Workshops bring earthy Mongolian arts to life

As his fingers run over the strings, we hear a thunderstorm and rain. When he whistles, you hear the wind. Horses run wild when he strikes his horseshoe-shaped percussion instrument, which has pairs of bells that dance to his touch.
Without lavish costumes, a dazzling stage and elaborate sound effects, Unir paints a picture of nature, the grassland, the place where he comes from.
Born into a nomadic family in the Bortala Mongolia autonomous prefecture of Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, Unir is in the capital bringing indigenous music of the Mongolian people to a weeklong workshop, teaching a traditional Mongolian instrument, the two-stringed topshur of the Oirat tribe, which dates back to the Xiongnu empire (209 BC-93 AD).
Unir sings while playing the morin khuur, or horse-head fiddle, during a performance. (Photo provided to China Daily)
Unir sings while playing the morin khuur, or horse-head fiddle, during a performance. (Photo provided to China Daily)
"My family played topshur every day recreationally when I was a child. But nowadays, people rarely know the instrument, which has nearly become extinct," says the 25-year-old, who is now based in Hohhot, the capital of the Inner Mongolia autonomous region in northern China.
While most of his age group listens to pop music from South Korea or the West, he has been attracted to ancient Mongolian sounds since he was young. That included the morin khuur, or horse-head fiddle, and khoomei, or throat-singing, a particular style in which the singer can produce two distinct tones simultaneously, one low pitch and the other high.
At the age of 12, Unir went to school to study his art formally. Now, he works in the orchestra of the Inner Mongolia Folk Art Theater.
Unir is one of the musicians of Mongolian ethnicity invited by Khoomei Caravan, a project launched by Tekexi, a 33-year-old Mongolian from Hohhot.
Since July, Tekexi and his team have taken Khoomei Caravan to several cities across China.
Most of Khoomei Caravan's programs are workshops teaching khoomei and Mongolian instruments, as well as live performances.
"We planned to go to cities that have ethnically Mongolian people. But as we toured, we realized that not just Mongolian people but also people from other ethnic groups were interested in this project," he says.
Khoomei and topshur are listed as part of the country's Intangible Cultural Heritage.
"This recognizes the value of the traditions. However, it also means that they are dying. We want to do something for the treasures," he says.
At the Beijing workshop, Tekexi invited Unir to record traditional music pieces played on the topshur, since such works have no written scores and have been passed down orally for generations.
The idea of the Khoomei Caravan was developed from the Odsuren Academy of Khoomei, a training school founded by Tekexi's elder brother, Temur, five years ago.
Odsuren, a 66-year-old master of khoomei from the Republic of Mongolia, introduced the throat-singing tradition to his country's university syllabus and has taught the skill to more than 1,000 Chinese students since he first visited China in 1993. His academy, which is based in Hohhot, has trained thousands of students, both professional musicians and amateurs.
Zhang Xiaoming, a 20-year-old Tsinghua University junior from Chifeng city, is a beneficiary of the Khoomei Caravan project.
"Though I am of Han ethnicity, I enjoy the powerful and beautiful sounds of khoomei and of Mongolian instruments. For the young generation, it is a very cool and edgy element," Zhang says, noting how khoomei has been incorporated into genres such as pop, rock and rap.

Swiss Foreign Minister met with Mongolian Foreign Minister and discussed about permanent neutrality status of Mongolia

Swiss Foreign minister Didier Burkhalter gave a speech in Bern on Thursday in which he stressed that holding state authorities accountable is essential to a successful democracy.

The Annual Democracy Forum of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA) promotes democracy in countries around the world, and Switzerland has chaired the organisation’s council of 28 member states for the past year, under the theme, “Accountability as a central element of deepening democracy”.

"Development is only sustainable when it benefits everybody everywhere, without distinction or discrimination," said Burkhalter in his speech. He said that the accountability of state institutions “requires institutional checks and balances between the different branches of government and the ability of citizens to participate in democratic processes”.

The foreign minister also spoke about Switzerland’s role in developing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

“We worked hard to ensure that democratic governance featured prominently on the new Agenda,” Burkhalter said.

Exporting Swiss model

Also attending the forum on Thursday was Mongolian foreign Minister Lundeg Purevsuren. Mongolia will take over the role of International IDEA chair from Switzerland in 2016.

