The following interview covers environment and tourism related issues with Member of Parliament D.Oyunkhorol, who has been appointed as the Minister of Environment and Tourism for the second time.
The media has been very interested in the environment and tourism sectors lately. What have you been doing since your appointment?
After becoming a minister, I assessed the current situation in the sector, set targets for the next four years, and started planning activities. It’s my second time being assigned to this post. I will strive to ensure the continuity and consistency of the state policy and resume effective strategies while finding solution for urgent sectoral issues.
The economic difficulty and cash shortage are the biggest challenges in Mongolia right now. More and more people are trying to make a living by mining minerals and natural resources. We can’t blame or stop them since the economy is in a pinch, and unemployment has increased. Even so, we can’t destroy the nature just to provide jobs and wages. Promoting the proper use and protection of natural resources with public involvement has become our top priority.
Our government’s action plan reflects increasing jobs and the need to find new income sources through the support for individuals, companies and organizations engaged in natural resource replenishment and restoration, as well as those working to improve environmental legal regulation.
There have been many complaints about companies polluting Orkhon River. Have any substantial results been seen in this issue?
Our ministry is paying special attention to industrial pollution at Orkhon River in Tsenkher soum, Arkhangai Province. The Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET), the Ministry of Mining (MM) and General Agency of Specialized Inspection (GASI) formed a joint group and repeatedly inspected these companies. Despite getting periodic tasks, companies disregarded requirements from government organizations and continued to conduct illegal operations. Out of 15 companies exploring near Orkhon River, only two completed their environmental impact assessment, environmental management plan and feasibility study.
Fourteen companies are operating without centralizing rehabilitation collateral and their feasibility study still hasn’t been approved, delaying approval of their detailed environmental impact assessment and environmental management plan. Formal letters demanding this requirement have been sent to companies. Only specialized inspection agencies have the right to suspend companies operating without detailed environmental assessments. I believe it’s better to discuss this matter at a larger scale because the situation hasn’t improved at all. A large meeting regarding this issue will be held among residents in Tsenkher soum, companies operating nearby, MPs elected from Arkhangai and Uvurkhangai provinces, local administration, and the joint group of the MET, MM and GASI. The issue will be resolved with everybody’s cooperation.
What will the MET do for promoting environmentally friendly and responsible mining operations in the future?
We must constantly aim to establish a regime where the state strictly enforces the law and entities fully understand their duties. Relevant actions have been specified in the government action plan. Through the government’s Gold Program, we will pay special attention on determining issues related to exploration, use and restoration of minerals near river basins, bodies of water and forests consistently to legal regulations.
In total, an area of 4,200 hectares in 56 soums of 15 provinces was destroyed and abandoned due to mining. Around 80 to 100 billion MNT has been estimated for rehabilitating these sites. We plan to develop a special law for creating a financial source for this project. The Water Pollution Fees was adopted in 2012, but its implementation procedures haven’t been developed. We hope to pass implementation procedures in the near future. The government will determine fee amounts and pass a wastewater fees regulation. Not only will we establish an environmental protection fund but companies will also become more responsible with their wastewater management if high fees are imposed on companies that aren’t properly managing their wastewater.
Does the water pollution fee apply to Tuul River? What’s the MET’s plan for reducing pollution and increasing the water flow of Tuul River?
Due to the Ulaanbaatar Central Wastewater Treatment Plant’s (CWWTP) operation, pollution of Tuul River is 50 to 100 times worse than the standard water quality. The Ulaanbaatar Mayor’s Office is having a French company develop a feasibility study for the CWWTP reform through a concessional loan. Around 600 billion MNT has been estimated for it.
Currently, 28 companies supply wastewater to Khargia wastewater treatment plant. Specialized inspection agencies evaluated that the pollution level of these companies is 1.8 times higher than the standard level.
Bolstering legal regulations and requirements is the only way to conserve our Tuul River.
