Mongolia increases climate change ambition with actions that improve air quality and human health

by CCAC secretariat - 17 March, 2020
Mongolia’s revised Nationally Determined Contribution commits to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 22.7% in 2030. Achieving this would also reduce emissions of key air pollutants and short-lived climate pollutants.

Almost half (45 per cent) of Mongolia’s 3.2 million people live in the capital, Ulaanbaatar, which like other Mongolian cities, have air pollution concentrations almost six times higher than World Health Organisation air quality guidelines for the protection of human health. This has prompted the Mongolian government to identify improving air quality as a key development priority.

In 2019, in Mongolia’s Voluntary National Review on the Implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, Prime Minister Khurelsukh Ukhnaa described air pollution as a ‘complex, multifaceted development challenge’.

Air pollution exposure in Mongolian cities has increased the prevalence of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, and increased healthcare expenditure. The health of Mongolian children is significantly impacted, with air pollution levels 3-10 times higher in Ulaanbaatar’s classrooms than Mongolia’s air quality standard.

This winter (2019/2020), air quality in Ulaanbaatar was better than previous years due to a Government ban on raw coal consumption in the city’s ger and households districts, but air pollution issues in Ulaanbaatar and Aimags (administrative subdivisions) remain challenging.

Winter air pollution in Ulaanbaatar's ger district.

Mongolia is also vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, which threatens the country’s water and food security, and biodiversity. The government has recognised that there is substantial opportunity to improve air quality while simultaneously mitigating climate change and is working to tackle both issues through ambitious climate commitments.

Air pollution and climate change are closely linked. Some pollutants, such as black carbon and methane (both short-lived climate pollutants) contribute directly to air pollution and climate change, and many sources of greenhouse gases (GHGs) are also sources of air pollutants. In Mongolia, this is also the case, coal consumption by households, and for power generation, as well as emissions from industry, agriculture and road transport are the major source both of GHGs, short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs), and other air pollutants.

With support from the CCAC’s Supporting National Action & Planning on SLCP mitigation (SNAP) initiative, an assessment was undertaken to identify the air pollution benefits that could be achieved as Mongolia revised its climate change commitment in its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC).

The assessment, "Opportunities from taking integrated actions on air pollution and climate change in Mongolia", first identified the major sources of SLCPs, greenhouse gases and air pollutants. This includes agriculture, transport, and coal consumption for household heating and cooking (responsible for over 50% of black carbon emissions in Mongolia), and for electricity and heat generation.

The important finding from this assessment is that by achieving climate change mitigation goals we will also have benefits in different areas, including improved air quality
Dr. Batjargal Zamba

The assessment then modelled the implementation of eight mitigation measures that make up Mongolia’s revised climate change mitigation commitment. These include actions on electricity and heat generation, energy efficiency in industry and buildings, and reducing the number of livestock in agriculture.  

“Mongolia’s revised NDC will increase the GHG reduction target up to 22.7% in 2030 compared to a business as usual scenario,” said Dr Batjargal Zamba, National Focal Point for the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). “However, the important finding from this assessment is that by achieving climate change mitigation goals we will also succeed in having benefits in different areas including improved air quality.”

The full implementation of the eight mitigation actions identified in this assessment will lead to a 12% reduction in black carbon emissions, 9% reduction in primary fine particulate (PM2.5) emissions, and a 10% reduction in nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions in 2030 compared to a business as usual scenario.

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Much of Mongolia's electricty comes from coal fueld power plants like this one in Ulaanbaatar

“The air pollution benefits that can be achieved by implementing Mongolia’s revised NDC are on top of the existing actions being taken or planned that specifically tackle air quality in Ulaanbaatar,” Dr Damdin Davgadorj, assessment lead author, said. “When we evaluated the implementation of Mongolia’s NDC and planned air quality actions, the expected benefits were even greater.”

By implementing both Mongolia’s climate change commitment and planned air pollution actions emissions are reduced further—black carbon by 26%, PM2.5 emissions by 17%, and NOx emissions by 22% in 2030 compared to a Business as Usual scenario.

“The assessment highlights important additional next steps for Mongolia for climate change and air pollution mitigation,” said Dr Jargal Dorjpurev, an author on the study.

“On air pollution mitigation, a significant proportion of air pollutant emissions occur in cities outside Ulaanbaatar, and actions need to also be planned in these to improve air quality across the country,” Dr Dorjpurev said. “On climate change, a clear pathway to 2030 is communicated in the revised NDC. Now a long-term strategy to 2050 to decarbonise the Mongolian economy is needed, which maximises the benefits for Mongolian citizens, including ensuring clean air for all.”

“The benefits to local air quality from increasing climate change ambition are clearly shown in global and regional assessments. I congratulate Mongolia for putting this into action and increasing the mitigation ambition in their NDC in a way that will contribute to solving their substantial air pollution,” Helena Molin Valdés, Head of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition Secretariat said. “All countries now revising their NDCs should evaluate what additional actions that improve air quality can be incorporated to increase climate change mitigation ambition and achieve local development and health benefits.”

Mongolia is one of over 20 countries receiving support on SLCPs and integrated air pollution and climate change planning as part of the Coalition’s SNAP initiative. The support provided is tailored to each country, ranging from initial assessments of major emission sources, development of National Action Plans, to integration of SLCPs within climate change planning processes.

Mongolia has been a member of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition since 2014.

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Rapid urbanization and burning coal for domestic heating contibutes to winter air pollution over Ulaanbaatar.