The contentious issue of balancing a growing economy against potential environmental degradation surfaced at Asia Society's Mongolia Investment Forum in New York last Friday. The event included an address by Mongolian Prime Minister Batbold Sukhbaatar, followed by his Q&A with Asia Society Executive Vice-President Jamie Metzl, before concluding with a panel discussion on foreign investment in Mongolia.
The Forum came on the heels of an earlier appearance by Mongolian President Tsakhia Elbegdorj at Asia Society in which he expressed concern about government corruption and the need for reform even as the GDP escalates owing to the nation's mineral wealth.
In 2009 a law was passed to discourage mining activity near rivers and forests in the country. But rapid deforestation and water contamination related to mining remain a major concern as Mongolia uses more of its natural resources for revenue and economic prosperity. ( A report in the U.K. Guardian earlier in 2011 offers a comprehensive look at the controversies around large-scale mining in Mongolia.)
Stressing the need to balance growth with protecting the the country's rich natural heritage, Sukhbaatar said that there are two approaches to the problem.
"One is of course to try and preserve [the environment] and to stop making things to happen," he said, referring to halting mining operations entirely, while the other approach "is let the things happen — but they [energy companies] should be more responsible." The statement was as much a promise to examine his government's approach to environmental protection more closely as it was a call for responsible action from corporations and investors.
Watch: Prime Minister Batbold Sukhbaatar on his country's environmental/economic balancing act (2 min., 42 sec.)