Beate Trankmann, UN Resident Coordinator in Mongolia and UNDP Resident Representative/ Photo: UNDP Mongolia

Ms. Beate Trankmann talks to MIAT magazine.

Thank you for accepting ur invitation. Could you introduce yourself please? In which countries did you work before Mongolia?

Beate Trankmann: I have been serving as the Resident Coordinator of United Nations agencies as well as the Resident Representative of the United Nations Development Programme in Mongolia since August 2015. As part of my career with the United Nations I have spent 18 years in the Asia Pacific region and have held positions in Sri Lanka, Cambodia and China following an initial assignment with UNDP in Geneva. Before coming to Mongolia, I was the Country Director for UNDP Indonesia from 2010-2015.

Could you provide us with brief information on UN/UNDP programmes in Mongolia, please? In which areas has UN been active in Mongolia?

Beate Trankmann: The UN has been active in Mongolia for more than 55 years. We consist of 11 agencies working on a range of issues including promoting human rights, supporting democratic governance, protecting the environment, as well as facilitating access to quality public services such as health, education, water and sanitation.

Since 1963, the UN has provided approximately US$ 420 million worth of technical assistance to Mongolia, but our relationship goes far beyond funding. The UN’s partnership with Mongolia is about sharing knowledge and expertise, as well as offering solutions and policy options to key development challenges. The UN was also a close partner for Mongolia through its transition to democracy and an open society a quarter of a century ago. In the early stages of that transition, we supported the development of democratic, market-based institutions, rule of law and the provision of social services.

Mongolia also plays an increasingly important role in the UN and international arena. For a nation of just over 3 million people, Mongolia has made extraordinary contributions to global peace and stability. Since 2002, it has sent more than 8,500 troops to UN peacekeeping forces in some of the most difficult conflict zones, such as Darfur, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Western Sahara. In addition, Mongolia has become a beacon for democratic governance in this region, sharing lessons with others, including Myanmar and Kyrgyzstan. It has also taken a regional leadership role in providing a voice to the needs of landlocked countries by establishing and funding an International Think Tank for the Landlocked Developing Countries.

 What are the new objectives in the UN’s cooperation with Mongolia in the years ahead?  

Beate Trankmann: To guide our work in supporting Mongolia’s development over the next five years, we have launched our new Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) for 2017-2021, following a year of consultation with the Mongolian Government. Our estimated financial contribution for this is US$ 79 million. From now through the end of 2021, we will focus on promoting inclusive growth and sustainable management of natural resources, enhancing equitable access to social services as well as strengthening governance and accountability.

At the heart of our work will be the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – the new global development agenda to eradicate poverty, reduce inequality and protect the planet by 2030. Mongolia is an early adopter of this agenda with Parliament’s approval of the Mongolia Sustainable Development Vision 2030 (SDV) in February last year, which adapts these global goals to Mongolia’s specific context. The SDV conceives a Mongolia that is one of the leading Middle Income Countries by 2030 - ending poverty and preserving the country’s environment, while continuing to build strong and stable governance systems.

To support the implementation of the SDGs and the SDV in Mongolia the United Nations will provide high-level policy and technical advice. We are also be working with the government on financing for the SDGs and SDV, as well as putting in place the monitoring systems needed to track progress in achieving the goals contained in the SDGs and the SDV over time.

To give a concrete example, Mongolia has a very young population, with a median age of 27.5, and at more than 1 million, youth aged 15-34 represents the country’s largest demographic group. The UN will work with young people, government and private sector to deliver solutions that increase quality of education available to them, lead to their increased representation in decision-making and empowers them to make their voices heard.

 What are the new goals for sustainable development that the world has adopted? How can these goals be achieved?  

Beate Trankmann: Sustainable development means meeting the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs.

Keeping this principle in mind, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) define the priorities for people and planet for the next decade and a half until 2030. The set of seventeen goals, adopted by countries in 2015, aims to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all without leaving anyone behind.

The SDGs are the most ambitious development agenda the world has ever seen. For countries to achieve them, we will need to work across sectors and groups, involving the government, civil society, academia, youth and private sector.

