Over the past years, Mongolia has experienced significant change. The country’s economy grew by 17% in 2011, and it has committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 14%, by 2030. More recently, Mongolia endorsed a green development vision for the country. Without a doubt, Mongolia has gained international visibility and far surpassed what might be expected from a country with a population of a little over 3 million and a per capita national income of US$3,800.

With big plans to invest at least 4% of gross domestic product (GDP) in green development, Mongolia is going green. Through this vision, it is expected that jobs will increase by 23%, poverty will be reduced to 10%, and access to clean water for all will be achieved by 2030.

The UN and its partners have been working with the government under a programme of support provided by the Partnership for Action on Green Economy (PAGE) to think through what “greening” could mean in practice: to transform the economy towards greater modernity, sustainability and fairness for all.

The partnership brings together five UN agencies: UN Environment Programme (UNEP, UN Environment), International Labour Organization (ILO), UN Development Programme (UNDP), UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), and the UN Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) – whose combined mandates, expertise, and networks can offer integrated and holistic support to countries on inclusive green economy, ensuring coherence, and avoiding duplication.

PAGE seeks to put sustainability at the heart of economic policies and practices to advance the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It supports nations and regions in reframing economic policies and practices around sustainability to foster economic growth, create income and jobs, reduce poverty and inequality, and strengthen the ecological foundations of their economies.

PAGE represents a mechanism to coordinate UN action on green economy and to assist countries in achieving and monitoring the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially SDG 8: “Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.”

A Mongolian proverb says: “He who wants to build high must dig deep.” No one underestimates the scale of the challenge, and that it will require an unprecedented national effort. Everyone will have their part to play and Mongolia’s citizens are already starting to take action. A key priority is to raise awareness. Initiatives such as art installations or celebrities joining efforts to promote the importance of the Sustainable Development Goals, support people’s ability to understand that sustainable development is attainable.

With this sentiment in mind, the leaders in higher education met in late 2017 at an event co-hosted by the Ministries of Environment and Education and the PAGE partnership, under the theme “Mongolian Universities for Sustainable Development.”

National universities should work together on these issues through a national coordinating body that would facilitate creative ideas and the sharing of experiences.

A surprisingly large audience listened to formal presentations and participated in discussions on how to take action. Educators agreed that the sustainability message should be taught at all levels in the education system, not just at universities. Green and pleasant campuses were also seen as vital for the retention of knowledge and to promote behaviors conducive to learning. Everyone in the room agreed that national universities should work together on these issues through a national coordinating body that would facilitate creative ideas and the sharing of experiences.

As part of PAGE, UNITAR is proud to have been present at this event and to be working with the government and leading universities in considering how Mongolia’s education sector should play its part by preparing coming generations for a greener and fairer future.

As an outsider, I was struck by both the quality and maturity of the exchange among participants. This was a group of highly motivated, right-thinking people who never for a moment questioned the idea that we all bear responsibility for our actions and that we are all fully accountable to future generations.

Mongolia’s reputation already precedes it. I would predict that by 2050, Mongolia will have set the bar as one of the greenest and must-see places on the planet.