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Rio Tinto Case Study

“In Mongolia, we need to find a way to collaborate with industry, government and communities so we can create a balance between conservation and development. Development by Design gives us a solution to this dilemma.” - Gala Davaa, the director of conservation for the Conservancy’s Mongolia program

The Challenge – Protecting the Gobi

The Gobi desert is one of the world’s last great deserts, home to abundant wildlife and people with a strong connection to the land. It is a place of spectacular natural beauty and strong cultural heritage. Change is coming quickly to Mongolia, especially the South Gobi. The region’s rich natural resources have made the country increasingly attractive for many mineral development projects. This creates tremendous opportunity for the people and their standard of living. But, it also places significant pressures on the natural environment. The region’s mining and infrastructure projects are supporting economic development, but they also have the potential to impact wildlife and traditional communities that live off the land. Decisions are being made today that will affect this landscape forever.

Addressing this challenge in a piecemeal way, project by project, is not enough. What’s needed to support a more sustainable Gobi is a vision that takes into account the full scope of potential projects and their cumulative impacts to the landscape. The Nature Conservancy has a window of opportunity to work with Mongolia government, communities, NGOs, academics and interested corporations such as Rio Tinto to develop that landscape vision—to support better decision-making for conservation, communities and development—but that window is closing fast. Rio Tinto sees landscape planning as essential to developing a sustainable vision for the South Gobi region that balances development with the needs of both pastoral communities and wildlife habitats, ensuring healthy, resilient ecosystems that both need to survive and thrive.

The Commitment

The Mongolian government has invited The Nature Conservancy to undertake a landscape planning project for the Gobi region, working with stakeholders from government, business, and communities. This project will further the Conservancy’s mission to protect land and water for people and for nature by supporting better planning and decision-making for development and conservation. The Conservancy will apply an innovative, science-based process called “Development by Design (DbD)” to help reduce conflicts between development and conservation goals, avoid or offset the impacts of development, and support win-win solutions for the region.

The Conservancy already has experience applying the DbD approach in Mongolia, where we also developed a landscape plan for the Eastern Steppe region in 2010. Financial support for the landscape planning project in the Gobi has been provided through a grant from Rio Tinto. Development by design has the potential to engage many other regional development projects and ensure more robust outcomes for conservation and effective management of cumulative impacts. The DbD project should inform the conservation and development issues across the wider South Gobi region, not just for one project such as Oyu Tologi.

Solutions in Action

The goal of the Gobi landscape planning project is to provide a blueprint for a shared vision —a plan that is shared, adopted and applied by government, industry, lending institutions and communities, and that will guide land use decisions in order to support healthy natural systems and a more sustainable Gobi region.
The application of the DbD program in the Gobi will focus on:

  • Identifying critical areas for habitat and wildlife, important areas for communities, and existing and projected development across the region.
  • Reducing conflicts between development and conservation goals
  • Improving the effectiveness of mitigation by making recommendations for where development should be avoided or where impacts to natural areas and wildlife can be minimized, restored or offset when development does occur.
A Sustainable Future

Moving forward, a group of Conservancy and Mongolian scientists will work to determine the areas of greatest need for Mongolia’s people and wildlife, creating a portfolio of high-priority biodiversity sites and suggesting how to balance development with these conservation priorities. These efforts will follow the model from the Eastern Steppe research, to create a blueprint for sustainable development in the Gobi.

By giving Mongolia’s scientific community a clear picture of the various threats — including development, climate change and unsustainable herding — confronting the country’s ecosystems, the Conservancy will support decision-makers in steering development away from biodiversity hotspots and devising mitigation opportunities.

“Ultimately, we’ll be able to turn impacts in places that aren’t conservation priorities into offsets in places that are,” says Joe Kiesecker, a Development by Design co-lead. “Our DbD analysis will allow us to proactively identify conflicts between development and conservation and make recommendations to avoid or minimize impacts associated with development that is not consistent with landscape-level conservation priorities. For development that is consistent with our conservation priorities we will seek to make recommendations to offset those impacts. Mitigation can be achieved very effectively through encouraging developers to better fund protected areas, for example.”

The Conservancy will put the results of the scientific analysis in the hands of provincial leaders and other interested stakeholders who seek data to inform land-use planning to achieve sustainable outcomes.

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