When I told people I would be going to Mongolia for work, the response was always a mix of excitement and confusion. "That's great! But what are they doing that is green?" my friends would ask. It is the answers to that question that make Mongolia such an interesting host for the 2013 World Environment Day.
Located between Russia and China, Mongolia is understandably not the first country one would think of when it comes to environmentalism, sustainable business or clean energy, but as I hope to witness in the coming days this land most known for the Gobi Dessert and its nomadic people is not only seeing its country change due to a warming climate, but they are adapting to meet the challenges of a changing business environment, as well.
Last year, during the World Environment Day festivities in Rio de Janeiro, Tsakhia Elbegdorj, the President of Mongolia, was among six individuals given the honor of being named 2012 Champions of the Earth Award laureates.
President Elbegdorj was honored for his role in making sustainability a key focus of environmental policies.
Here's a video on his work that was played at the awards gala last year.
President Tsakhia Elbegdorj (Mongolia) is awarded for delivering on promises to put the environment at the forefront of policies.
More on President Elbegdorj
As its neighbor China has seen business growth booming in recent years, Mongolia has been along for the ride, becoming the world's fastest growing economy, according to NPR. But with this relationship to China, also come risks, as The Atlantic's Max Fisher highlighted last year.
Mongolia has vast natural resources -- copper, gold, uranium, and perhaps most importantly coal -- and few citizens among whom to divide the spoils. Though it's over three and a half times the size of California, it has a population of only 2.7 million people, fewer than live in just the urban center of Fuzhou, China's 30th largest city.
With China's increasingly insatiable appetite for exactly the minerals that its norther neighbor boasts in abundance, Mongolia is joining a small class of once-impoverished Asian nations that are getting rich by selling to Beijing.
As Fisher goes on to note, if China's economy fails, this growth in Mongolia could halt, as well. That is why it is so important to see the sustainable investments Mongolia is making.
As part of the World Environment Day festivities, I plan to visit the country's first wind farm, attend a conference on sustainable mining and renewable energy and learn how else Mongolia is planning for a sustainable future. You can learn more about the World Environment Day program here.
Sustainable development isn't just important for economic reasons alone. Climate change is hitting the country hard.
In 2009, as part of the Ride Planet Earth Campaign, Kim Nguyen spent 32 days of a 16 month bicycle journey in documenting the ways climate change is affecting Mongolia.
Thankfully, Mongolia appears to be forward thinking when it comes to adapting to climate change. With its dry climate and sunny weather, solar has big potential. Geothermal is promising, as well. There's much more to come on all of this, as well as the WED theme of reducing food waste, so follow @UNEP and #WED2013 on Twitter for more.
Chris Tackett is currently in Mongolia for World Environment Day. Follow him on Twitter: @ChrisTackett for the latest and view the World Environment Day page for all of TreeHugger's coverage.