We focus solely on Mongolia and have seen the impact of the climate emergency on this vast country that we call home. Since 1940, Mongolia’s average annual temperature has risen by between 1.8 C, – 2.2 C (depending on sources) a trend that is expected to continue in the coming decades. This warming is causing water scarcity, desertification and a loss of biodiversity, and pasture degradation, exacerbating catastrophic events such as floods, droughts, dzuds (a cyclical weather even unique to Mongolia), and sand storms, and endangering the lives and health of Mongolian people.
This was March 2021 in Dundgobi Aimag – one of Mongolia’s 21 provinces. Dundgobi translates as the Middle Gobi and for those who have travelled with us, it includes the community of Erdenedalai where our guests are hosted by herding families we work in long-term local community partnership with including the Nergui family. Although sandstorms have always been a natural phenomenon in spring in Mongolia, the recent storm reflects a sinister trend.
For tens of thousands of Mongolian households – specifically herders including those we work in long-term local community partnership with – affected by dzud, drought, desertification, and forest and steppe fires, climate change is not distant news, but a reality and has resulted in urban migration from the countryside to Mongolia’s capital city Ulaanbaatar (UB).
We are aware that tourism is part of the problem and as a business working in tourism, we feel we have a responsibility to help combat problems including those created by tourism itself.
We work responsibly on a local level. We’re a registered Mongolian company and social travel enterprise, focusing on a fair and equitable form of tourism and creating positive social change in Mongolia. We believe that travel can and should be a positive experience for both the visitor and the destination country itself including its natural environment, people, culture and traditions. We can provide evidence of our work.
However, although we believe travel has to be beneficial to all concerned we also understand that it is not currently beneficial to our planet. But we can’t solve this alone. The problem surrounding climate change can only be solved by working together. This is not about cancelling international travel but it is about travelling better – travelling in a more conscious way. As an industry, we need to come together and act to make our sector more sustainable.
That’s why we have signed up to Tourism Declares, an initiative that supports tourism businesses, organisations and individuals in declaring a climate emergency and taking purposeful action to reduce their carbon emissions. And our partnership with Tourism Declares led us to become a signatory of The Glasgow Declaration.
Tourism Declares is an initiative that supports tourism businesses, organisations and individuals in declaring a climate emergency and taking purposeful action to reduce their carbon emissions. As Tourism Declares outlines,
“We believe we have a responsibility, to tell the truth, act now and work together to help turn it around.”
As a signatory we committed to the following five actions:
1 & 2. Develop a ‘Climate Emergency Plan’ which sets out our intentions to reduce carbon emissions over the next decade. Also, share the plan and update on progress each year.
3. Accept current IPCC advice stating the need to cut global carbon emissions to 55% below 2017 levels by 2030 in order to keep the planet within 1.5 degrees of warming. The cut in our own emissions by 55% is a target. To do this, firstly we need to accurately measure the full carbon footprint of our products and services and you can read more about how we are doing this in our Climate Action Plan.
4. Encourage our partners to make the same declaration; sharing best practice amongst peers; and actively participate in the Tourism Declares community.
5. Advocate for change. We recognise the need for system change across the industry, and call for urgent regulatory action to accelerate the transition towards zero-carbon air travel.
In November 2021, world leaders gathered in the Scottish city of Glasgow at COP26 to carry out negotiations on how to tackle climate change. COP26 was attended by countries that have signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – a treaty that was agreed to in 1994. The main goal of COP26 was to lock in the emissions-cutting plans of the nations involved, to keep the target of limiting Earth’s warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius as well as adapting to protect natural habitats and communities. At COP26, delegates were presented with the Glasgow Declaration – an agreement between many in the tourist industry to lead, align and galvanize on climate action. We are proud to be a signatory of the Glasgow Declaration on Climate Action In Tourism (to give it its full title) – led by the UNWTO (United Nations World Tourism Association) in collaboration with the Travel Foundation and Tourism Declares A Tourism Emergency (of which we are a member) within the framework of the One Planet Sustainable Tourism Programme.
‘The Glasgow Declaration isn’t just a pledge – it is a commitment to take action to halve tourism’s emissions by 2030, and to report on progress made each year.’ Jeremy Smith, Co-founder, Tourism Declares a Climate Emergency
The Glasgow Declaration aims to unite everyone in the tourism sector around a common set of pathways for climate action, by:
- Defining a clear and consistent sector-wide message and approach to climate action in the coming decade, aligned with the wider scientific framework and urgency to act now;
- Outlining the pathways and specific actions that will accelerate tourism’s ability to transform tourism and achieve Net Zero as soon as possible;
- Encouraging signatories across all sectors of tourism to demonstrate their public support for scaling up the sector’s response to the climate emergency.
