resolve this,” says Kuruganti, who is also a member of the 41-member farmers delegation that has been holding the talks with the government.

So far, there have been 11 rounds of dialogues which centre around not just ‘techno-legal’ issues but also on policy directions and policy implications — “areas where the Supreme Court has no role to play,” Kuruganti says, explaining why the farmers do not see any merit in joining the review committee.

“The problem today is, except for Punjab and Haryana, there is no large farmers union anywhere else in this country,” says Kannaiyan of SICCFM.

“This is why a movement of this magnitude can be led only by farmers from those states. But we stand by them strongly in solidarity.”

Digging their heels deeper

Yesterday, Jan. 26, India celebrated its Republic Day – the day the country’s constitution came into effect. The celebration usually includes a token display of the country’s military might by parading its nation’s defence weaponry.

But this week, the nation witnessed a different parade: a 100-km long tractor rally by the protester farmers. The government tried to prevent the rally by getting a court order and some of states also banned sale of fuel to tractors, but this failed to dissuade the farmers who were determined to carry out the rally. Many vowed to only return home after the 3 farm bills have been repealed.

Yesterday, thousands of protesting farmers marched to New Delhi’s historic Red Fort.

There were skirmishes between police and a small number of protesters, but the majority of protesters were peaceful. Police reportedly dispersed the crowd with tear gas and one protester died after a tractor overturned and fell on him.

“The government is trying to show the world that it has done a great job by building weapons. Now we want to tell the world that a country that a country is not made great by making weapons but by respecting its farmers and by restoring its economic lifeline – the agriculture which is not happening right now,” Mandeep Kaur, a woman farmer with small land holding from  Punjab’s Ludhiana who has travelled to Singhu several times during the past two months to join the protests, tells IPS.

Indeed, the Food Sustainability Index, developed by the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition and the Economist Intelligence Unit, ranks India 4th overall, behind Colombia and China, in a ranking middle income countries’ sustainability and greatest progress towards meeting environmental, societal and economic key performance indicators for agriculture.

On Jan. 22, after the 11th round of discussions, the government offered to delay the implementation of the farm laws for 12 to 18 months – allowing farmers the additional time to prepare themselves for the future.  However, as the farmers refused to settle for anything less than a full repeal of the legislation, the government declined to announce dates for further discussions. 

The impasse has failed to move the farmers from their stance, but some are asking the government to not make it a show of ego.

“Accepting the demands of the farmers and repealing the farm laws should not be seen as a victory of the farmers or the loss of the government; it should be seen as a victory of democracy,” Kuruganthi says.

Meanwhile, farmers from several states including Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Assam, Kerala and Telangana have lent their support to the protest movement.

And today, Jan. 27, a day after the Republic Day protest, Kuruganthi says “the protest movement will continue peacefully”.

 

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International Partnership Helps Mongolia Counter Climate Change

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A woman stands outside a yurt in Ger District, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. There is power plant nearby but the government says it aims to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. Courtesy: CC BY-SA 4.0/Nathalie Daoust

A woman stands outside a yurt in Ger District, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. There is power plant nearby but the government says it aims to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. Courtesy: CC BY-SA 4.0/Nathalie Daoust

BHUBANESWAR, India, Jan 26 2021 (IPS) – Climate warming is believed to have taken place at some of the fastest rates in the world in Mongolia, raising the country’s average temperatures by 2.24°C between 1940 and 2015, with the last decade being the warmest of the past 76 years.

In the Gobi Desert, the occurrence of dust storms increased from 18 to 57 days between 1960 to 2007, and in 2000 almost half a million people were affected by drought. The north-eastern Asian country’s northern region is expected to become more arid over this century as annual precipitation decreased by 7 percent over the past 76 year despite an increase in winter rains. In addition to the drying landscape, changes in water availability is a serious, growing concern.

“Around 90 percent of the annual precipitation is now lost to evapotranspiration. Livestock feed is increasingly falling short (in the steppes),” Dr. Batjargal Zamba, Mongolia’s National United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) focal point, told IPS via Skype from Ulaanbaatar.

