Exploring climate change adaptation in the Mongolian steppes using an Ecosystem Services approach
In dryland regions of the world, the risks from climate change of severe impacts on pastureland ecosystems, and local livelihoods dependent on them, are high. Improving climate change adaptation to support local livelihoods and sustain natural ecosystems in these regions is needed. The Mongolian steppes are a substantial dryland region that is experiencing faster climate change than most other regions of the world. This thesis explores climate adaptation challenges and opportunities in the pasturelands of the northeast Mongolian steppes, where nomadic herding is the predominant use of the landscape. In the process, it investigates ways in which ecosystem services approaches can contribute to local environmental decision-making in rural areas in developing economies.
A mixed methods approach, consisting of in-depth interviews with nomadic herders and with key informants from the local municipalities and natural resources management organisations, focus group discussions, a survey of nomadic herder households, and a policy workshop in the national capital, were used to investigate climate change impacts on local livelihoods and pastureland ecosystem services. The study explores herders’ experience of climate change impacts on key ecosystem services: changing water availability, changing quantity and quality of pasture, and livelihoods changing as a result.
The study shows that traditional knowledge has and is continuing to play a key role in adapting to environmental variability - traditional herd management practices, collective institutions, and mobility strategies all contribute substantially. However, nomadic communities are facing unprecedented climate risks that threaten their livelihoods. Possibilities for future adaptation are explored. The study found that the traditional understanding of the relationship between nomads and the pasturelands, which is governed by “baigaliin khishig”- commitment to benefiting from nature without altering its structure - resonates with western ecosystem services thinking. This study highlights that an ecosystem services approach can contribute to local environmental management in ways that support climate change adaptation, if it leverages traditional ecosystem services thinking. The research adds significantly to the ecosystem services literature by contributing a local, rural, developing world case study from the drylands.