Purevsuren and Burkhalter met to discuss bilateral and multilateral cooperation between the two countries. Burkhalter assured the Mongolian foreign minister that Switzerland would continue to support development within Mongolia, and provide the nation with expertise in their quest to become a neutral state like Switzerland.

Mongolia has also expressed interest in the Swiss direct democracy model. Therefore, decentralisation of the system of governance and development of civil society are one of the priorities for Swiss development cooperation with the central Asian country.
Source: SWI

Solving the Cashmere Crisis:How do fashion businesses respond when a raw material that they depend upon is under threat?

LONDON, United Kingdom — A fashion business exercises careful control: over its image; its business growth; where possible, over how consumers respond to its brand. But even the world’s most prestigious luxury houses cannot control the climate.
According to a report released this month by Kering and non-profit consultancy Business for Social Responsibility (BSR), climate change is already having noticeable effects on global cashmere supplies — and this impact is likely to get worse.
Currently, cashmere products make up €4 billion of the €60 billion global luxury apparel market, according to data provided by Bain & Company. “The cashmere knitwear market is definitely outgrowing the luxury apparel market,” says Federica Levato, senior consultant at Bain & Company, who cites “casualisation of the market” — dressed-down, comfort-led trends like athleisure — as the main driver of demand.
In the last few years, the “democratisation” of the fashion industry has caught up with cashmere. Once a highly expensive commodity, available to an exclusive few; today, affordable, casual cashmere products have permeated the high street. At Uniqlo and H&M, pure cashmere knitwear starts at $79.90; while athleisure retailer Kit & Ace has built its brand around "technical cashmere," — blends of cashmere and sport-friendly materials like spandex.
But, cashmere is under threat. Made of the fine winter undercoat of Hircus goats, the global cashmere clip is estimated to be between 15,000 and 20,000 metric tonnes, or 6,500 tonnes of "pure" cashmere after it is cleaned. Luxury brands are more selective in their sourcing, centring on Mongolia and Inner Mongolia (an autonomous region within China that borders Mongolia), and using only the finer, longer and whiter fibres. However, most of the global cashmere output comes from China, where The Nature Conservancy estimates there are over 100 million goats. According to the National Resources Defense Council, it can take four goats to produce enough fibres for one sweater.
While cotton, silk, or leather — all key raw materials on which the luxury fashion sector depends — can be produced in modified farming systems, cashmere production relies on natural grasslands in limited geographies. As a result, it is especially vulnerable to environmental change.
“The availability of cashmere has suffered because of the degradation of the native grasslands, which the animals depend on for their food,” says Elisa Niemtzow, consumer sectors director at BSR and co-author of Kering and BSR’s report. “We’re talking about changes in temperature, in water availability and in the extreme winter conditions.”
According to the United Nations Development Programme, 90 percent of Mongolia is fragile dry-land, under increasing threat of desertification. In 2010, the combined impact of a drought the preceding summer (which reduced available forage in the grasslands) and a dzud (an extremely severe winter), saw more than nine million livestock perish in the country, of which most were cashmere goats.
According to Pier Luigi Loro Piana, deputy chairman of Italian fashion house Loro Piana, which specialises in luxury cashmere and wool products, the recurring dzud has seen Mongolia and Inner Mongolia suffer cashmere shortages for 50 years. “You learn over the years how to balance these potential shortages,” he says. “Unfortunately, they continue to have an impact on the shepherds and their communities, on the animals, the environment.”
However, in recent years, the environmental obstacles facing cashmere have worsened. To tackle rising demand, many producers increased the size of their herds — from 1993 to 2009, Mongolia’s livestock population grew from approximately 23 million to 44 million — creating a vicious cycle. More goats mean more grazing; which, in turn, leads to degradation of the grasslands. The result is undernourished goats with coarser hairs, causing the supply of high-quality cashmere to shrink. To make up the lost revenue, herders breed bigger herds, setting off the cycle again.
“There’s been an absolute avalanche of people wanting more and more cashmere, and pushing the price, pushing the supply chain,” says James Sugden OBE, a director of luxury cashmere clothing label, Brora, and former managing director of Scottish woollen mill, Johnstons of Elgin. “It has created a problem, insomuch as in some areas, some growers, tempted by higher volumes have gone for volume rather than quality.”
“Lately what has really worried us as a potential risk for the whole industry is the quantity approach: quantity seems to be overtaking quality,” concurs Mr Loro Piana.