The UN estimates that the total investment needed to achieve the SDGs in developing countries over the 15-year period range from USD 3.3 trillion to 4.5 trillion annually. Two thirds of the financing will have to come from the private sector. Private companies as an engine for innovation as well as job creation will be critical contributors to achieve the SDGs.

The SDGs are about the way we live, behave, invest, do business, produce and consume. We can all make a contribution. From reducing our energy use, re-using and recycling; to taking the bus or walking instead of a car; to supporting local businesses; to picking up trash in a river or pasture when we see it. Our choices today make a difference for present and future generations to come.

The Parliament of Mongolia adopted Mongolia's 2030 Sustainable Development   Vision (SDV) in February 2015. What are areas requiring special attention for the SDV to succeed?

Beate Trankmann: Mongolia’s Sustainable Development Vision (SDV) is broad and ambitious. Similar to the SDGs its implementation will need to go beyond government and requires a whole-of-society effort bringing in private sector, civil society and communities as well as political parties.

While Mongolia has made impressive progress in improving human development (moving faster than many countries in the region) and has lifted half a million people out of poverty since the early 2000s, challenges remain. One in five Mongolians continue to live below the poverty line and not everyone has benefited from development equally with rural and peri-urban areas in Ulaanbaatar (UB) falling behind. Half of UB’s population for example who live in the capital’s ger (yurt) districts don’t currently have access to water and sanitation facilities and are not connected to the central heating system.

Mongolia is also one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change globally, with average temperature increases already over the global threshold of two degrees centigrade. Climate-related disasters, such as droughts and dzuds, are putting greater strains on herding communities, driving internal migration. The country’s narrow growth base and heavy reliance on mining also makes the economy vulnerable to global volatility, such as commodity price fluctuations.

To overcome these challenges, the Sustainable Development Vision 2030 has to be translated into plans, budgets, investments and actions to ensure that everyone benefits from development equally and that the natural wealth of the country is preserved for future generations. With this in mind, it will be important for Mongolia to balance growth strategies in the mining, energy and agricultural sectors with environmental and climate change objectives.

How can different sectors and industries contribute to achieving sustainable development in Mongolia?

Beate Trankmann: Economic diversification is one of the key SDV priorities to reduce poverty and exposure to global market shocks. Greater initiatives and investments are needed for example in raising the nation’s agricultural processing standards, to boost dairy and meat exports and the sector’s competitiveness.

Mongolia’s potential for expanding renewable energy generation is also strong. 10% of its territory is estimated to lend itself to wind energy and the country enjoys an average of 270-300 sunny days per year. Private and public investments in renewable energies and new technologies will help protect Mongolia’s environment and can help to reduce the coal induced winter air pollution experienced by UB residents. We are looking towards partnering with the private sector in these areas.

Sectors that depend heavily on the extraction or use of natural resources, such as mining, are likely to remain the driver of Mongolia’s growth in the foreseeable future. However, companies can mitigate and offset any environmental damage that is done. They can make a difference by investing in rehabilitating landscapes and protecting nature reserves, or by finding less resource intensive ways of production that use less water and energy. They can also make sure that they further contribute to community development through corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives, such as providing clean water and education to communities around them.

Ensuring that everyone in Mongolia has access to key public services such as health, education and water and sanitation will allow all people in Mongolia to live their lives to full potential and be productive members of society. Investing in the education of young people and promoting life-long learning and training will be critical to help Mongolia produce the skill sets needed in knowledge-based economies.

The key to sustainable development is finding a balance among all its parts – economic, social and environmental. Mongolia’s Sustainable Development Vision recognizes this. The UN in Mongolia is already working with the government and our partners across many of the sectors mentioned, which are critical to achieving the SDV, and we will continue to do so in the years ahead.

 Which places in Mongolia have you traveled to so far? What was your impression during your travels?

