The Glasgow Declaration

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 who 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 tourism sector is highly vulnerable to climate change and at the same time contributes to the emission of greenhouse gases (GHG), which cause global warming. (The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a 7% reduction of GHG emissions globally in 2020, providing a tangible reference to the magnitude of the effort still ahead in order to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement, which will require around 7% reduction of emissions on an annual basis throughout the next decade. Accelerating climate action in tourism is therefore of utmost importance for the resilience of the sector.)

Due to the impact of the Covid pandemic, the world’s tourism industry is tentatively at the start of an unprecedented recovery process and a recovery process such as this has never been seen in tourism. Although Mongolia remains mainly closed and our income on pause, we have been given the time to reassess our actions and commit to being better and to #buildbackbetter. Becoming a signatory of the Glasgow Declaration shows our commitment to accelerating climate action during the Covid-19 recovery and beyond.

The Glasgow Declaration

What is the Glasgow Declaration on Climate Action in Tourism?

‘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 intent of the Glasgow Declaration is to urge and enable all travel and tourism stakeholders to sign and demonstrate, for the first time as a united sector, a shared voice and commitment to aligning the sector’s climate ambitions with scientific recommendations and international agreements

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.

Mongolia & Climate Change

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.

Learn more about Mongolia and the impact of climate change below.

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.

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 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.

Mongolia covers 1,564,116 square kilometres and spans the major transition zone between the deserts of Central Asia and the boreal taiga of Siberia and has six bio-geoclimatic zones – desert, desert steppe, steppe, forest-steppe, boreal forest, and mountain (www.fao.org). According to the United Nations, about 90% of Mongolian grassland is vulnerable to desertification. Additionally, 76% of Mongolian pasture land is already degraded. It is estimated that if desertification continues at the current rate, the desert will cover all of Mongolia except for Khentii and Khuvsgul aimags—regions with fertile soil, forests, lakes, and rivers—by 2080. The Mongolian government listed forest fires, unsustainable forestry, and mining activities as leading causes of desertification in Mongolia. A recent study also reports overgrazing as a leading cause of desertification. The report further highlights the effects of the transition from sheep to goat herding in order to meet export demands for cashmere wool. Out of the more than 70 million livestock in Mongolia, about 29.3 million goats do more damage to grazing lands by eating roots and flowers. Meanwhile, the Gobi desert in southern Mongolia is still expanding.

For tens of thousands of Mongolian households – specifically herders – 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).

The following short documentary ‘Changing Sky’ 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.)

In 2018 Mongolia 34.4 million tonnes of oil equivalent (TOE) of coal – a record. Overall, the National Statistical Office (NSO) of Mongolia says, the mining industry represented nearly 22% of the nation’s revenue in 2019.

However,  Mongolia’s over-reliance on coal and copper – has led to a  ‘resource curse’ including Mongolia’s failure to invest in other sectors as well as a higher risk of corruption.  Mongolia’s natural resource extraction has also contributed to the rapid increase of CO2 emissions in the country and amplified threats to the environment leading to further land degradation, water, and air pollution, loss of biodiversity, in addition to overexploitation of forests and pasture.

Although in the mid-2010s, Mongolia, riding the wave of its mining boom, was hailed as ‘the world’s fastest-growing economy’ by the World Bank, the global financial crisis and subsequent boom and bust in commodity prices dealt a severe blow to Mongolia, fuelling poverty, unemployment, and despair. A $5.5bn bailout from the International Monetary Fund helped pull Mongolia’s economy off its knees but the Covid pandemic has resulted in a new economic crisis in Mongolia as well as increased levels of corruption – especially within the mining sector.

'From small acorns.' Seedlings ready to be planted at the Gobi Oasis Tree Planting Project, in Mongolia's middle Gobi

Efforts to curb desertification have been ongoing in Mongolia for around 30 years. In 1996, the country’s environment ministry issued a national plan to combat desertification promising the promotion of a sustainable pastoral land-use system and sustainable management of forests. They also formulated conservation laws and set up weather monitoring systems. In addition, the (then) President’s 63rd decree to celebrate the National Tree Planting Day was passed in 2010 (with about 16 million trees and shrubs planted. However, their growth percentages have not been measured). But more sweeping efforts to control desertification eventually clashed with the need to raise incomes (approximately 28.5% of Mongolia’s 3.2 million population are living below the poverty line, according to Mongolia’s National Statistical Office) and existing support measures are unlikely to make them put the environment above their quality of life.

