Mongolia signs landmark climate finance deal for its grasslands

By Thomson Reuters Apr 22, 2024 | 1:08 AM

By Marc Jones

LONDON (Reuters) – Mongolia’s government and a coalition of partners have signed a nature finance agreement aimed at protecting 35.6 million acres (144,000 square km) of the country’s lands and waters, including the world’s last great tract of temperate grassland.

The agreement dubbed “Eternal Mongolia” will see a global donor-supported transition fund worth $71 million combined with a government commitment to spend $127 million on conservation over a 15-year period.

Those involved estimate it will be one of the largest climate finance agreements in Asia to date, dramatically expanding Mongolia’s National Protected Area network and providing a blueprint for other countries around the world.

Mongolia’s environment and tourism minister Bat-Erdene Bat-Ulzii highlighted how the country was already suffering from the effects of climate change.

It has seen temperatures rise 2.25 degrees Celsius over the last 80 years – more than anywhere else on earth – and is experiencing more frequent and severe climate-induced disasters like harsh winters, droughts, and dust storms.

“We’ve just endured the worst dzud year yet, with millions of livestock lost and people’s livelihoods ruined,” he said referring to a slow-onset but extreme kind of winter unique to Mongolia.

The Eternal Mongolia programme deploys the Project Finance for Permanence (PFP) model — an approach that secures policy changes and funding and binds them together in a single agreement that ties the disbursement of funds to environmental and social goals.

Ryan Bidwell, at non-profit organisation The Nature Conservancy that worked with the government on the new agreement, said it would facilitate conservation “at a national scale” and allow nomadic herders to continue to exist on Mongolia’s famous steppe.

Mongolia’s grasslands store around 14-15 million tonnes of carbon and are home to a variety of wildlife including argali sheep, gazelles and endangered Saiga antelope, and yet they are one of the planet’s most imperilled landscapes, he warned.

The new programme plans to set up “biodiversity offsets” – fees charged to the mining firms that exploit Mongolia’s gold and other natural resources. The money raised can then fund conservation projects.

Raising the entrance fees to Mongolia’s national parks to “globally appropriate” levels is also planned, Bidwell said, adding that TNC expected to do around 20 PFPs between now and the end of the decade, including in Kenya and Gabon in Africa, in south and central America, and in Canada.

“We hope this will be the first of many,” Bidwell said.

(Reporting by Marc Jones; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)