March 31, 2022

Plant monitoring by PEM Team. Photo : Jargalsaikhan Purevdorj

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In recent years, the mining industry has become one of the biggest contributors to Mongolia’s economic growth, with exports in the field accounting for over 20% of the country’s GDP. With the exponential growth of the mining industry, Mongolia faces challenges in managing the environmental impacts on its natural resources and the social impacts on its people. 

As extractive industries encroach into environmentally pristine areas, conflicts between mining companies, local communities, herders, and municipalities have intensified throughout the country. Greater efforts are needed to protect human rights as well as the biodiversity and ecosystems on which local communities depend.

“The integration of human rights and environmental concerns into the governance of Mongolia’s mining sector is crucial to create a better balance between the social, environmental, and economic dimensions of sustainable development and reduce the drivers of social conflict”, says Ariunbileg Radnaa, EGP Focal Point in UNDP Mongolia.

The EGP has worked to realize this goal trough facilitating the creation of Participatory Environmental Monitoring (PEM) Committees, a powerful tool to address the root causes of social conflicts and help integrate environment and human rights protection into mining governance. 

“The establishment of PEM Committees has relied on successful partnerships with stakeholders ranging from rural communities and herders to mining companies, government partners and civil society organizations”, explains Bayarsaikhan Namsrai, Head of the Steps Without Borders NGO.

Steps Without Borders spearheaded the establishment of PEM Committees in the districts of Bayanjargalan, Airag and Dalanjargalan, in Mongolia’s resource-rich provinces of Töv and Dornogovi.

“After many years of conflicts, we now have an effective forum for dialogue between mining companies and communities impacted by mining, which can address distrust or lack of communication between the key stakeholders. We have created a forum where all stakeholders can resolve conflicts without blaming one another. While the PEM Committees will not remedy all impacts of mining, they can significantly contribute to further environmental and human rights protection in mining operations”, Bayarsaikhan Namsrai concludes. 

At the time the EGP initiated its operations in Mongolia in 2014, there was a lack of knowledge and capacity for community-based environmental monitoring of mining activities. Local communities impacted by mining, herders and their associations were not involved in governance processes due to the lack of instruments, guidelines, and policies for meaningful community participation.

The EGP has helped change these dynamics by facilitating training for community-based committees on PEM awareness and implementation mechanisms, followed by on-site monitoring exercises at selected mine sites. Through these exercises, user-friendly, practical PEM guidelines have been produced for use in Mongolia’s mining areas, with a focus on new instruments to streamline the management of natural resources.

The EGP will build on these successes in 2022 through engaging local communities and helping make their voices heard in mining governance. This includes supporting the adoption of PEM instruments at national, provincial, and community levels, and facilitating the exchange of lessons learned and good practices between different PEM Committees in Mongolia and other EGP programme countries. By doing so, communities impacted by mining will be able to play a decisive role in protecting the environment and human rights in mining contexts.