Cashmere’s future is even more precarious. While the dzud is an extreme, cashmere yields depend on harsh winter conditions to grow their high-quality undercoats. Looking forwards to 2036 to 2060, Kering and BSR warn that rising temperatures due to global warming could also constrain goats’ winter hair growth, causing further decline in the quality of cashmere. “There’s sort of a perfect storm,” says Elisa Niemtzow.
So, what does this mean for fashion businesses? According to Niemtzow, luxury brands are already seeing decreases in availability of high quality cashmere. “You can either take it as a decrease in quality or a decrease in availability,” she says. Either way, the raw material is running out.
Two years ago, the Chinese government put restrictions on farmers’ acreage, in a bid to reduce the stripping of the pastureland. However, Outer Mongolia and other producing regions like Afghanistan have no such controls. Even within China, “The problem still remains in terms of finding quality fibre, consistently,” cautions James Sugden.
These changes present not only an environmental concern, but a business risk too. So how does an industry respond, when a raw material that its products — and, therefore, its profits — rely on, becomes endangered?
“Our industry’s challenge is to change this unsustainable system and put new, sustainable practices in place,” says Marie-Claire Daveu, chief sustainability officer and head of international institutional affairs at Kering. “Companies need to recognise that their business depends on natural capital and also impacts many livelihoods at the base of their supply chain.”
According to Daveu, Kering’s brands are working with their suppliers to create “production systems that are more resilient to the shocks of climate change impacts,” such as sustainable herding practises and holistic management of pasturelands, or implementing early warning/disaster management systems to respond to negative weather events.
But, with demand for cashmere still high, companies must consider the herding communities in their supply chains, and make it worth their while to farm less, but better. “Desertification also exacerbates economic hardship for herders and drives them into poverty and displacement to urban slums,” says Una Jones, chief executive officer of the Sustainable Fibre Alliance (SFA), which was formed in 2015 to unite companies, governments and NGOs to tackle sustainability issues in the cashmere industry, by establishing the first Sustainable Cashmere Standard, which will pilot in 2016.
In 2009, Loro Piana, which was acquired by LVMH in 2013, launched a five-year selective breeding programme, involving about 24,000 cashmere goats in China. By breeding only the most productive animals, the scheme aims to elevate the quality of hair on each animal, resulting in smaller herds but higher yields of quality cashmere — thus easing pressure on the land and avoiding desertification.
The project has “improved standards of living for goats and pastors, as well as a restored balance between animals and environment,” says Mr Loro Piana. A luxury fashion business, he says, must choose “Integrity, investments, research, respect and aiming for the best quality versus mere exploitation.”
“In bad years, we pre-pay. We give the farmers advance money, in order to see them through the winters,” says Sugden of Brora, which processes its garments in Scotland and sources its cashmere from Inner Mongolia, where goats are not just sources of cashmere, but meat and milk for the herding communities. If the commodity price of cashmere drops, “Our responsibility is to try and not take advantage of that. We want consistency of quality, number one. The price is secondary,” he says.
“A number of luxury brands and retailers are stepping up to the plate,” says Una Jones, to tackle the industry’s current “unsustainable production and consumption patterns and how the sector will have to change to meet their future demands.” Last year, for example, Burberry added protecting its cashmere supply to the company’s environmental targets for 2017.
But is it too late for the so-called “diamond fibre?” Should fashion business also adapt their strategies to the possibility of shrinking cashmere supplies?
As more environmental changes make farming more challenging, and modernisation across Asia tempts younger generations away from their families herding businesses, James Sugden says luxury brands have a “duty” to support their suppliers, by protecting the price, and ensuring suppliers understand, “It’s better to be at the top end of the market, and not to be tempted by the larger orders from Uniqlo or the like.” But, he adds, “The bulk producers have a responsibility.”
At Kering, Daveu, remains positive. “Ultimately, availability will also be positively affected,” she says, of Kering’s collaborative efforts. “We have a tremendous opportunity now to work on this issue to create a vibrant cashmere industry that helps regenerate natural systems and supports the livelihoods of millions of people. Let’s look to the solution, not just the problem.”


Source:upon is under threat?end upon is under threat?do fashion businesses respond when a raw material that they depend upon is under threat?