However, one of the most important methods to reduce desertification is planting trees as trees help to sequester carbon, maintain soil stability (helping to reduce wind, dust, and desertification), attract rainfall, and help to build suitable conditions for biodiversity. Planting trees has been picked up by Mongolia’s new president and Mongolia’s ‘Billion Trees’ campaign was officially launched on Oct. 4 by President Khurelsukh who earlier told United Nations General Assembly that Mongolia aims to combat climate change and desertification through the campaign by planting a billion trees by 2030.

‘Planting trees is not something to be politicized. It is now time to end any acts of politicization and enhance national unity in order to combat desertification and reduce land degradation.’ President Khurelsukh

However, planting trees is not only about planting seedlings as the most important thing is to care for the planted trees and this is where Mongolia has failed previously. Also, Mongolia’s current 7.9% of forest cover is being impacted by illegal or uncontrolled logging, forest fires, and the absence of restoration management and of long-term management planning. In addition, trees in Mongolia have a long growing period as Mongolia, on average, experiences only 90-120 frost-free days a year.

But, major companies in Mongolia have committed to joining the national campaign to fulfill their social responsibilities including Mongolian state-owned mining enterprises Erdenet and Erdenes Tavan Tolgoi who are expected to plant 100 million trees and 180 million trees respectively. Mongolia is expected to spend at least 1 percent of its GDP (gross domestic product) annually to reach the target in time.

There is some concern within Mongolia itself that the corruption levels will mean that ‘the cousin’s wife’s brother is probably securing the tender to supply the government with the seeds. ‘ As one recent social media comment highlighted:

‘… yeah, planting trees is definitely a priority when half our population is below the poverty line, there’s smog in every building, there’s non-stop traffic jams (in Ulaanbaatar), and endless other priorities that need to be addressed. Planting trees is probably the least important thing you can do in Mongolia. If your argument is about saving the planet, go tell that to Russia and China first.’

Salkhit Wind Farm Mongolia

The era of the Soviet economy left Mongolia with a dependence on coal-fired power stations and the Mongolian government continues to look at ways to diversify into renewable energy. One successful small-scale initiative was the sale of solar panels to herders. This was assisted by the World Bank which meant the sales were subsidised and 100,000 herder families benefited. As well as natural mineral resources, another resource that Mongolia has plenty of is wind – which has brought in a wind of change!

Mongolia has a staggering 1100 GW of potential wind power capacity, but financing and building projects is problematic.  Still, Mongolia’s first wind farm Salkhit (‘Windy’ – got to love the choice of name) became connected to the grid in 2013 – 75km from Ulaanbaatar. The challenges of getting it in place were huge (construction in bitter winter temperatures, transportation of the turbines on unpaved roads) but such has been its success that the second wind farm (50 MW Tsetsii – in the southern Gobi) opened three months ahead of schedule in 2017. The third privately financed wind farm in the country, the 55 MW capacity Sainshand project, was approved in the summer of 2017.

‘Besides reforestation, other methods to prevent desertification include water management, hyper-fertilization of soil, and soil compaction by using windbreaks, woodlots, and shelterbelts. The Mongolian government needs to enforce rehabilitation requirements for mining companies, collaborate with local communities, and quickly and effectively utilize other methods to reduce soil erosion. Otherwise, the effects of desertification will only become more severe, leaving Mongolia and the rest of the world limited opportunities to restore the land.’ Breathe Mongolia

The launch of the Glasgow Declaration at COP26 marked a significant milestone for climate action in tourism. As a signatory, we commit to a decade of tourism climate action including:
  • 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 from becoming a signatory (or updating existing plans), and begin implementing them;
  • Aligning our plans with the five pathways of the Declaration (Measure, Decarbonise, Regenerate, Collaborate, Finance) to accelerate and co-ordinate 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;
  • 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.

Once we have a measurement system is in place, we will begin to look at where we can remove carbon from our products. As an example, the One Planet Network says that businesses should look at “transport, infrastructure, accommodation, activities, food and drink, and waste management”.

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 visitors. In-destination businesses have more power to effect change than a holiday-maker.

It 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.

 


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