Mongolia: Country of climatic extremes vulnerable to impacts of climate change

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Impacts of climate change could cause heat stress in many plants and cause problems for grazing animals in Mongolia. (Photo courtesy of PnP! under a Creative Commons license)

Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary General, was recently in Mongolia in part to observe the ways in which climate change is affecting this country of climatic extremes and how it needs to adapt. Of course one could be forgiven for thinking that a country with -40 degree winters, +40 degree summers, dust storms and flash floods might welcome a bit of climate change.

Unfortunately we can’t produce ‘designer climates’ just yet, and the impacts of the ways in which the Mongolian climate is changing are worrying. Already the combination of precipitation decreases and temperature increases have caused rivers and lakes to dry and herders and local government officials to complain about the lowering productivity of the steppe.

The 4th Assessment of the International Panel on Climate Change anticipates increased annual temperatures in Mongolia of some 2.5-5.0 degrees Celsius (on top of the nearly 2 degrees Celsius observed over the last 40 years) with increases occurring in both winter and summer. Precipitation increases in winter months are likely to be higher than any increases over the summer months and in some areas less summer rain is expected. The implications of these and other predicted changes were assessed last year by Jay Angerer, of Texas A&M University, who with colleagues published in the journal Rangelands on ‘Climate Change and Ecosystems of Asia with Emphasis on Inner Mongolia and Mongolia’.

They found that vegetation zones in Mongolia will shift northwards, and by 2100 the mountain taiga and forest steppe area are likely to persist only at the higher altitudes with most of those zones having been replaced by steppe vegetation. The steppe, desert-steppe, and desert are projected to increase in size and shift northward. The overall increase in temperature will cause heat stress in many plants, and the reduced precipitation during the summer months will result in reduced soil moisture availability during the growing season which would likely reduce productivity and cause problems for grazing animals.

Mr Ban’s visit overlapped with a press release which the World Bank released on preliminary results from a study highlighting how climate change may directly put Mongolian livestock herders at risk unless it is addressed urgently. In my next blog, I’ll describe this study’s findings and how climate change will likely affect the herders of Mongolia.



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