ULAN BATOR, June 5 (Reuters) - Mongolia, which is banking on a mining-led investment boom to develop its economy, is aiming to turn itself into a regional renewable energy hub as it tries to fight off the pressures of global warming, the country’s president said.
“Mongolia is regarded as one of the centres of this region for wind power. We have high mountains and the Gobi. We have great potential to generate power,” president Tsakhia Elbegdorj told reporters.
“We have some ideas of how Mongolia can be Asia’s super grid for wind power and solar power, and other renewable energies. If we use all the wind power (potential) in the country, we can enhance the energy supply of China and all over Asia.”
Mongolia was chosen to host the U.N.’s World Environment Day on June 5, and at a news conference to mark the occasion, officials said the country also planned to better regulate a mining sector that is polluting an already fragile environment.
The mining sector, with dozens of projects in coal, gold, copper and iron ore, has helped the country to record one of the highest rates of economic growth, at 12.3 percent last year and 17.5 percent in 2011.
But land around the country is being dug up by both licensed and unlicensed miners, causing pollution and poisoning some lakes and rivers.
“There are some countries that developed their resources in good ways, and Mongolia wants to be one of those countries by learning from others, building relations and introducing new policies,” Elbegdorj said.
The World Bank ranked the capital, Ulan Bator, among the world’s most polluted cities during winter, a consequence mostly of coal burned by residents to stave off temperatures often reaching -30 degrees Celsius (-22 Fahrenheit).
Mongolia is suffering “more pasture degradation, permafrost thawing, and glacial melt”, Sanjaasuren Oyunm, minister of environment and green development, told Reuters.
Achim Steiner, head of the U.N. Environment Programme told Reuters during a visit this week that Mongolia had seen average temperatures rise 2.1 degrees Celsius (3.8 F) in the past 60 to 70 years - about three times faster than the global average.
Its high altitude and sparse vegetation in many regions made the nation vulnerable.
The government hopes to use tax revenue from mining to promote other businesses such as fine cashmere production.
Environment Minister Oyun said she was introducing new environmental regulations, including obliging companies to pay compensation for the use and consumption of non-extracted resources such as water and timber.
She said money would go to communities where those resource were consumed, with a portion dedicated to environmental issues such as reforestation or repair of mined lands. (Editing By Alister Doyle and Robert Birsel)