Beate Trankmann: I have been very fortunate to visit a few parts of the country including Khentii, Dornod, Dundgovi and Lake Khövsgöl. I am impressed and fascinated by Mongolia. It is one of a kind and quite untouched. Mongolia has preserved its traditions very well; its nomadic culture, traditions, music and dances are all very much alive, centuries on. The landscape beyond Ulaanbaatar is amazingly beautiful. I am a nature lover, so the Mongolian countryside is paradise for me and I am much enjoying the regular weekend hikes with my husband and our dog, Nana, in UB’s adjacent mountains.

 Have you been introduced to Mongolian traditions and culture?  What was the most unique and interesting to you?

Beate Trankmann: In the age of globalization, I think it is incredible how Mongolia has preserved its culture. Throughout the country in soum (districts) and aimag (province) centers, I have seen children sing folk songs and give many other traditional performances, extending to classical arts and culture, such as ballet and opera.

Ballet in particular is a passion of mine. I enjoy ballet dancing in my own free time as it is a very good way for me to shift attention and gives me a sense of calm, in addition of course to keeping me fit. For a small population, I am always amazed by how highly Mongolia performs in these areas, with such a rich cultural cross roads of east meets west. In December I was able to see The Nutcracker performed at the State Opera and Ballet Theatre in Ulaanbaatar, which was superb.

  Working for the UN is an honor for anyone in the world. How did you come to work with the UN?

Beate Trankmann: Working for the UN is indeed a great honor and for me personally it is a dream come true. The fact that the world is divided in haves and have-nots has always preoccupied me. At age six, I had wanted to be a doctor, helping kids in Africa. My mother – a doctor who grew up during the 2nd World War – used to tell me to “eat up” the food on my plate, because other children had none. I was outraged to learn such injustice and inequality could exist.

In university, I studied Political Science and Chinese and began my career as a Research Fellow at European Institute for Asian Studies in Brussels, after traineeships at the European Commission and the European Parliament. I joined the UNDP in 1998 as a Junior Professional Officer sponsored by my own country, Germany, before entering into its leadership program.

Working for the UN allows me to make my contribution - however small it may be - to make the world a better place and I am thankful for this opportunity.

Could you share with us one of your most memorable events in your UN career?

Beate Trankmann: The most memorable experiences are always when we see the direct impact our work can have on the life of people for the better. This happened last year when we received letters from herders thanking us for the winter relief supplies we had sent, including $2.4 million worth of food, animal fodder and medical supplies. They said that this made a big difference to their lives, in some cases providing life-saving support.

According to official data, around 60 percent of the country was affected by ‘dzud’ or ‘dzud-like’ conditions in the winter of 2015-2016. This combines a summer drought followed by a harsh winter with extreme cold (-40° C to -50° C) and snow, cutting off pastures and leading to large-scale livestock losses. Through the UN Central Emergency Relief Fund (CERF), we were able to bring humanitarian aid to 4,390 families. This also helped to sustain their herds, averting a wider humanitarian crisis from livelihoods collapsing.

This winter, the UN has once again mobilized funds to support vulnerable communities. UN-CERF funds aim to assist 3,500 of the poorest herder households across 13 aimags, offering multipurpose cash grants to ensure their access to food, fuel and medicine. The most vulnerable families will also receive animal fodder and veterinary first aid kits, to reduce the loss of livestock as the main source of food and income for herders.

How can people be engaged in UN activities? How do you encourage and cooperate with young volunteers’ initiatives?    

Beate Trankmann: The UN Youth Advisory Panel (UNYAP) is an excellent platform for young people to contribute their views and help us bring the issues affecting them to policy makers, as well as make our programmes more supportive of their needs. With more than half of Mongolia’s population under age 30, we believe youth voices are vital in achieving the SDGs, as the generation that will carry them forward.

UN Volunteers (UNV) are also another way to get involved in helping the UN to roll out its programmes in Mongolia, working with UN agencies, government ministries and NGOs to contribute to Mongolia’s development. These include projects in democracy support, human rights and HIV/AIDS prevention. The UN also facilitated the establishment of a Network of Mongolian Volunteer Organizations, to strengthen volunteerism and offer opportunities for volunteers to work in their communities.

As citizens, members of the international community or residents, we can all be more engaged in Mongolia’s sustainable development. In the words of the polar explorer and environmentalist, Robert Swan (OBE): “The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.”

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