Keynote speech at Mongolian Ecology Forum 2018

October 19, 2018

Speech by Mrs. Daniela Gasparikova,

Deputy Resident Representative

19 October 2018

Mongolia’s Air-Emergency

·         Sain baina uu. As we move into winter, we all are increasingly aware of air pollution.

·         Ulaanbaatar has some of the most hazardous air on earth. We don’t just breathe it, we taste it.

·         The city’s residents burn raw coal in inefficient stoves and heat only boilers to stay warm in temperatures colder than Antarctica. Over 700,000 tons of coal are burnt annually to heat the ger district and are dispersed in the air we breathe. In one of the city’s ger districts, during December last year, air pollution exceeded 30 times the World Health Organization’s permissible limit.

o   That’s 3 times Beijing’s ‘Red Alert’ smog level, and exceeds recent levels in New Delhi.

·         The health costs are staggering, especially for the elderly, children, and pregnant women, with 3.5 times more miscarriages in winter, as well as recurring lung infections and reduced lung function for children here (UNICEF).

·         The World Bank estimates that across Mongolia, over 2,400 people (children and adults) died due to air pollution in 2013. That’s a loss equal to 6.9% of the country’s GDP.

·         In Mongolia’s Constitution: every citizen of Mongolia has the right to live in a healthy and safe environment, as well as the right to be protected from environmental pollution and ecological imbalance (Article 6.2).

·         That right is also enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – which we are marking the 70th anniversary of, this year. Under Article 25, the right to a ‘standard of living adequate for health,’ which is violated by UB’s air pollution.

Where do we stand in fighting Ulaanbaatar’s air pollution?

·         Actions to reduce air pollution in UB, such as the clean stove initiative, were not as effective as hoped. This is due to the lack of required fuel, insufficient awareness rising, poor monitoring and a slowdown in efforts in the economic crisis of 2015-2016.

·         But cutting corners on social and environmental investments, such as air pollution measures, during tough times is a false economy

o   According to UNICEF and the National Center for Public Health, failure to reduce air pollution would lead to a rise in treatment costs for air pollution-induced diseases in children by 33% in the next 8 yrs. This will cost health providers an extra 4.8 billion Tugriks a year at least, by 2025.

o   And, according to UNDP’s soon-to-be-launched report on air pollution in Mongolia, air pollution has a huge impact on the country’s economy causing major costs related to productivity loss, welfare and damage. This represent annual costs equivalent of approximately 20% of the country’s GDP. The report also highlights that past spending to fight air pollution did have a marginal positive impact. But because most actions ended too early, they did not have the full and sustained impact expected. In order to reduce the future costs of air pollution it is therefore worth investing in fighting it.

·         The budget allocated specifically to reducing air pollution in 2017 was lower than the average over the last six years despite the importance of this issues politically. We are happy to see the Government taking action and reversing the situation in the 2019 budget draft with the allocation of MNT 154.4bio to fight air pollution as recurrent central budget expenditure.

·         While the National Program for Reducing Air and Environmental Pollution - (adopted in March 2017) is a welcome step forward from the GoM providing a comprehensive and long-term program against pollution, it is however very ambitious. Indeed, it is set to cost MNT 1.1 trillion a year which represents about 4.1% of the GDP (2017 nominal). The program’s measures must be prioritized and sharpened to succeed in the current climate of austerity.

·         And, given the magnitude of the challenge, it will likely take years before Ulaanbaatar’s air is safe to breathe.

So what are the next steps needed?

·         There is no single ‘silver bullet’ to Mongolia’s air crisis. Efforts must come from all of society – government, private sector and consumers. And they will need to be sustained and systematically pursued over extended periods of time, spanning several election cycles.

·         Going forward, the mix of responses will need:

o   Long-term strategies that will include a mix of :

A) Ger district redevelopment program consisting in freeing land currently occupied by the polluting ger areas to build eco-districts. All housing units would benefit from sustainable electricity, heating, and sanitation. Such projects will be starting soon thanks to the new ADB project supported through a number of public and private investors. However, similar projects would require at least 10-fold increase in public and private investment if they were to reach a significant number of households in the ger district.  . Hence, ger redevelopment programs should be ideally combined with

B) Investments to provide more households and companies with on- and off-grid renewable heating and electricity solutions to reduce the dependency on coal. This includes greater investments in solar and wind energy. Mongolia shows tremendous potential in renewables, with 270 sunny days a year, and an area the size of Greece suited to generating wind presenting promising opportunities for the private sector if a conducive investment environment is created.

C) Pricing strategies for coal-based energy generation that fully reflect the market price, across the whole of the coal value chain. Currently, the coal full market price is only paid by the ones who are not linked to the subsidized central heating, and who are often the less able to pay. This leads to significant equity issues as the people living in the ger district are paying for the coal 7 times more than the inhabitants of the city center. It is essential to move to full price recovery, based on the actual energy and heating consumption, to incentivize responsible consumer behavior.  This would provide an incentive for people to insulate their homes to reduce consumption and therefore the heating costs.

o   Short-term measures

o   In the meantime, the government, public, private companies and individuals must also invest in reducing the most harmful emissions from the burning of coal. This includes measures such as the phase-out of inefficient stoves and heat-only boilers and replace raw coal with cleaner burning brickets. The GoM is moving in the right direction with the ban of raw coal taking place in May 2019. However, as we learned from past experience, it is essential to ensure sufficient production capacity of improved fuel before the ban kicks off. Enforcing the ban and its strict monitoring is a prerequisite for it to have an effect.  

Increasing energy efficiency in buildings through right-setting economic incentives to drive responsible production and consumption will also contribute in reducing energy consumption, which in turn reduces pollutants’ emissions. To reduce the negative health impacts, short term and immediate measures should also include reducing the exposure to air pollution of children, pregnant women, the elderly, and people with pre-existing conditions, including by providing masks and air purifiers in all hospitals and kindergartens.

·         The UN family in Mongolia – including UNICEF, UNDP, WHO and other agencies – are already working with the Government and partners to develop approaches and costing strategies to address both the symptoms and root causes of air pollution.

o   This includes addressing urban migration due to climate change, namely, mitigating and adapting to rising droughts and dzuds that threaten the ecosystems herders depend on, driving them instead to the ger districts of UB.

o   Through our NAMA construction sector project, UNDP is also trying to reduce the energy consumption for heating and power in buildings affecting both positively air pollution and climate change. And we hope the UNDP report on air pollution will help the GoM in its fight against air pollution providing a prioritization of actions based on cost effectiveness and feasibility which can be included in the National Program.

·         Mongolia was an early adopter of the Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs, to end poverty, reduce inequality and protect our shared planet. This calls for balancing the economic, social and environmental aspects of development, and protecting investments in each.

·         We stand ready to support Mongolia in its fight against air pollution, to ensure its progress is sustainable and leaves no one behind. Thank you.