Mongolia food court inspired by S'pore

Mrs Saldan Odontuya says that Mongolians can look at what they can learn from the food court idea and how they can take home the best practices of Singapore.ST PHOTO: ALICIA CHAN

Many Mongolians will recognise Mrs Saldan Odontuya as a Member of Parliament in their home country, but, to some, she remains affectionately known as "Sentosa".
That is the name of the food business she founded about 15 years ago with the help of three Singaporean businessmen.
It all started with a plate of chicken rice at a food court in Orchard Road for Mrs Odontuya, who first visited Singapore in the 1990s to scout for business ideas.
"Each time I went back, the taste, size and look were the same," Mrs Odontuya, chairman of the Mongolia-Singapore Inter-parliamentary Friendship Group, told The Straits Times through a translator. She was a keynote speaker at the Midas Touch Asia-Mongolia Xchange business forum, held on Wednesday at the Fullerton Hotel.
Fascinated by the idea of having many food stalls under one roof, she opened a food court in Ulan Bator, Mongolia's capital city.
The food court is not devoted to Singapore dishes, but she hoped that naming it after Sentosa would convey a sense of quality associated with Singapore's products, she said.
It proved to be a hit.
"We had some big and expensive restaurants, but not mid-level restaurants where average people could visit," she said.
The food court may be a small idea, she said, but Mongolians can look at what they can learn from it and how they can take home the best practices of Singapore.
"My success today is closely related to Singapore. I'll always be thankful for that," she said.
After six years, she finally met her former business partners again yesterday for a dinner of Cantonese cuisine.
"But not at a food court this time," she quipped.

UPDATE 1-Rio Tinto set to decide on expansion of Mongolia copper mine

* Rio lining up funds for Oyu Tolgoi mine
* Copper chief says final investment decision expected early 2016
* Says could see copper supply deficit in 2 or 3 years (Recasts on Mongolia mine; adds comment, detail)
SYDNEY, Nov 26 Rio Tinto is lining up project financing for a $4 billion expansion of its long-delayed Oyu Tolgoi copper mine in Mongolia and will make a final investment decision early next year, a senior executive said on Thursday.
The mine, which started producing from an open pit over two years ago, is the biggest single foreign investment in Mongolia, and resolution of disputes over its second phase in May revived hopes for a string of other stalled mining projects.
"At the end of the day, what we need is consistency and stability and we believe we have the right environment today," Rio Tinto copper and coal chief executive Jean-Sebastien Jacques said at a Bloomberg News-sponsored forum.
"As we speak, we are putting together the project finance and anticipate that will happen this year," he said.
"We expect early in the next year we will be able to take a decision about restarting the underground construction."
The Anglo-Australian miner's Turquoise Hill Resources arm owns 66 percent of Oyu Tolgoi. The Mongolian government owns the remainder of the project, located in the Gobi desert near Mongolia's border with China.
Disputes over taxes and construction costs on the first stage stopped work on the second phase in 2013.
The underground expansion, with 25 billion pounds of copper and 12 million ounces of gold reserves, will make Oyu Tolgoi one of the world's top 10 copper mines and propel growth for Rio outside iron ore, where most of its revenue is generated.
Copper and other commodity prices are likely to remain subdued in the short term as markets come to terms with oversupply and slower Chinese growth, Jacques said.
"At some stage the winds will change and we will be asked how we are planning to grow the topline not just manage the bottom line," he said.
A supply overhang in copper that's left prices at their lowest in more than six years could take two to three years before shifting to a deficit, according to Jacques.
Separately, Rio Tinto declined to comment on a media report it was poised to approve an expansion of its South of Embley bauxite mine in Australia at a cost of $1 billion. Bauxite is used to make aluminium. (Reporting by James Regan in Sydney; Additional reporting bySonali Paul in MELBOURNE; Editing by Joseph Radford)

Mongolian theater to perform opera

The Mongolian State Academic Theater of Opera and Ballet will stage operas by Rossini, Verdi, Mozart and Puccini for their first Seoul performance in a concert on Dec. 6 to mark the 25th anniversary of Mongolia’s diplomatic relations with Korea.

The Mongolian Gala Concert, hosted by the Mongolian embassy, will feature Mongolia’s traditional music and dance and feature 60 instrumentalists and six singers, including Mongolian opera singer Amartuvshin Enkhbat, who was recently recognized as the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World 2015.

