Mongolia Lecture Series
A Panel Presentation
FAQ Mongolia: Some Answers to the Most Frequently Asked Questions on (Mining) Policy
What role are environmental movements playing in Mongolia’s civil society?
Environmental movements are an organized expression of heterogeneous concerns over environmental risks and problems. The institutional core of the environmental movement is a network of organizations, activists, and supporters that share concerns. This inclusive approach allows us to look at environmental movements as networks of like-minded NGOs, individual activists, journalists, and political actors in Mongolia. The Mongolian government’s neoliberal economic policy and its weakness has resulted in unorganized expansion of mining that threatens the natural environment and local livelihoods. Local movement organizations opposing local mining operations (primarily gold mining) have emerged as important actors in environmental politics in Mongolia. While I focus on these movement organizations in this talk, I will also present other crucial actors in environmental activism.
Although official statistics in Mongolia show that there are more than 500 environmental NGOs, about 20 percent of these organizations might actually exist. Until recently, environmental NGOs were dominated by scientists and ecologists. In recent years, especially since the mid-2000s, this situation has been changing due to the active involvement of grassroots organizations and activists. In addition, some domestic and international NGOs that previously worked in different issue areas have turned their attention to environmental problems.
The Ongi River Movement has become the most popular environmental organization in Mongolia over the past decade. In 2006, the Homeland and Water Protection Coalition was established by eleven local movement organizations. Local movement organizations grew out of environmental problems caused by mining operations in specific local areas, but the formation of a coalition enabled them to transcend localism and frame the solution of local problems broadly. Since 2008, these movements have organized campaigns to ban mining operations in headwater areas and water basins. After a series of direct actions including hunger strike organized by the movements, the Mongolian parliament passed a law that prohibits mining operations in headwater areas, river basins, and forest zones in July, 2009.
There have been prominent journalists who were a strong voice for the environment. In the late 1980s, a newspaper article written by Ts. Baldorj, a founder of Today newspaper, about the environmental effect of the extraction of phosphor deposits in the area surrounding Lake Huvsgul stirred public outrage, which led the government to revoke its plans. Besides environmentally conscious journalists, the diversity of Mongolia’s media outlets provides a good opportunity for environmental debate. The role of the media including social media was crucial in protest campaigns against rumored talks on building a nuclear waste dump in Mongolia
A “green group” was established by a small group of MPs in 2009 as a loose coalition of environmentally conscious parliamentarians to consider the environmental side effects of mining operations in general and big projects such Ouy Tolgoi and Tavan Tolgoi in particular. Some members of the group played key role in the passage of the “law with a long name.” Its prominent members are D. Enkhbat, B. Bat-Erdene, and G. Bayarsaikhan. The Green Party of Mongolia was established in 1990. In 2008, its candidate won a seat in the parliament for the first time (perhaps, for the first time in Asia). Until recently, the green party has been a weak voice for the environment, but representation in parliament and increasing public concern about environmental issues put it in a better position.
Recent debates over the “law with a long name” between the business community and environmental movements in Mongolia suggest that networks of these four types of actors are able to create a strong coalition if their concerns and interest intersect.
20’45” – 36’22”
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