Mongolia struggles to save last fertile pastures against climate change
Mongolia is the seventh largest emitter of CO2 in the world by degrading peat bogs.
Peatlands form when the dead plant material partially breaks down in swampy areas, capturing the carbon that plants capture in the air when they are alive. Rich, moist soil is a magnet for pastoralists because much of the country's land is depleted by overgrazing or desertification.
As a result, peatlands suffer the same fate. They are also damaged by mining, road construction, and steppe fires. Climate change is making things worse. A weak ecological balance is fracturing. The peatlands are the last fertile pastures in Mongolia. Without disturbance, they absorb the water from the melted snow and the rain that they filter and release into the rivers and lakes.
They prevent soil erosion and maintain the levels of groundwater that sustain crops and forests while avoiding desertification. But the area covered by peat in Mongolia has been reduced by almost half in the last 50 years. This had a dramatic impact on the permafrost: huge frozen lenses left by the ancient glaciations.
When the peat decomposes, the permafrost loses a protective layer that isolates it from the elements and begins to thaw. Currently, Mongolia has about one third less permafrost than just under 50 years ago.
How Mongolia addresses this challenge will be instructive for other countries with peat bogs that are trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. According to 2008 data compiled by Wetlands International, Mongolia is the seventh largest emitter of CO2 in the world by degrading peatlands.
More than a dozen countries have larger peat areas than Mongolia. According to the organization, global emissions from degraded peatlands are increasing, especially in developing countries.
The fight to save the peatlands in Mongolia will take place in the countryside, as well as in political symposiums and legislatures. The result will shape the future of their pastoralist communities, which, for most of the world, constitute the stereotyped image of the country.
(With inputs from ADB)