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Decarbonizing the most polluted city : transforming Residential Heating Demand



Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia, has experienced significant population growth in recent decades, resulting in poorly planned, low-density areas that are inadequately connected to urban infrastructure and vulnerable to climate change. The primary form of housing in these areas are traditional Mongolian tents (yurts), characterized by poor insulation and inefficient heating using coal and biomass stoves.

Mongolia has a nomadic history deeply rooted in its culture, where mobility was crucial for subsistence through activities like herding and hunting. Yurts were ideal for this way of life due to their portability, allowing them to be easily disassembled and moved. In 2016, 67% of Mongolia's population lived in urban areas, representing 2.1 million out of the country's 3.12 million people.


To encourage urbanization and address labor needs associated with urban development, the Mongolian government initiated a land allocation program for migrants coming to work in the city. However, despite the influx of people, the city's core was only marginally expanded to accommodate new migrants. Many settled on the city's outskirts, using yurts as their housing. Today, approximately 60% of the city's population resides in these yurt areas on the periphery, accounting for 27% of the country's total population.

In addition to land tenure laws, these yurt areas have largely resulted from a series of extreme weather events related to climate change, including severe winter storms that killed over 16 million livestock between 2000 and 2010. Unfortunately, these climate change-related impacts are projected to continue and escalate in the short term. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Ulaanbaatar is the world's second most polluted city, especially during the winter when it is often shrouded in a thick grayish haze.


The Ulaanbaatar Green Affordable Housing and Resilient Urban Renewal Project (AHURP) aims to address this situation by offering the population a low-carbon and climate-resilient alternative: affordable housing in apartments connected to major urban infrastructure service networks.




Eco-Neighborhoods for a Clean and Resilient Future


To address this challenge, AHURP aims to provide 10,000 energy-efficient, affordable housing units designed to maximize the use of renewable energy in the highly climate-vulnerable and heavily polluted peri-urban areas of Ulaanbaatar. In total, 100 hectares of yurt areas will be reconfigured into eco-neighborhoods that are both low-carbon and climate-resilient as part of the project.

The project is expected to be completed by 2026, with a total estimated cost of $544 million USD. The scale of this investment reflects the significance of the needs. The project offers the city an opportunity to significantly reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, vulnerability to climate change, and pollution.

The project's objectives are as follows:

  • Improve the climate resilience of Ulaanbaatar and Mongolia's adaptability to climate change.

  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions and pollution and improve the quality of life in Ulaanbaatar by transforming highly climate-vulnerable and heavily polluted peri-urban areas (yurt areas) into eco-neighborhoods characterized as low-carbon, climate-resilient, and affordable.

To achieve these goals, we serve as international experts and a specialized team leader in energy efficiency and climate change-related issues. Additionally, we assist AHURP in obtaining EDGE certification, which was essential for the project to demonstrate its environmental performance and attract private investments.


Over time, AHURP will serve as a demonstration initiative that can be replicated in Ulaanbaatar and other Mongolian cities. It will also contribute to building sectoral and institutional capacity to address climate change vulnerabilities and provide low-carbon housing.


Towards Green and Efficient Buildings


Energy Optimization


In a country like Mongolia, which experiences significant temperature extremes, implementing highly effective insulation is essential. Good insulation reduces the energy flow between the exterior and interior, resulting in less heat loss or gain, and thus reducing the energy consumption required for heating or cooling the building.


To understand the performance of an insulation material, the "thermal conductivity (U)" must be considered. This U coefficient measures the insulation material's effectiveness. For building insulation, the lower this coefficient, the less heat will transfer from one element to another, leading to better insulation efficiency. For example, sheep's wool is a sustainable and environmentally friendly solution. It has no impact on occupants' health and is also effective for acoustic and thermal insulation.


For AHURP there were a plethora of efficiency measures, ranging from energy use intensity to peak load reduction and indoor comfort indices, various insulation materials etc., these measures are chosen based on their alignment with sustainability objectives and project requirements. Through iterative parametric runs, these measures are systematically evaluated across different scenarios, allowing design teams to pinpoint the most energy-efficient design solutions along with the best combinations.


Life Cycle Analysis

A significant part of our work involved analyzing the environmental impact of materials through a life cycle analysis of the entire building. This analysis aimed to advise material selection based on manufacturing, use of recycled materials, waste production, and potential for reuse in a circular economy. In this regard, we compiled an inventory of locally available low-carbon materials on the market to be used in all projects.


Subsequently, this allowed us to analyze the financial impact of the proposed strategies and provide advice on material and technological solutions, considering their environmental impact, economic viability, feasibility of implementation, and local availability.


Carbon Footprint for AHURP

To achieve ambitious greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals for AHURP, we calculated the carbon footprint of the first development site. The combined strategies of the project are expected to significantly reduce total carbon emissions, amounting to 7.92 million tons of CO2 equivalent. The combined effect of reducing direct and associated emissions led to an estimated reduction of 39.59 million tons of CO2 equivalent in greenhouse gas emissions.

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Policy Reform


A significant regulatory dimension is associated with the AHURP project. We are assisting the Ulaanbaatar municipality and the Ministry of Construction in establishing a roadmap to improve the environmental footprint of Mongolia's construction sector. This roadmap includes proposals for reforming construction regulations, energy modeling methodology for buildings, implementing a life cycle analysis approach, and leading capacity-building activities for its implementation.


AHURP utilizes funding from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Green Climate Fund (GCF) to attract additional investments from commercial banks and equity investments from real estate developers. The total value of GCF grants and loans could reach up to $145 million USD, which would finance approximately 26.7% of AHURP's estimated total cost.

The funding from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Green Climate Fund (GCF) associated with the AHURP project aims to improve construction practices in the long term.


Do you have a sustainable project and need support? Get in touch.


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