Nature Positive Travel Mongolia
One of the reasons travellers are drawn to Mongolia is its rich biodiversity and unique landscapes but biodiversity is in crisis in Mongolia as it is across the world. Although nature is essentially our life support system – we are dependent on a healthy planet for our survival, which in turn depends on a functioning, living biosphere – human activities such as our demand for food and energy or our over-exploitation of land – are ‘destroying, degrading and fragmenting nature at an unprecedented rate.’ [Global Goal for Nature Group. 2020. “COVID-19 Response and Recovery: Nature-Based Solutions for People, Planet and Prosperity.” November.]
The biodiversity crisis and the climate crisis are inextricably interlinked. Which is why, in parallel to the UN Climate Convention’s “net zero” emissions goal, governments have committed to a new global goal for biodiversity, being nature-positive by 2030 by taking urgent action to halt nature loss. Political leaders (including the President of Mongolia) participating in the United Nations Summit on Biodiversity in September 2020 made a formal commitment to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030. This is essentially a global and measurable mission, a global goal for nature, equivalent to net zero for carbon. This 30 by 30 is a target of 30% protection of land, inland waters and the ocean and recognising the rights and leadership of indigenous peoples and local communities in order to make this happen.
But, the solution needs to be at all levels. It has to be government-led. It has to be led by industry. And, in the grand scheme of things, even though we’re small fry, it has to be led by individuals. So what can we do as a small company to help reverse this biodiversity loss? Well, we’re a signatory of The Glasgow Declaration which means we’re working towards reducing our impact in terms of carbon emissions by 50 percent by 2030. And we are now a member of the Get Nature Positive movement. Being a member of the Get Nature Positive movement helps us to prepare to commit to specific goals and metrics, such as the upcoming Science-based Targets for Nature. But is also means understanding and reducing harm and working towards restoring nature. Consider it a big shout-out for nature.
Mongolia's Living Landscapes
Mongolia is located at the crossroads of the Central Asian steppes, the Siberian taiga (forest region), and the Gobi Desert. It hosts a range of globally significant biodiversity within its boundaries.
Currently, 20% of the country is under special protection (see below), with a targeted increase of 30%. The global importance of Mongolia’s ecosystems is also recognised through its five UNESCO World Heritage Sites (with two designated as natural sites), two World Wildlife Fund Global 200 Ecoregions, eleven Ramsar Sites (Wetlands of International Importance), seven Biosphere Reserves, and seventy Important Bird Areas (IBAs – designated by Birdlife International).
PROTECTED AREAS IN MONGOLIA
In May 2019, the Mongolian Parliament approved proposals to designate 22 new National Protected Areas covering 8.4 million acres (3.4 million hectares). Mongolia is the world’s 19th largest country and it means that 20% of its epic landmass is under national protection with newly protected areas off-limits to mining development, excavation, timber harvesting and other activities that may negatively impact ecosystem health. However, the Mongolian Parliament have set a goal of ’30 by 30,’ meaning they have pledged to protect 30 percent of the country by 2030.
Nature Positive Travel
Every sector of the tourism industry impacts on nature whether that be in the form of light or noise pollution, solid waste disposal, food, infrastructure or the use of plastics. Nature can no longer only be a consideration on wildlife or ecotourism trips. Its for every tourism business in every tourism sector to be mindful of – because we rely on people traveling, we must protect and look after the world we travel and live in. All of us in tourism have the potential to contribute by travelling better, in a way that supports conservation and in turn, brings down carbon emissions.
Although Mongolia is famous for its open spaces, 50% of its population lives in Ulaanbaatar – Mongolia’s crowded capital city.In a recent (March 2022) survey carried out by the Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM), 33% of Ulaanbaatar’s population are aged 17 or younger and these statistics are our motivation in setting up, in partnership with Association Goviin Khulan, a free nature club for Mongolian kids designed especially for kids based in an urban setting. (The DTM survey also highlighted that a percentage of kids in Ulaanbaatar struggle to access clubs as well as a lack of green spaces.) You can find out more here – https://www.eternal-landscapes.co.uk/introducing-our-heroes-of-nature-eco-club/
Helping to fund conservation
Nature positive tourism is about connecting people within communities that can safeguard nature. We work in long-term local community partnership with Association Goviin Khulan – a grassroots NGO based in Mongolia dedicated to the protection and conservation of the Khulan – the wild ass – and its natural habitat. This is a multidisciplinary and innovative approach that takes into consideration the needs, difficulties, and culture of the local area and involves directly the local population in research activities for long-term success. By travelling with us, you’re helping to fund conservation and invest in local communities which is a critical part of nature positive tourism. Conservation is only successful in the long term when local people benefit, so this is a really important consideration.
Making every trip count
Although we’re contributing to the global carbon emissions in the fact that we promote tourism to Mongolia – one of the most remote countries in the world – nature positive tourism allows travellers to travel better in a way that helps to reduce carbon emissions. Its about making a holiday count and that’s why we’re removing unnecessary internal flights and why we have a foodprint plan. It’s also why we’ve introduced homestay experiences which offer more meaningful engagement and which our guests can access on public transport. It’s also why we’ve introduced our ‘Wild Track’ experiences in which we’re offering longer travel experiences that focus on slow travel. And of course, all of the members of our team are local to Mongolia, and we work in long-term local community partnerships with herding families throughout the country meaning each experience we offer creates economic benefits and employment opportunities.
Sustainable value chains
We’re in the process of setting up a sustainability team. Led by our office manager Tuya and trip assistant Deegii, the two will work together with Jess looking at ways that all of our in-house operations can be made as sustainable as possible within our means. We will publish a yearly update. But, a company doesn’t exist in isolation and our goal is to try to spread our sustainability footprint through our whole supply chain, from transportation to food, energy and water. Where possible for a company of our size, we’ll be looking to challenge standards such as if a hotel we use in Ulaanbaatar provides single use shampoos, we’ll drop them a message asking them to change.
Tour companies frequently sell Mongolia as being a pristine untouched wilderness. Unfortunately, it’s not. But, with Mongolia’s scenic beauty and wilderness experience being key points behind why people visit Mongolia, preservation of these values is a prerequisite for responsible travel here in Mongolia. Much of Mongolia’s tourism sector, in fact, depends in the long term on the preservation of the country’s cultural and physical landscapes.
Since 2014, Turuu and I have arranged for members of the Tariat community to spend two days clearing the north shore (and surrounding area including the Khorg volcano) of Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur National Park located within the central Khangai Mountains.