Traditional livelihoods bear the brunt of changing climate

Between 1999 and 2002, and again between 2009 and 2010, Mongolia was hit by a series of extremely harsh winters or dzuds that resulted in the death of around 10 million of an estimated 44 million livestock population. The extreme cold and coating of icy snow can prevent animals from getting to their pasture and causes mass deaths. Nearly 70 percent rangeland pastures are degraded, according to the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

This is a major push factor for the huge migration of traditional herders of camels, yaks, goats, and sheep into Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia’s capital city on the banks of the Tuul River in the north-central portion of the country. Urban availability of better health, education and market facilities add to the rural migration.

Nearly half of Mongolia’s 3.2 million people reside in its capital, and the city is facing uncontrollable air pollution, making climate impacts worse. Ulaanbaatar, like other Mongolian cities, has air pollution concentrations — mostly from coal burning to heat homes  — almost six times higher than the recommended World Health Organisation (WHO) air quality guidelines.

In traditionally dry Mongolia, flash floods have become a new feature. As warmer air has a higher capacity to carry moisture in the form of water vapour, global warming is already causing extreme rainfall events. In summer, Mongolia’s 2.24°C higher temperature is melting the snow faster, thawing the permafrost, so much so that it is not just the vast Gobi Desert in the south which is affected, but devastating flash floods have reached Ulaanbaatar, destroying roads and houses on its way, according to Zamba. 

These natural hazards occurring from shifts in climate dynamics frequently affect Mongolia with high loss and damage to agriculture and livestock sectors, hampering poverty reduction efforts, causing economic shock, and contributing to unsustainable rural to urban migration. With a per capita income of $4,295, Mongolia was ranked 106th globally, according to the World Bank.

Mongolia steps up climate control with international partnerships

According to Mongolia’s Ministry of Environment and Tourism, the government has been undertaking a number of measures, which include:

  • National Climate Change Programme (2011),
  • Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (2015),
  • Green Development Policy (2015), 
  • Sustainable Development Vision 2030 (2016), and
  • the newly-approved Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC).

The central element for implementing the Paris Agreement are the NDCs of each of the 196 Parties to the climate convention. NDCs are national climate plans highlighting climate actions, related targets, policies and measures governments aims to implement in response to climate change and as a contribution to global climate action.

Mongolia is engaged closely with international efforts to mitigate climate change and its impacts. It is one of the 63 countries that is being supported by the Climate Action Enhancement Package (CAEP), an initiative of the NDC Partnership (NDCP) with financial and technical assistance not only to submit enhanced NDCs but to also fast-track their implementation.

Mongolia’s NDCs, outlining and communicating their government’s post-2020 climate actions, was approved in November 2019. In it, Mongolia intends to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 22.7 percent by 2030, compared to the business-as-usual scenario. This goal excludes land use, land-use change, and forestry (LULUCF). To reduce emissions, it will focus on the energy sector, namely energy production, energy consumption and transmission loss. In the non-energy sector it will focus on agriculture, industry, and waste-to-energy.

Adaptation in the livelihoods sector, especially in nature-based solutions to water conservation, is also highlighted in the NDCs.

“In addition, if mitigation measures such as carbon capture and sequestration; waste-to-energy, technologies, which are few with developing nations are implemented under international financial mechanism and technical support, Mongolia could achieve a 27.2 percent reduction in total national GHG emissions,” Zamba told IPS.

“This would include capture of methane gas from coal mining, waste-to-energy conversion particularly utilising Ulaanbaatar city’s massive waste dumps. Additionally, greening the steppe region, which covers more than three-fourths of the national territory, increasing forest cover would build up a substantial carbon sink [to increase] carbon removal and reduction in total, to as high as 40.9 percent,” asserted Zamba. Siberian larches and cedars, spruces, pines, and firs with deciduous trees birches, aspens, and poplars cover Mongolia’s northern mountain slopes.

After Mongolia’s new national government came to power in June 2020, the drive to mitigate climate change has been increased via an inter-sectoral integrated climate action plan involving as many as nine ministries. 

