Sandwiched between Russia in the north and China in the south, Mongolia is a landlocked country spanning 1.5 million sq km, with a population of around 3.3 million.
The focal point of the capital Ulaanbaatar is Sükhbaatar Square (previously Chinggis Square, in honour of Genghis Khan, the legendary founder of the 13th-14th Century Mongol Empire).
Despite its rugged terrain, Mongolia is home to hundreds of lakes and the famous Gobi Desert, which covers 30% of the entire area of the country.
Embracing north-west China and southern Mongolia, the Gobi Desert is the largest desert in Asia and the fifth largest desert in the world. The desert stretches 1,610 km from southwest to northeast and around 800 km from north to south.
Like most countries, Mongolia is also a victim of climate change and is taking steps to counter this scourge. The country is greening its environment, which seems a peculiarity, given its topography. But it is moving passionately towards creating a sanctuary for greenery in the Gobi Desert.
Greening Mongolia’s environment seems to be a peculiarity considering the vast expanse of Mongolia’s southern Gobi. Growing trees and plants to create a green oasis in an arid region may seem inconceivable, but Mongolia is bucking the trend and proving sceptics wrong.
If Singapore has a target of growing one million trees by 2030, then Mongolia has an even more ambitious target: it plans to grow one billion trees by that year.
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A forest in a desert may seem strange to many, but it is Mongolia’s aim to counter the continuing peril of climate change.
The government manifests its seriousness by pledging to spend at least 1% of its annual gross domestic product (GDP) on a comprehensive national programme.
The Mongolian government has drawn up a three-stage plan for this campaign, with a preparatory phase planned for 2021-24, an intensification phase in 2024-26 and a sustainable implementation phase in 2027-30.
Mongolia needs to act quickly as desertification degrades the land’s fertility. The country is now confronting a major problem affecting over three-quarters of its total land territory. The lives of the country’s nomadic herders are now under threat because of climate change, which also erodes the nation’s food and water security.
Public-private sector partnerships have been forged to focus on reforestation and forest management, giving an impetus to the tree-planting programme. Several big firms have committed to planting 20 million to 120 million trees over the coming decade.
Regional governments have also made their pledges towards the national objective. The province of Ömnögovi has promised to grow at least 70 million trees and provide financial packages to people for conserving new trees in the area. The region has also designated 900,000ha of land for forestation.
Mongolia target is part of its pledge under the UN’s sustainable development goals. The government offer incentives to mining companies and corporations to green the environment.
A special report prepared by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released in 2019 revealed that “native and other climate resilient tree species with low water needs can thwart misfortunes”. These trees can lessen sand storms, forestall wind erosion and contribute to carbon basins, while improving soil nutrients and water preservation.
The Mongolian government also realises the economic and conservational benefits derived from the billion-tree project – for instance, job creation. Herder can earn extra income by planting trees on their land besides tending to their cattle. The government expects a billion dollars circulating through this project.
Despite its passion for greening the country, Mongolia should avoid potential hazards by studying the miscalculations of its neighbour, China. It should be conscious about the mammoth task of planting trees by evaluating and anticipating challenges.
China’s Great Green Wall climate change project in 1987 to help prevent desertification in the vicinity of the country’s own Gobi region had its own problems. A lack of knowledge relating to tree planting led to disease outbreaks, resulting in forest debacles.
Planting similar trees supplemented the additional forest cover, but it was carried out without prior consideration of the benefits that could have been derived from planting different species of plant.
Planting different species produces a positive environmental effect, soaking up the carbon footprint from the ecosystem.
In Mongolia, the second Saturday in May and October are national tree-planting days. How I wish Malaysia could emulate Mongolia in this respect.
Can Malaysia not have a similar programme to Mongolia’s and Singapore’s and designate certain dates as tree planting days to encourage our people to grow plants and green the environment? Regrettably, Budget 2023 did not allocate money for tree planting all over the country.
Just look at the enclave of Brickfields, Bangsar and Damansara and see the plethora of high rise building and the absence of greenery. We must respond to the global call and do our part to reduce our carbon footprint from the earth’s atmosphere.
I would like to think we are not a nation obsessed with materialism and avarice and alienated from social values. Are we not concerned about the welfare of future generations? Shouldn’t we decarbonise our polluted environment?
The land of Genghis Khan may be far away from Malaysia, but distance should not be a barrier to follow any country’s positive attributes.