Artists from the Mongolian State Academic Theater of Opera and Ballet. Mongolian Embassy

Founded in 1963, the theater has performed 57 operas and 57 ballets by Mongolian and foreign composers around the world. It hosts over 100 performances a year, including some 80 operas and ballets and 20 classical and special performances. 

The event is sponsored by the Korean Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, Hyundai Motor Group, POSCO Energy, Mongolian Airlines, Korean Air, Halla Group and Dongkwang Construction. 

The concert is free and begins at 5 p.m. at the Universal Arts Center in Seoul. For more information, visit or call 010-2892-4652 or 010-2825-7371.

By Joel Lee (

Artists from the Mongolian State Academic Theater of Opera and Ballet. Mongolian Embassy


MIT launches pilot program with Mongolia

MIT has announced plans to launch a pilot program in Mongolia that will include initiatives in faculty development, urban planning, and entrepreneurship. Institute President L. Rafael Reif and Gantumur Luvsannyam, the Mongolian minister for education, culture, and science, signed the agreement Wednesday morning at MIT. President Reif expressed his gratitude to Minister Luvsannyam for supporting the program and added: “We are delighted to work with Mongolia on a range of bottom-up activities which will set the basis for larger collaborative projects.”
“We are very pleased to be able to launch this new pilot program,” said Richard Lester, associate provost for international activities at MIT, whose office spearheaded the effort. “The program grows out of a series of careful discussions with our Mongolian partners, and we are confident that it will have an impact on the ground in Mongolia while also offering exciting opportunities to MIT students and faculty for learning and research.”
“Mongolia is a nation with great pride in its history and heritage. The nation is now at a turning point of grand vision by leveraging science and technology across various business verticals to make this vision a reality,” Luvsannyam said. “Partnering with MIT is a historical milestone to enable us as a nation to achieve our mission and create an innovation ecosystem.”
The program includes a number of activities planned for the upcoming year, some geared toward faculty and professionals and others toward students and youth. These activities will be coordinated in Mongolia by Enkhmunkh Zurgaanjin ’09 — the first Mongolian citizen to attend MIT. “As a graduate of MIT, it is my honor to be part of the MIT Mongolia program,” said Zurgaanjin.
Stephen Graves, professor of management and mechanical engineering, is the MIT faculty lead for the initiative. “The collaboration will start with a limited set of activities around mutual interests, with an emphasis on entrepreneurship-related activities; we will also do some sharing of pedagogical practices and some exploratory efforts focused on urban issues, as is very relevant for Mongolia,” Graves said. “The intent largely is to build relationships and get to know each other, setting the stage for a longer-term collaboration.”
The program includes a plan for staff from MIT’s Teaching and Learning Laboratory to travel to Mongolia and conduct workshops open to faculty from Mongolian universities and colleges, as well as an opportunity for a faculty member from Mongolia to spend a semester at MIT. A “Mongolia Urbanism Workshop” held at MIT will welcome up to 10 experts in urban planning from Mongolia, with the goal of identifying areas for collaboration in the future.
Through the Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Program (REAP), a team of MIT students and a faculty members will travel to Mongolia for two months to undertake a mapping of the entrepreneurial landscape of Mongolia and to recommend steps to strengthen the entrepreneurial environment. Separately, student teams with Global Startup Labs will travel to Mongolia for six to eight weeks to teach mobile app development and to support student entrepreneurs from Mongolian universities in incubating new and innovative technologies.
“Mongolia is a fascinating country,” says Bernd Widdig, MIT director for international activities, who was part of an assessment team traveling to Mongolia in 2014. “There are great opportunities for research and for connecting our students with this young and dynamic democratic society that greatly values education and technological innovation to solve their challenges.”


Shenhua’s Mongolia coalmining scandal highlights local fears

International criticism hardens opponents of the Chinese coalmining giant’s plans for the Liverpool Plains, as governments roll over.

The trees died. The wells went dry. Sand dunes blew in and covered once-lush pasture. Watercourses stopped running, lakes shrank. In some places groundwater levels fell up to 100 metres.
Many factors, all of them human-induced, are blamed for the rapid desertification of the Ordos region of Inner Mongolia, among them urban development, overclearing and overgrazing of the land and climate change. And one more big one: coal.

