Why was the UN Secretary General planting trees in Mongolia? – The Diplomat
Planting trees could be imbued with many different metaphorical values, but when UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres visited Mongolia to plant trees, it was not just a metaphor to attract Mongolia further into the activities of the United Nations. It was literally about planting trees.
Guterres’ arrival marked the fifth visit by a UN secretary-general to Mongolia and the first since the arrival of Ban Ki-moon in 2009.
A highlight of Mongolia’s contributions to UN activity has been peacekeeping operations; Mongolia hosted a conference focusing on female peacekeepers in June. Unsurprisingly, Guterres highlighted this aspect of Mongolian commitment during a visit to a monument dedicated to peacekeepers in Ulaanbaatar.
While Mongolia is represented in many UN bodies, it appears to have recently quietly dropped its bid to be elected to the UN Security Council in support of Japan’s bid. Nonetheless, Guterres hailed Mongolia’s engagement with the UN and mentioned Mongolia’s many other contributions to non-proliferation through its declaration of nuclear-weapon-free status and its committed multilateralism more generally. He hailed the country as “a symbol of peace in a troubled world”.
Yet the main focus of Guterres’ trip was his engagement in a tree-planting ceremony. So why did Guterres fly to Ulaanbaatar to plant trees?
After attending COP26 in 2021, Mongolian President Khurelsukh Ukhnaa announced he was embarking on a campaign to plant 1 billion trees in Mongolia. It’s been described as a response to or attempt to mitigate the climate emergency, but it’s also very much like a beautification project for the nation.
Mongolia’s geographical location, with high altitudes and an extreme continental climate, makes it a difficult environment for tree growth. Forests covered more than 10 percent of the territory in the 1980s, but have shrunk to 8 percent since then due to climate change and active logging. The vast majority of the forests are located in the central-northern parts of Mongolia, in the transition zone between the southern edge of the great Siberian boreal forest (the taiga) and the Central Asian steppe, which makes it sensitive and vulnerable to change. There is a correlation between forest land cover and permafrost, whereby degradation of the latter adds more stress to forest resilience, the ability of forests to withstand disturbances and maintain their basic functions. Also, other factors such as forest fires, drought, insect infestations, livestock and logging add more pressure.
The announcement of the One Billion Trees project came as a surprise, which was reflected in the reactions from mass media and social media. Although the project corresponds to the need for restoration to stop desertification (which transforms 80% of the territory of Mongolia) and is in line with global initiatives to plant trees to mitigate the effects of global warming, it has provoked reactions mixed reminiscent of the results of previous similar initiatives. . The plan is quite ambitious but achievable and not unique; for years, Mongolian governments have tried to plant trees twice a year. Another big movement underway is the so-called National Green Belt Program, a cut Mongolian and South Korean initiative which intends to plant trees in three stages from 2005 to 2035 to resist desertification. As part of this program, a green strip of 3,700 kilometers is planned to connect the east and west of the country. However, the result of the first stage (2005-2015) was announced to have planted only 12 percent of the proposed number of trees. Nevertheless, the Green Belt initiative is still ongoing, and a official meeting took place in December 2021 to coordinate this program with the One Billion Tree project.
To this day, the tree-planting initiative is carried out with an enthusiasm somewhat reminiscent of communists. sub-botniks the past. Aimags (provinces), cities and even smaller administrative units are reporting thousands of trees planted, and many others are reporting plans to plant millions in the coming years. A total of 1% of Mongolia’s GDP will be redirected to finance the project. Commercial entities and banks are actively donating to the project and even the diplomatic corps has been involved in the events. The 21 main mining companies operating in Mongolia have confirmed their intention to plant 608.5 million trees. In March 2022, 1,000 arborists were trained to take care of the trees after planting.
The tree that Guterres planted with Khurelsukh outside Ulaanbaatar hardly increases the number of trees, but it added great symbolic value.
Clearly, Guterres’ visit comes at a difficult time for the Mongolian government. This was aptly pointed out by the previous visitor to Ulaanbaatar: Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who was there on August 8, the day before Guterres landed. Only a month earlier, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had passed.
Mongolia has always felt caught between its two authoritarian neighbours, but even more so now, when Putin’s regime is clearly currying favor with Xi’s regime, a development that is rarely good news for Mongolian foreign policy. At the same time, some elements of Mongolian civil society are unhappy with the lack of a clear condemnation of Russian aggression against Ukraine.
It is in this context that Prime Minister Oyun-Erdene Luvsannamsrai chose to focus on a hydroelectric project in western Mongolia, this was probably discussed with Wang as well, but it is, along with other hydroelectric projects, opposed by Russia on somewhat flimsy environmental grounds.
The symbolic importance of official foreign visits has always been highly valued in Mongolia. Guterres’ visit was widely reported in the Mongolian media, even though much of the capital is on vacation at this time of summer. Whether these kinds of gestures actually allay the fears of North American and European governments about Mongolia’s precarious position and its resulting reluctance to commit to democracy remains unclear. Relations with the UN remain neutral ground that Mongolia has long emphasized in its foreign policy and the very positive tone of Guterres’ visit overall has been something of a reward for the current government.