COP26 was attended by Mongolia’s President (Khurelsukh). He delivered a statement at the General Debate of COP26 noting in his statement that Mongolia fully supports the efforts of the international community to reduce and increase absorption of greenhouse gas emissions and reaffirming Mongolia’s commitment to the Paris Agreement and to mobilising every possible resource to fulfill them. Included in his statement was that Mongolia has raised its target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 22.7 percent by 2030. Khurelsukh also highlighted Mongolia’s focus on increasing the absorption of greenhouse gases, the reduction of poverty and desertification through economic means, the protection of the health of children who are the most vulnerable to climate change, and the improvement of overall quality of life – especially the reduction of pollution.
The following short documentary ‘Changing Skies’ was presented at COP26 to the UN Framework Convention on Global Change. The film explores the challenges facing Mongolians, especially from the perspective of children.
‘I’m the only one who doesn’t believe in such fears. I think all the children in the world have the same fears. Even if we children are afraid, we have to take action. Children have the power, we can do it. I believe that will change.’
Anu-Ujin, a UNICEF YOUCCAN activist. (YOUCCAN was established by the Mongolian Scouts Association, People In Need NGO, and the Swiss Development Agency in Mongolia and is currently the only platform in Mongolia that allows young people a voice in the fight against climate change and air pollution.)
The Glasgow Declaration
- Supporting the global commitment to halve emissions by 2030 and reach Net Zero as soon as possible before 2050;
- Delivering climate action plans within 12 months of becoming a signatory (or updating existing plans), and beginning implementing them;
- Aligning our plans with the five pathways of the Declaration (Measure, Decarbonise, Regenerate, Collaborate, Finance) to accelerate and coordinate climate action in tourism. See below;
- Reporting publicly on an annual basis on progress against interim and long-term targets, as well as on actions being taken. See our Climate Action Plan for more;
- Working in a collaborative spirit, sharing good practices and solutions, and disseminating information to encourage additional organisations to become signatories and supporting one another to reach targets as quickly as possible.
The Five Pathways Defined In The Glasgow Declaration
Measure means we will measure and disclose all travel and tourism-related emissions with the purpose to gain insight into what we actually emit. This includes trackable indicators, such as environmentally preferable purchasing, energy and water conservation, and greenhouse gas emissions, as well as targeting broader sustainable practices, such as equal opportunity and community support.
Many travel companies now offer consumers the opportunity to purchase carbon offsets. These are part of the solution at the beginning of the process, although they only kick the can down the road. Operators should aim to get as close to full decarbonization as possible. The Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) report, High Moments, Low Impact: Rethinking Adventure Travel’s Sustainability Efforts, places the onus for change on destinations (and companies) rather than visitor as in-destination businesses have more power to effect change than a holiday-maker.
The ATTA report says: “Responsible tourism pledges are beneficial for informing travelers about expectations and appropriate behaviors. […] However, the ultimate success of responsible tourism pledges falls on destinations, not travelers.”
Regenerate includes focusing on the restoration and protection of ecosystems, supporting nature’s ability to draw down carbon. One example is investing in tree planting. Regenerate also includes safeguarding biodiversity, food security, and water supply. Regeneration can also help host communities develop resilience, and better adapt and respond to disasters.
The climate crisis is too big for any one person or organization to fix alone. That means collaboration is key at all levels. An example of this is working with local communities in Mongolia to help protect their ecosystems, as is educating our guests who visit. A leave-no-trace policy can be an effective way to bring collaboration together.
Another example of how we will collaborate is through the Tourism Declares online community and volunteer network, and the planned formation of regional hubs. Via the Tourism Declares online community, companies are able to scale the necessary knowledge, tools, and inspiration needed for sector-wide change
The highlighted ATTA report says: ”At the individual level, tourists should be encouraged to take steps like reducing their waste, and given options or incentives to book eco-friendly hotels or to travel with socially responsible operators.
“Firms can ensure their supply chains support their local economies and invest in energy efficiency and waste management systems.
“Governments can affect systemic change by regulating environmental standards and incentivizing the responsible practices in the private sector through tax breaks or other financial means.”
It always comes down to money. Essentially, we need to invest in our climate action plan and should ensure that we have the financial resources to do so. (A bit of a tough one considering that Mongolia was shut to tourism from March 2020 until February 2022 due to the impact of the pandemic. But we will do our best!)