Project Description

Oyu Tolgoi copper and gold mine in the Mongolian Gobi desert

The Oyu Tolgoi copper and gold mine is one of the world’s largest mining operations. It is located in the southern Gobi Desert, Mongolia and operated by Rio Tinto in partnership with the Government of Mongolia.

The mine is of considerable economic importance for Mongolia. It is estimated to account for more than 30% of Mongolia’s Gross Domestic Product upon completion, thus contributing significantly towards improving socio-economic conditions in this relatively poor country. However, the operation will have significant direct and indirect impacts on globally important biodiversity during it’s construction and operation, including threatened bird, ungulate and plant species that are protected under Mongolian law.

The Oyu Tolgoi project has committed to have a net positive impact on biodiversity of the southern Gobi region by mine closure. This is motivated by Rio Tinto’s corporate biodiversity strategy, as well as compliance the International Finance Corporation (IFC) Performance Standard 6/European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) Performance Requirement 6.

In partnership with The Biodiversity Consultancy (TBC), Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and local partners, the Oyu Tolgoi project has developed a Net Positive Impact forecast, and detailed impact and mitigation plan, and biodiversity offset strategy, as per the Conservation Hierarchy framework.

The process has been supported by a regional conservation plan for the Mongolian Gobi: Identifying Conservation Priorities in the Face of Future Development. The plan applies The Nature Conservancy’s ‘Development by Design’ principles using systematic conservation planning, which balances commitments to protect natural habitats with planned development of mineral resources and related infrastructure, enabling smart development.


Goal: Net positive impact on biodiversity of the southern Gobi region by mine closure

N/A – construction of the mine had already begun prior to adoption of the Conservation Hierarchy framework. As such, avoidance options were considered unfeasible.

  • Minimise collisions of vehicles with wild animals along access roads through low speed limits, erection of wildlife crossings and driver awareness raising (signage and training).
  • Minimise impact of waste along access roads through waste disposal protocols.
  • Minimise bird collisions with powerlines by adding bird flight diverters to all power lines, insulate medium-voltage powerline poles, dead-ends and sub-stations, and on pylons.
  • Strictly control any illegal hunting by all mine personnel, and engage with local and regional stakeholders to control hunting in the ecosystem. Provide all project operations staff and contractors fuel for fires to prevent collection of local timber. Conduct inspections of vehicles and aircraft leaving the site to check for illegal wildlife products.
  • Regularly inspect and remove litter and other anthropogenic waste from along the mine access roads and project area
  • Remove nests of birds which predate bustards, where made on project-related infrastructure (except where known to be Saker Falcon nests).
  • Rehabilitate and restore at least equal areas or numbers of features impacted (in line with Oyu Tolgoi Rehabilitation Management Plan and standard Rio Tinto rehabilitation and restoration practice). Ensure replacement spring mimics the ecological functions of impacted spring.

Conduct a range of activities throughout the offsets landscape (an area was calculated for each priority biodiversity feature based on a precautionary estimate of the gains likely to be achieved by offset actions over the defined time period. The Net Positive impact forecast estimated that offsets areas need to be in the order of tens of thousands of square kilometres, with an offsets landscape of ~46,000km2 defined, alongside a >50,000km2 buffer zone for the Asiatic Wild Ass south-east Gobi range). Offset activities within the landscape include:

  • Reduce illegal hunting and collecting by implementing anti-poaching units, building capacity of government institutions to increase prevention, detection and conviction rates of wildlife crime, and reducing hunting of Houbara Bustards migrating outside Mongolia
  • Improve rangeland management by supporting herders to transition to more ecologically sustainable stocking ratios, implement conservation incentive scheme to compensate herders for opportunity costs, developing an alternative livelihoods programme to assist herders’ transition to a more biodiversity-friendly system and revitalising district-level grazing planning to enable strategic decisions about herder entitlements and ecologically appropriate stocking levels, in line with national government policy
  • Reduce impact of non-project powerlines on birds by installing best-practice bird flight diverters on non-project powerlines within the offset landscape
  • Strengthen existing protected areas within the offset landscape by reviewing extent, zoning and management plans
  • Ensure all of the above are supported by strong enabling mechanisms, including finance, capacity and robust monitoring and evaluation