During the decade to 2013, according to a study by Greenpeace, a huge coalmining and liquefaction operation sucked some 50 million tonnes of groundwater out of aquifers under the arid region and pumped much of it, heavily polluted, into waterways. The culprit was the world’s biggest coalminer, the Chinese state-owned Shenhua Group – the same group that now proposes a major new coalmine, the Watermark mine, on the rich agricultural lands of the Liverpool Plains in north-western New South Wales.
Local landholders and environmentalists are concerned about its effects on their groundwater, among other things. And with some reason.
In Mongolia, a couple of local Chinese environmental NGOs attempted to bring a public interest court case against Shenhua. You might call it “lawfare”. But two courts refused to hear the case. The groups were, in our terminology, denied “standing”.
It didn’t end there, though. Shenhua subsequently responded to the findings of the Greenpeace investigation and the attendant bad publicity, promising to reduce its water use, although it remains unsustainably high, according to Greenpeace and other experts; to stop sucking it from the failing aquifer; and to clean up its waste water.
More significantly, six months after the release of the Thirsty Coal investigation, China’s Ministry of Water Resources produced the first national plan limiting coal expansion and taking back much of the regulatory power of the provinces. The new plan mandated that all large coal projects include a water resource appraisal based on a centrally determined regional water capacity. We might call it a national “water trigger”.
None of this is to say Shenhua will behave as badly as it did in Mongolia, if and when it gets the final go-ahead to mine up to 10 million tonnes a year of coal for 30 years from under the Liverpool Plains. But its record indicates it would if it could.
And let us not assume that Shenhua is inherently more cavalier than other mining companies, state-owned or public, about the environment or human rights. Without adequate oversight, what you get is Ordos, Mongolia; Ok Tedi, Papua New Guinea; Bento Rodrigues, Brazil; or Wittenoom, Western Australia. Or countless other examples. 
Anyway, China now has a national water trigger, as does Australia. For the time being, at least.
In 2013 the Greens and Tony Windsor, the member for New England, were able to use their clout in the hung parliament to push through a change to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act to give the federal government greater power to examine and regulate the impacts on water resources of coalmining and coal seam gas developments.
As Windsor notes, they managed to get it through “despite constant lobbying by Shenhua and other mining companies in an attempt to block the water trigger from being part of the environmental approval process”.
He continues: “There was an independent scientific committee, funded to the tune of $200 million, to carry out bioregional assessments of sensitive areas where there were risks to water resources. [Former Labor environment minister] Tony Burke actually initiated assessments in five sensitive areas, of which the Liverpool Plains was number one.” 
The addition of the water trigger was hailed by conservation groups and farmers as a valuable addition to federal environmental regulation.
Another valuable measure in the EPBC Act – not only to safeguard the environment but also to protect against corruption – is section 487(2), which provides for third parties to go to the courts to challenge development decisions. It was introduced under the Howard government.
But when the Abbott government was elected two years ago, it was determined to get rid of both these measures, along with other federal protections.
The section giving standing to third party appellants was to be dumped. The government line was that green groups were engaging in “lawfare” against development, particularly coal projects. Under the government’s proposed change, environment groups – as well as others not usually considered greenie organisations, such as the National Farmers’ Federation – would be denied standing to mount such challenges.
And last May, Environment Minister Greg Hunt introduced a bill that would “allow the minister to accredit state and territory approval decisions on large coalmining and coal seam gas developments that are likely to have a significant impact on a water resource (commonly known as the ‘water trigger’)”.
It was part of a larger handoff of responsibility for environmental decision-making to the states. The government had a slogan for this move. They called it the “One-Stop Shop” and claimed it would cut the time and cost associated with getting up developments by reducing duplication between state and federal agencies and cutting “green tape”.
In reality, though, it was simply a means of shutting down opposition.
To date, Labor and the Greens and a few crossbench senators have stopped the government from enacting the changes. The hope was that in the face of this opposition and under the new leadership of Malcolm Turnbull, the government might back off. 
Recent indications, though, are otherwise. A government-dominated senate committee charged with considering the merits of the plan to remove legal standing from conservation groups rushed out its report on Wednesday this week. The government members recommended the government press ahead with the bill. Labor and Greens members issued dissenting reports reaffirming their opposition. That was to be expected. More interesting was the haste.
The committee’s Labor deputy chairwoman, Anne Urquhart, complained the government used its numbers in the committee to cancel public hearings and bring forward the reporting date so it fell in a non-sitting week. “The government has shown absolute contempt for due process…” the senator said.
More than 20,000 individuals, organisations and academic experts had expressed concern in their submissions to the committee, but the government had shut it down before a single hearing has been held. 
