Faces of Acre | Breathe Mongolia • Jenny Han Simon

09 April 2024 by Jenny Han Simon
blog author

​Behind every impactful role we place, every team we build and every effort we make to create systemic change for our planet and society by activating people’s potential; lies our team of passionate, sustainability-minded individuals. Our ongoing ‘Faces of Acre’ series helps us take a step back from the day-to-day to shine a spotlight on the people who make us who we are, giving them a platform to share their passions, speak up about important topics and talk about the pro bono initiatives they take part in.

This instalment relates to the inspirational work being conducted by Jenny Han Simon, Senior Research Consultant – USA, at Breathe Mongolia - Clean Air Coalition.

Mongolia is one of the world’s most polluted countries having already warmed by 2.2 degrees, forcing thousands of inhabitants to flee the countryside and traditional herding lifestyle for the capital, where 90% of children breathe toxic air daily.

Breathe Mongolia equips people with the knowledge and tools, from technology to business skills, to fight air pollution.

The organization supports 3 of the 10 goals set by Mongolia Sustainable Development Vision 2030: to improve lives, preserve ecological balance and build professional and participative governance.

How did you become involved with Breathe Mongolia?

I was working in the capital, Ulaanbaatar, while completing my Fulbright Fellowship and explored volunteering opportunities. Ulaanbaatar consistently outranks Beijing and Delhi in the Air Quality Index (AQI), the air pollution was overwhelming, and I wanted to support Breathe Mongolia’s mission.

Tell us about the coalition

More than 100 people from 15 countries have volunteered, and we have worked on over 30 air pollution projects. Currently, we’re building an interactive health platform, and educating school children and journalists on climate change, environment, and air pollution.

Read the full story here.

Why is the capital so polluted?

Climate change has led to more brutal winters for nomads in the countryside, killing off their livestock and forcing them to move to cities like Ulaanbaatar. These cities lack enough affordable, modern housing, leaving newcomers to expand the ger (yurt) district - where residents burn coal for warmth and food.

Because Mongolia is one of the coldest countries in the world at around minus 30 degrees Celsius during the winter, inhabitants constantly burn coal and while air pollution in the capital is particularly bad, all of Mongolia is affected.

Most Mongolian cities were built beside mountains to protect from the elements, but the pollution from burning coal becomes trapped, creating persistent smog.

As climate change intensifies, the intense winters lead to more people, gers, and cars which has created the perfect storm of air pollution and economic inequality.

What are you hoping to achieve with Breathe Mongolia?

We plan to strengthen the air quality monitoring network and are advocating for open air quality data and the restoration of the National Committee of Environmental Pollution under the jurisdiction of the Prime Minister of Mongolia.

We will focus more on the intersections between climate change, air pollution, and health inequity and build stronger digital resources and educational curriculums on environmental journalism and justice to inspire future generations to consider sustainability careers.

We recently helped author a children’s book on air pollution and will continue to build capacity for other key stakeholders, including youth, healthcare and social workers, and vulnerable communities.

We will continue to join international conferences, such as UNFCCC COP and the UN Environmental Assembly, to shape pivotal resolutions and push for national implementation.

Beyond Mongolia, why is Asia a key player in effecting meaningful change?

Asia holds about two-thirds of the world’s people, and the two largest countries by population - India and China. While the US and other Western countries are making tremendous strides in sustainability, we cannot truly account for the impact of decarbonization strategies, environmental policy and regulatory shifts, and advances in regenerative agriculture and energy technology if we preclude Asian countries and societies.

Singapore and Shanghai both excel in public transportation, infrastructure, and public waste management compared to New York City, in my opinion. Our understanding of what transforms ESG could benefit greatly by observing Asia, and vice versa.

Similarly, we cannot only listen to the voices of the largest global economies - the Americas, Chinas, and Singapores of this world. Mongolia is full of motivated, brilliant, and capable people who live and breathe the daily effects of climate change. That perspective shapes how we strategize against climate change. With a population of around 3.5 million people, Mongolia could serve as a case study for eradicating air pollution and implementing sustainable solutions if organizations like Breathe Mongolia are successful. Mongolia’s air pollution is a global problem because we all share the same fate without limiting the effects of climate change.

Breathe Mongolia’s CEO, Azjargal Tsogtsaikhan, and Operations Lead, Enkhuun Byambadorj, supported this article.