Between A Rock And Laborious Place: Mongolia Exploits Coal At Local weather’s Price – Evaluation

By Subel Rai Bhandari

Barkhas Buyandavaa would relatively be working anyplace else.

Shirtless and coated in black mud, he’s making an attempt to repair his 42-wheeler truck by the roadside in the midst of the southern Govi steppe in jap Mongolia.

“I do know coal is dangerous, however I’ve no selection. That is the one method to earn a good dwelling,” mentioned the impartial trucker, who transports coking coal on contract for a mining firm. 

If he have been working elsewhere, he would earn three to 4 occasions lower than he does now.

“I’m solely working to avoid wasting cash to go overseas, after which I’ll give up,” the 32-year-old mentioned. “More than likely Europe.

Since 1990, Mongolia has remodeled from a Soviet Union-style communist state right into a vibrant democracy, tripling its GDP per capita and lowering poverty by greater than half, largely due to agriculture, livestock and mineral sources.

Whereas the world is reducing down on coal – probably the most polluting fossil gasoline and single largest supply of worldwide carbon emissions – Mongolia is ramping up manufacturing.

Mongolia produced 32.3 million metric tonnes in 2021. Final yr, it elevated by 22%, catching up with its pre-COVID-19 ranges, the World Financial institution mentioned in April.

Coal gives greater than 90% of land-locked Mongolia’s electrical energy demand, among the many highest proportions on this planet, based on vitality analysis group Ember. It additionally accounts for 30% of its exports.

Authorities officers have been vocal about their want to make use of “this window of alternative … to have the ability to export as a lot coal as we will,” then-Deputy Mining Minister Batnairamdal Otgonshar mentioned final yr.

Even the nation’s setting minister says the nation wants coal for the subsequent 5 to 10 years.

“As , because of the Ukraine-Russia conflict, the pure fuel costs have elevated … and even international locations like Germany have gone again to the usage of coal,” Bat-ulzii Bat-Erdene instructed Radio Free Asia (RFA).

“Mongolia is totally depending on coal for earnings and heating options within the winter. Totally phasing out coal is nearly unimaginable within the close to future.”


Mongolia shares a 4,700 kilometer-long (almost 3,000-mile) border with China, which is the worldwide chief in renewable vitality however burns extra coal than the remainder of the world mixed. It consumed an all-time-high 4.5 billion metric tonnes of coal in 2022, and is ready to burn extra in 2023.

Customs information present that Mongolia’s coal exports jumped 135% to $6.5 billion in 2022 and 94% of that went to China.

Chinese language chief Xi Jinping made clear in July that China would scale back emissions at its personal tempo and wouldn’t be influenced by exterior components. It goals for emissions to peak in 2023 earlier than slowing down to achieve internet zero by 2060.

Within the meantime, Mongolia – dubbed “Mine-Golia” – is primed to fulfill a rising demand. The huge nation has confirmed coal reserves of 33.27 billion metric tons – equal to about one-thousandth of annual manufacturing.

Some 5% of its landmass is roofed by greater than 2,700 legitimate mining licenses. It is among the few international locations on this planet which nonetheless has giant coal energy initiatives within the pipeline.

In accordance with numerous authorities and personal enterprise estimates, its exports may attain 70 million metric tons yearly by 2025. 

Mongolia plans to determine extra round the clock border checkpoints and transportation hyperlinks to China to facilitate extra exports. It not too long ago opened a 233-kilometer (145-mile) direct rail line from the Tavan Tolgoi mine to the Gashuun Sukhait border crossing to China’s Internal Mongolia area.

View from the open pit

Tens of 1000’s work at open pit mines in Tavan Tolgoi in southern Mongolia, one of many world’s largest coking and thermal coal deposits, with 7.5 billion metric tons of reserves.

Davaadorj Sandagdorj, a supervisor at a provincial government-owned mine there, mentioned it gives vital employment for locals. 

“We aren’t doing it out of selection however as a consequence of lack of it. Coal mining has helped us enhance our state of affairs,” mentioned Davaadorj, whose dad and mom have been miners.

Regardless of being concerned concerning the setting, “there aren’t many choices obtainable for us,” the 45-year-old mentioned atop an open pit, the place about 300 miners work.

Final yr, an enormous anti-corruption demonstration within the capital Ulaanbaatar compelled the federal government to behave in opposition to a state-owned coal firm that operates in Tavan Tolgoi. Excessive-ranking officers have been allegedly implicated in unlawful coal smuggling to China.

The opposition Hun social gathering estimated the potential income loss to be round 40 trillion Mongolian tugriks (US$13 billion).

Consultants say mining is among the primary causes for water, soil and air air pollution and degradation in Mongolia, instantly impacting herders and their livelihood within the steppe, a semi-arid grassland. 

A case research from two mining websites revealed in April discovered increased charges of soil erosion within the neighborhood of the mines and adjoining industrial areas. 

Laborious life on the highway

Barkhas, the contract driver, principally drives on unpaved desert roads, rutted from the tires of heavy vehicles that may carry as much as 100 tons of coal at a time. He drives for weeks at a time. The heavy masses and highway situations imply his high pace is just 60 kilometers per hour (35 mph).

“This can be a onerous life. The worst factor is for the truck to interrupt down in the midst of the desert,” he mentioned, including he’s frightened about dropping his job.

“If coal exports cease, tens of 1000’s of individuals will lose their livelihood,” he mentioned. “There isn’t sufficient work within the metropolis, particularly for the form of cash we earn.”

One other truck driver ferrying coal from Tavan Tolgoi to the border mentioned he would select work that was much less damaging to the setting, if he had a selection.

“At this level, most youths have solely two choices: mining or going to South Korea to do handbook labor,” he mentioned. “We’re after all frightened concerning the environmental mess. This can be a lovely land, but it surely’s ugly now.”

Nevertheless, the principle menace to his nation is definitely from China, the 57-year-old mentioned, talking on situation of anonymity as a consequence of his transport firm’s coverage in opposition to talking to the media.

“China is just too highly effective, he mentioned. “They wish to purchase all the things as low cost as attainable.” 

He acknowledged that there’s little Mongolia can do about that.

“They’re enjoying with us, and our salaries are depending on China.”