“While we might have a new prime minister,” Urquhart said, “this debacle shows the Abbott-era anti-environment policy continues unabated with the radical right of the Liberal party still calling the shots.”
It certainly looks as though the anti-environment forces in the government are making a statement of intent, suggests the Greens’ senator Larissa Waters.
In the previous sitting week, National Party senator Matthew Canavan moved a motion calling on the Labor Party to end its opposition to the proposal to remove legal standing from opponents of mines.
“It was a proxy vote on the bill, essentially. And the government came up two votes short,” says Waters. “And the other EPBC bill, to give away approval powers to the states, is listed for next week.”
Whatever else might have changed since Malcolm Turnbull became prime minister, the government’s commitment to protecting the fossil fuel industry from scrutiny of its environmental impact remains as strong as ever, she says.
Fortunately, Waters said, the senate remains “pretty solid” in its opposition to the changes, particularly those relating to the water trigger.
That is some comfort to the opponents of the Shenhua mine, but not much, according to Tony Windsor.
The independent scientific process of assessment he envisioned, which the previous government set in train, has been “bastardised”, he says. “Those assessments have been slowed down, financed down. In my view they’re operating in name only now, not doing the scientific work they were supposed to do. It’s a desktop exercise now, using the information supplied by the miners.”
The government would say otherwise: that since it was granted an exploration permit in 2008, the Shenhua proposal has been the subject of four reviews, including two by the independent expert scientific committee.
Questions remain, however, about the potential effects of the mine on water resources in the Liverpool Plains.
Opponents of the mine, farmers in particular, point to the impact of Whitehaven’s nearby and smaller Werris Creek mine. The company promised it would cause a drop in groundwater of just 10 centimetres. The fall has been between 4.5 metres and 15 metres.
The operators blame drought. But Doug Anderson, principal groundwater engineer with the Water Research Laboratory of the University of NSW, concluded at least 25 per cent of the problem was attributable to the mine. He was also very critical of the modelling done on the likely impact of the mine.
Another independent expert on mining’s effects on water, Dr Sebastian Pfautsch of Western Sydney University’s Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment, is also highly critical.
“Whenever you dig a big hole in the ground, you are likely to impact groundwater,” he says. “So you have to lower the groundwater level around your mine if you want to have a dry operation.”
This is done by sinking bore holes outside the perimeter of the mine. But the bores don’t just dewater the mine, they also dewater the surrounding countryside.
He talks about the “cone of extraction” or the “thickshake effect”, as it is also called. “When you suck a thickshake through a straw,” he says, “you see it lowers the level of the liquid outside the straw.” 
The extent of this effect depends on variables of geology and the amount of water and flow rates in the groundwater aquifers. In four years working with Rio Tinto at its West Australian iron ore pits, Pfautsch found this lowering of the water table could extend many kilometres.
After his work in WA, the mining company installed “many kilometres of pipes to reintroduce some of that water into the environment, to prevent vegetation from dying”.
But with the Watermark project, he says, “Shenhua have not addressed these issues properly. Everything is concentrated on the mine itself.”
Pfautsch has serious concerns about the impact on the nearby Breeza State Forest and surrounding agricultural land. But there is no indication that either the federal or NSW governments are listening.
“My guess is they’ll get the final go-ahead over the Christmas-January period,” says Windsor.
Still, he maintains the hope the project will be canned, not as a result of government action here, but because Shenhua decides it’s not worth the bother.
“I hear rumblings the Chinese are looking for a way out,” he says. “They’ve been going on this for almost a decade now. They thought they’d be mining within a few years.”
He notes the economics of coal have changed in that time. China’s need for imports has faded. “And they’re having such difficulty with the first stage of this mine. 
“The money coal is in the second stage, which is below the first stage, and they’ve got Buckley’s of ever getting to that,” says Windsor. “I reckon back in China they’re doing their homework and figuring that if they only get the okay for half a mine, then have to fight for the rest of their lives for the second half, they’ll let it go.”
And what if he’s wrong, and the company does decide to proceed?
“Well, that’s when the civil unrest starts,” says Windsor.
He offers a scenario in which hundreds or thousands of opponents occupy the mine site, probably the high ridge in the middle of it.
“Equally important as the water is the cultural heritage of the Aboriginal community. There are these massive grinding stones on the ridge. They overlook the floodplain for about 50 kilometres. They’re the size of double-decker buses,” he says. “And they’re right in the middle of one of the proposed pits. Shenhua is saying they’ll remove and relocate them. 
“I think what will happen – and I’m happy to be part of it – is there will be a move on the grinding stones and people will occupy the space to stop it. The pressure will come on government then, over the unfinished scientific work, the cultural issues. Will they sool the police onto the Indigenous people and others to allow the Chinese to take back their land? That’s not a good look.” 
It could prove to be a salutary lesson in democracy for the Chinese, state-owned mining giant. In Australia, unlike in Mongolia, you don’t always get your way just because the government is on your side.


