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Climate resilient forests for a sustainable future in Mongolia

Blog | Mon, 23 Apr, 2018 · 8 min read
Khuvsgul Lake

A journey across Mongolia brings to life the mitigation and adaptation potential of the country’s vast boreal forest resources.

As the car tires crunched over icy lake Khusgvul, all I could think of were the stories of trucks disappearing through broken ice.

Lake Khusgvul is one of the world’s most pristine lakes and looking out at the beautiful landscape calmed my nerves about thoughts of an icy bath should the ice break. Reassurances from colleagues that the ice was meters thick laid my fears to rest. The frozen lake is truly a sight to behold, surrounded by mountains, forests stretching to its shores, and parched dry grasslands, dormant in winter before they return to the fragrant bloom of summer.

But this spectacular landscape is at risk from climate change. Khusgul province contains 30 percent of the country’s forests.

Extreme winters are taking a toll on the biodiversity here. Deer and other wild animals are dying, and trees are being damaged by ice and snow.

Summers are hotter and drier resulting in the loss of permafrost that affects the availability of water, increases the risk of wildfires, and has an adverse effect on vegetation.

The extreme weather has also given rise to an increase in pests that attack trees.

The locals living around Lake Khusvgul include the Tsaatan people, who depend on raising reindeer for their livelihoods. There are only about 40 Tsaatan families left in Mongolia (some living across the border in Russia) with about 1,500 reindeer, an integral part of their livelihood and culture. The extreme weather is affecting their herd causing reindeer to die and threatening a centuries old way of life.

Taigadaa bid jargaltai
Taigadaa bid jargaltai Photo: Erdenebulgan.B

The effects on the forests surrounding Lake Khusgul are having a wider impact, affecting the watershed well beyond the region, damaging the local economy, and the resulting loss of jobs is causing locals to migrate to the capital, Ulaanbaatar, putting a strain on resources in the city.

Now the government is trying to make the forests more resilient to climate change and working to diversify the economy in the Lake Khusgul region.

It is implementing a program that will reduce forest loss and improve the quality of forest resources through better management by working through local communities.

The programme, known as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+), is aimed at conservation, and sustainable management of forests, and is being supported by the UN-REDD Programme.

Forests are under-utilized in Mongolia and sustainable forest management regimes can help make them more resilient to climate change, droughts, and pest attack.

Maintaining the forests also benefits communities living around Lake Khusvgul due to increased ecotourism and business opportunities such as wood processing and wood working.

Herder Jak is no longer careless about the way he goes about in the forests. “In the past we had no idea about how our action affected the forests”, he says. “For instance, we were careless about how we handled fires. Now due to the education from the Programme we know that we are responsible for saving the forests and benefitting from them.”

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.

Tseden - Nuga
Tseden - Nuga Photo: Chris Dickinson

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 to 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; or this wonderful video with our Champion Bela, Miss Mongolia Earth video, or better still visit this fantastic tourist destination, the summer is best.

Watch video - REDD+: Forests and Climate Change in Mongolia