The CAEP has also helped on various fronts, making Mongolia’s climate actions more robust and inter-sectoral. Under the CAEP, the Mongolian government has partnered with the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN (FAO), the Asian Development Bank (ADB), UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI) and the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), among other institutions over the course of 2020 and 2021, according to ministry sources.

“The CAEP has facilitated to integrate NDC implementation into our national action plans and strategies. Mongolia aspires to reach net-zero emission by 2050,” Zamba said.

Enkhbat Altangerel, Director-General of Mongolia’s Ministry of Environment and Tourism, told IPS via email: “Mongolia has joined the NDC Partnership in 2017 and since has been an active member. A number of significant achievements were attained within the frame of the cooperation, such as a partnership plan which was developed and approved, NDC Partners’ online and coordination platform was established. This was a pioneering measure in the field and currently the platform functions as the main NDC coordination and tracking mechanism at the national level.” 

Private sector engagement is essential and prioritised in the implementation of climate policies said Altangerel. Already two private sector commercial banks, XacBank and the Trade and Development Bank, are designated as Accredited Entities for the Green Climate Fund (GCF) and are able to disburse GCF-provided green loans to large solar projects. The government has also proposed a Mongolian Green Finance Corporation in cooperation with GCF, which will become the main national green financing body.

Implementing the 2019 NDC till 2030, inclusive of mitigation and adaptation plans, is calculated to cost $11.5 billion, Zamba told IPS.

A yurt in Mongolia with a solar panel that provides electricity and also connects the satellite tv. Courtesy: CC By 2.0/Niek van Son

A yurt in Mongolia with a solar panel that provides electricity and also connects the satellite tv. Courtesy: CC By 2.0/Niek van Son

Speeding towards renewable energy in the Land of Eternal Blue Sky

With between 220 and 260 clear, sunny days each year, Mongolia is called the Land of the Eternal Blue Sky. The country’s combined wind and solar power potential is estimated by the ADB to be equivalent of 2,600 gigawatts (GW) of installed capacity or 5,457 terawatt-hours of clean electricity generation per year. The amount is enough to meet the country’s energy demand of around 1.2GW as of 2018 and allow it to still export the remaining, yet currently Mongolia’s coal-dependent energy sector emits two-thirds of its GHG. Coal being cheap and plentiful, coal-fired thermal power plants accounted for a total of 96.1 percent of the total electricity supply in 2015.

But that’s about to change.

“The most emitting sectors are energy and agriculture,” admits Altangerel, “but renewable energy is where our key mitigation achievements are, so far.”

From a current renewable mix of 20 percent share in total electricity generation dominated by wind and solar, with hydro and geothermal, it is targeting a total 1,356 MW or triple the current installed capacity by 2030.

To reduce dirty power generation, Mongolia will also install its first large-scale advanced battery energy storage system in partnership with ADB, facilitated by CAEP. Renewable is also set to provide urban heating in Mongolia’s bitter winter where coal, wood and even rubber tyres are used by the urban poor.

Facilitating private sector partnerships

The private sector engagement is essential in implementation of climate actions said Altangerel.

“We are not asking the private sector to help; we are coercing them. With incentives of course!” Zamba half-jokingly adds. In developing economies public-private partnerships (PPP) are essential, with governments being resource constrained.

The government has prioritised cooperation with the private sector in implementing the NDCs and relevant policies.

After XacBank, one of Mongolia’s large commercial financial institutions in 2019 became the first private sector Accredited Entity for GCF, the bank disburses GCF-provided green loans to large solar projects. The Trade and Development Bank is the second bank to be designated Accredited Entity for GCF. Mongolia has also proposed a Mongolian Green Finance Corporation in cooperation with GCF which will become the main green financing national body.

“Considering the efficiency and rapid process of the CAEP programme, our government is further planning to extend its collaboration with NDC Partnership at sectoral level for the implementation of sector-specific NDC targets and activities,” Altangerel told IPS.

 

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