Mongolia should continue investing in society and the environment while revitalizing the economyApr 3, 2018
A recent interview of Ms. Beate Trankmann with "Mongolian Economy" on the recently adopted Three-Pillar Policy by Mongolian Government
1. The new “Three-Pillars Development Policy” was recently approved by the Government. What is your opinion on the development policy of Mongolia and how compatible its policies are with the global development agenda? How do you think its development policy should be linked to the SDGs and Global Action Plan?
Mongolia’s “Three-Pillars Development Policy” focuses on good governance, social development, and diversifying the economy. These elements also feature in the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – to end poverty, reduce inequality and protect the planet by 2030 – as well as in Mongolia’s Sustainable Development Vision (SDV) 2030, translating the SDGs into the local context.
However, the ambition of the SDGs is broader than that of the Three-Pillars. The SDGs are characterised as goals for ‘people and the planet,’ so in particular, they include a targeted focus on environmental protection. This recognises the fact that we need a healthy planet and environment, to sustain the world’s population. While the Three-Pillars include mainstreamed environmental targets, it is important to prioritise environmental preservation as a goal in itself, so environmental policies can have the required impact. This is especially crucial in Mongolia, where nomadic livelihoods depend on intact ecosystems.To ensure that the three dimensions of development within the SDGs (economic, social and environmental) are realized, the Three Pillars should be integrated into the SDGs and the SDV, as the longer-term visions. This means that targets and indicators between these three strategic documents should be aligned, creating a single, integrated development framework for Mongolia led by the SDGs. This requires strong political coordination between the government, line ministries, private sector and civil society. The process of building political consensus should be anchored at the highest level of Government (i.e. the Prime Minister and Cabinet).
Beyond political visions, Mongolia should start putting sectorial policies and budgets behind the SDGs. This calls for detailed strategies to achieve each goal, while ensuring finance from multiple sources, including public and private. We estimate that 70 percent of the funds and technology needed to meet the SDGs globally must come from companies. So the government should create conditions that attract and support investment, especially from firms promoting sustainability. Companies too benefit from backing sustainable development, both in their image and operations. Supporting education and health helps produce more talent and consumers, while sustainable practices ensure resources remain for future use.
We must also monitor and evaluate progress. Responsibility for achieving targets should be clearly assigned to the relevant government bodies, and included in their regular monitoring and reporting. Mongolia’s NSO website, for example, already includes many specific, globally agreed targets and indicators to track the country’s progress towards the SDGs, and what data gaps are yet to be filled.
2. How do you see Mongolia’s progress towards the SDGs and SDV 2030? What are the country’s main achievements and challenges?
Mongolia was an early adopter of the SDGs, translating it into its own SDV. A new government body – the National Development Agency (NDA) – was also set up to ensure long-term planning and policy coherence.
Importantly, economic growth has rebounded in the last year, with the government committing to the IMF-led Extended Financing Facility. Mongolia’s GDP exceeded 5 percent last year, up from about 1 percent in 2016. This positions the country better to secure investment and create jobs – for example, unemployment fell from about 10 percent in 2016 to 7.3 percent in 2017 – which is key for inclusive development.
Political stability is also crucial, and Mongolia’s democracy is continuing to deepen. 2016’s Parliamentary elections saw greater turnout, as well as peaceful outcomes then and in Presidential election in 2017. More young people are also voicing their needs, both online and at the ballot box. This is important, given half the population is under age 30, and will inherit the SDGs. The next frontier in solidifying political stability is to create an effective, independent civil service, under the recently amended Civil Service Law.
In terms of challenges, while growth is recovering, the ‘recovery’ is not necessarily being felt. During the downturn, poverty jumped – from affecting one in five citizens in 2014, to one in three in 2016. So a major task now is to try and better share the benefits of growth. While mining makes up 20 percent of GDP, it has not benefitted everyone equally. E.g. in Govisumber Aimag, poverty is as high as 52 percent, while mineral-rich Umnugovi has a poverty rate of just 15 percent.
Mongolia also needs growth that is stable. This requires diversifying beyond mining, worth 90 percent of exports. Commodities fluctuate greatly in price and create just 4 percent of Mongolia’s jobs – agriculture by contrast, creates 28 percent of jobs. There are vast opportunities for Mongolia’s meat and dairy exports. However, more efforts are needed to raise the health and quality of the herds to allow Mongolia to gradually reduce livestock numbers in order to keep within the carrying capacities of pasture grounds. Renewable energy also deserves greater attention – Mongolia has 270-300 sunny days a year, so there is great potential in solar, along with wind energy.
Another challenge is climate change. Over the past 70 years, Mongolia’s average temperatures have increased by 2.2°C – almost triple the global average. Last year, it saw the hottest summer in half a century, with two thirds of the country hit by drought. Climate-related disasters, such as droughts and dzuds, along with over-use of the land, are threatening rural livelihoods. This has fuelled migration to Ulaanbaatar, exacerbating its pollution. Communities and companies must balance their use of the land with its ability to regenerate and put back into the environment, to build resilience to global warming.
Going forward, it is important for Mongolia to continue investing in society and the environment, while revitalizing the economy. Sustainable development means finding balance among all its parts – economic, social and environmental. The UN in Mongolia stands ready to help the government achieve this in future.