19 September 2017, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia - There can be no question that Mongolia has international visibility and a reputation that far surpasses what might be expected from a country with a population of little over 3 million and a per capita national income of 3,800 dollars. It is remarkable, that is, until you actually visit for the first time.
Mongolia is cold, it is vast in size and, not so long ago, inherited a Soviet industrial complex ill-equipped for a more socially and environmentally conscious 21st century. With an economy that is largely based on the extractive industry, it takes today about 17 kilos of natural resources to generate 1 dollar value in the economic output. When compared to a global average closer to 2 kilos per dollar of economic output, this is incredibly wasteful.
Yet the people are pragmatic and action-oriented, mixed in with just the right amount of (justifiable) national pride. And so there hasn’t had to be too much debate about whether or not reforms are necessary. From the purchase of government paperclips, the design of public buildings to the diversification of its industries, Mongolia is going green.
As part of a programme of support provided by the Partnership for Action on Green Economy (PAGE), the UN and its partners have been working with the government to think through what this ‘greening’ could mean in practice, so as to transform the economy towards greater modernity, sustainability and fairness for all.
“He who wants to build high must dig deep” so the Mongolia proverb goes. Noone under-estimates the scale of the challenge and that it will require an unprecedented national effort. Everyone will have their part to play.
Very much with this sentiment in mind, the great and the good in higher education recently met at an event, co-hosted by the Ministries of Environment and Education and the PAGE partnership, under a suitably large and resplendent banner that read “Mongolian Universities for Sustainable Development”.
The hall was packed out right until the very end when formal presentations gave way to an active discussion on how to take action. Most significantly educators felt that all levels in the education system should teach the sustainability message, not just the higher levels. Green and pleasant campuses were seen as vital for the retention of knowledge and to promote behaviours conducive to learning. All agreed that national universities should work together on these issues through a national coordinating body that would facilitate creative ideas and the sharing of experience.
As part of PAGE, the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) is proud to have been present at this event and to be working with the government and leading universities in considering how Mongolia’s education sector should play its part by preparing coming generations for a greener and fairer future.
As an outsider, one is struck both by the quality and maturity of the exchange; for here was a group of highly motivated, right-thinking people who never for a moment question the idea that we all bear responsibility for our actions and that we are all fully accountable to future generations. No wonder Mongolia’s reputation precedes it. We will bet that by 2050 Mongolia will be one of the ‘go to’ places on the planet.
By Angus Mackay, Manager, Green Development and Climate Change Programme, UNITAR.
The Partnership for Action on Green Economy (PAGE) brings together the expertise of five UN agencies – UN Environment, International Labour Organization, UN Development Programme, UN Industrial Development Organization, and UN Institute for Training and Research. It supports nations and regions in reframing economic policies and practices around sustainability to foster economic growth, create income and jobs, reduce poverty and inequality, and strengthen the ecological foundations of their economies.
Photo 1: PAGE aims to prepare coming generations for a greener and fairer future.