The ministry is taking progressive measures aimed to ensure strict enforcement of the water pollution fee and water protection related regimes, as well as stop illegal land deals, all forms of pollution, and issuance of license for widespread minerals. Mongolia holds Protect Tuul River Day twice a year to completely clean the river. I consider supporting initiatives from NGOs and the public and establishing a cooperation mechanism is the way to go. A working group led by the Deputy Environment and Tourism Minister is working on Tuul River protection related projects. The working group will inspect operating rights and licenses of organizations polluting Tuul River and take appropriate measures afterwards. Bolstering legal regulations and requirements is the only way to conserve our Tuul River.
The MET inked the Paris Agreement (PA) on climate change on April 22, at the UN Headquarters, New York, USA. How is the agreement being implemented?
Climate change has become a global concern. Climate change strongly impacts Mongolia so we joined the PA. Parliament is working to ratify it promptly. We’re trying to get investment from the Green Climate Fund for PA adoption and implementation. It’s a fund founded to assist developing countries in adopting the PA and mitigating practices to counter climate change. Countries must introduce their counter plan for climate change to receive funding.
For starters, we will establish an environment and climate fund and then, take subsequent measures.
What’s the current statistic on operations of the Mongolia-Kuwait Research Center? There are rumors implying that you embezzled from its funds. Can you comment on this?
The research center was established through bilateral environmental cooperation of Mongolia and Kuwait, and was commissioned in October 2015. Many problems arose because operating costs weren’t determined. Poor construction of the building and incomplete engineering network caused some parts of the building to collapse. Moreover, unresolved operating costs, including electricity and heating costs, caused additional difficulty. The government passed a resolution in January specifically for this issue. The resolution helped normalize operations at the center. NGOs were assigned to some roles and the MET took charge of the management. Currently, the research center is operating normally and we’re trying to register it under state ownership.
Every sector is cutting costs to minimize economic difficulties. What is the MET doing in relation to this?
Even the environment and tourism sectors can’t escape budget cuts. A total of 2.5 billion MNT will be cut from the budget of the MET.
As of July, the state budget revenue was short by 1.8 trillion MNT. The government developed draft amendments to the 2016 state budget, which is currently under discussion. Even the environment and tourism sectors can’t escape budget cuts. A total of 2.5 billion MNT will be cut from the budget of the MET. Specifically, 81.6 million MNT will be deducted from wages of high-level state officers and administrators; 524.8 million MNT from the budget for stationary, transport, fuel, postage, internet, other utilities, regular maintenance work, business trips, and industrial training; 198.4 million MNT from costs related to environmental measures, celebrations, anniversaries, and foreign relation; 1.35 billion MNT from environmental studies; and 370.1 million MNT will be cut from tourism related costs.
Our ministry is developing a special plan for overcoming economic difficulties. It includes increasing the environmental sector’s revenue, study opportunities for additional revenue, and legal environment reform. In accordance with the State Budget Law, rural communities started getting revenue through fees on the usage of water and spring water, on natural plants, hunting fee, and timber fee. Revenue from these fees is supposed to be spent on environmental protection and rehabilitation measures, but it isn’t. We’re trying to ensure that a portion of these collected taxes is centralized to the ministry and used for their designated usage.
An international meeting has been scheduled in October. How will it contribute in the development of Mongolia’s tourism sector?
Mongolia will host the International Silk Road Conference on Nomadic Tourism and Sustainable Cities in Ulaanbaatar from October 13 to 15. More than 300 guest tourism experts and representatives from Silk Road Member States, partner UN agencies, United Nations World Tourism Organization, and Affiliate Members and the World Cities Scientific Development Alliance will join the international event to address the potential of tourism initiatives focused on nomadic tourism and sustainable city tourism, and discuss the Mongolian tourism policy. The conference is significant for developing future tourism products and boosting the number of tourists visiting Mongolia.
The conference could be considered as the second ASEM Summit as ministers of 33 member countries of Silk Road Program and UN affiliated organizations, as well as representatives from international sponsor organizations will take part. Mongolia hopes to become the center of nomadic culture and tourism as part of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals for 2030. Mongolia will benefit in various ways after the measure. We expect that we will ensure the fulfillment of the SDG and secure a place for Mongolian tourism brands in global markets, enhance Mongolia’s competitiveness and more.