In Ulaanbaatar, the COP17 on desertification in 2026

Mongolia is known for its increasing vulnerability to land degradation: according to some data, the phenomenon affects 76% of the country’s surface. One of the causes is the mining industry, which continues to grow driven by the demand for the same raw materials on which the ecological transition is being built. The UN Conference will be an opportunity to raise the issue of sustainability.

Ulaanbaatar ( / Agencies) – The Ministry of Environment and Tourism announced that Mongolia will host the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17) of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) in 2026. The Convention entered into force in 1996, making it the first, and to date the only, legally binding international framework to combat this phenomenon, which is undoubtedly one of the priorities in the fight against climate change. The Conference of the Parties is the supreme decision-making body of the UNCCD: in addition to overseeing the implementation of the Convention, it is also a platform for exchanging and sharing information.

For Mongolia, hosting COP17 will be an opportunity to raise awareness in the international community about the relationship between desertification and the supply of raw materials necessary for the energy transition. In fact, desertification is already one of the biggest challenges in Mongolia: as of 2021, it is even among the priorities of the local government led by Prime Minister L. Oyun-Erdene. According to the latest data shared by the National Meteorology and Environment Agency, more than 76% of Mongolia’s territory is affected by desertification. The level of soil degradation varies according to the geographical areas, but the study indicates levels of acute desertification in more than 20% of the territory. This endangers about 90% of the areas dedicated to agricultural and grazing activities, sectors that are not only important from an economic point of view, but also cultural.

The causes of the phenomenon in Mongolia are multiple: in addition to the natural expansion of the Gobi desert, there are other much more marked ones that are linked to human activity, particularly in two sectors: agriculture and mining. The latter, in particular, is especially relevant today: the country is home to numerous deposits of coal, copper and gold, as well as rare minerals, major players in the energy transition. The mining sector remains Mongolia’s main industry and, according to World Bank data, in 2021 it accounted for about 22% of GDP and more than 80% of the country’s exports.

Vision 2050 – a long-term development strategy for the country to be announced in 2020 – would aim at the country’s economic and industrial diversification, but growing global interest in copper and rare minerals seems set to delay these strategies. Prime Minister L. Oyun-Erdene himself explicitly wants to make Mongolia a major player in the raw materials needed for the energy transition. Meanwhile, the tourism sector, which accounted for more than 7% of the country’s GDP in 2019, after the pandemic is now also hurt by the war in Ukraine due to the embargo on Russian airspace.

The growing importance of the mining sector, coupled with the challenges of desertification, will require considerable effort to find strategies to mitigate the effects of land degradation. One of the measures taken by the Ulaanbaatar government is the “A Billion Trees” project, a massive afforestation plan. By 2023, Prime Minister L. Oyun-Erdene announced his intention to plant more than 40 million trees in Mongolia. But without a commitment to greater sustainability in the mining sector as a whole, results in the fight against desertification are unlikely to be effective.

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