Mongolia steps up transport infrastructure

With renewed backing from international lenders, Mongolia is moving ahead with plans to broaden its logistics base and improve access to export markets, with a raft of transport infrastructure projects shifting into gear.
While a slowdown in the global commodities market is expected to see GDP more than halve from 7.8% in 2014 to 3.5% this year, according to the IMF, Mongolia’s drive to boost exports, tourism and trade has kept the funding of key transport projects on track.
Rail and aviation projects are seen as particularly pivotal for increasing the country’s logistical capacity, with construction firms set to benefit throughout the development stage. 

Rail projects gathering pace

Mongolia has pledged to invest heavily in an upgrade of its rail network, which is expected to boost the country’s exports – particularly of coal – with China earmarked as the lead recipient.
Approval has been secured for construction of a 267-km rail line from the Tavan Tolgoi coal mine, which is being developed in the south of the country, to Gashuun Sukhait on the border with China. The line will allow coal from the mine to be transported directly by rail to markets in China, rather than by truck, achieving significant cost savings.
N. Tumurkhuu, minister of roads and transportation, told press earlier this year that logistics account for more than 60% of the per-tonne cost of transporting coal to China. The new direct rail link could reduce logistics costs by as much as 50%, according to local media reports, while also cutting down on pollution and improving the longevity of the road network.
A second Tavan Tolgoi rail project could also be in the cards, thanks to Japan’s ambitions to challenge Chinese investment in the region. During a recent visit to Mongolia, Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, affirmed that Japan had a key role to play in developing infrastructure in Mongolia and Central Asia to foster greater connectivity.
Japan was the country’s largest foreign donor in 2013, according to figures from the OECD, accounting for 37% of all assistance received that year. However, this stands in contrast to the most recent export figures, as Japan accounted for just 0.4% of Mongolia’s exports last year, compared to the 87.9% that were directed to China.
In late October the two countries inked a series of infrastructure deals, including a memorandum of understanding paving the way for Japanese firms to take part in the construction of a second rail line that will help connect Tavan Tolgoi to eastern export markets, such as Japan and the US.
The Tavan Tolgoi East Line, which is to be developed separately from the rail link to the Chinese border at Gashuun Sukhait, is expected to run some 1300 km, according to Mongolia’s prime minister, Ch. Saikhanbileg, though greater detail about the proposed route of the line – which would likely have to pass through China or Russia – has yet to be released.
With estimated reserves in excess of 6bn tonnes, the Tavan Tolgoi mine could prove to be a useful alternative energy source for Japan, which remains mired in a nuclear power debate following the accident at the Fukushima plant in 2011.

Airport to boost capacity

Japan’s new rail project comes on the heels of another investment aimed at expanding Mongolia’s aviation capacity.
A joint venture between Japan’s Mitsubishi Corporation and Chiyoda Corporate are leading the development of Ulaanbaatar’s new international airport, while loans from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), valued at more than $530m, are helping to fund the project. According to the JICA, the loan stands as the largest to be granted by the agency since it began providing support to Mongolia in the late 1970s.
Located some 60 km south of Ulaanbaatar, the new airport will have a passenger handling capacity of 3m when it opens in mid-2017, a significant increase over the current facility’s capacity.
While Chinggis Khaan International Airport, which continues to serve the capital, has increased its passenger handling capacity from 610,000 per year in 2008 to 1.1m in 2013, the facility can no longer keep pace with accelerating demand.
The new international airport has been designed with further expansion in mind, with infrastructure to be put in place that will enable the site to scale up to accommodate as many as 12m passengers per year.
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Source:Oxford Business Group

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