Mongolian children are abandoning nomadic herding in rising numbers due to climate change for life in the world’s coldest capital city where they face suffocating pollution and employment uncertainty, Save the Children said.
More than 30% of the Mongolia’s 3.4 million population still live a traditional nomadic life, dependent on livestock, including cattle, camels, goats, sheep, yaks and horses but they are under threat, with Mongolia one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change.
Rising temperatures and more frequent dzuds – a natural phenomenon when a hot summer is followed by a harsh winter that kills crops and freezes livestock to death – is accelerating the rate at which families and children are forced off the land. Dzuds used to happen once a decade but have occurred for the past three consecutive years. Meanwhile temperatures have risen by about 2.25 degrees Celsius over the past 80 years, which is 2.5 times higher than the global average, with rising temperatures a key focus of the COP28 climate summit in Dubai this month.
The dzud of 2022-2023, hit the livelihoods of 200,000 people and left thousands, including 80,000 children, in need of humanitarian aid. During the past two dzuds 25 to 33% of the national herd were lost.
Many herders who have lost their livestock migrate to Ulaanbaatar, where they live in gers on the outskirts of the city, burning wood and coal to keep warm as winter temperatures plummet to -40 Celsius (-40 Fahrenheit).
Pollution levels in Ulaanbaatar are 27 times higher than global guidelines, according to the World Health Organization, making it one of the most polluted capital cities in the world with children the most vulnerable to related health issues.
This shift to cities has created new challenges for the younger generation with demand for kindergartens and schools outstripping supply and children needing an education level and practical skills which were unknown to their parents so they can build a better future.
Mongolia has ratified the Paris Agreement and set a target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 22.7% by 2030 if carbon capture and waste-to-energy technology is implemented. The country has committed to spend 1% of its GDP annually to mitigate the effects of climate change and desertification including a promise to plant one billion trees.