The scale of demand is daunting and the quality of new buildings will be as important as the quality. Much of the city’s housing dates from the Soviet era: It lacks double glazing and in many cases has just 5mm of basic polystyrene insulation on the concrete walls, said Graham McDarby of Gradon Architecture, a British firm now working on flats in the city.
Raising current building standards to European levels could dramatically improve energy efficiency.
“If you’ve got quality insulation and it’s air-tight, the family in there will generate enough heat,” he said.
The country also has its first wind farm, not far from the capital. There are ambitious plans for a new subway system, which should help cut traffic pollution.
However, the ultimate problem was that there were simply too many people in the capital: Its size has tripled since 1979 and it has over a third of the country’s population, Galimbyek said.
It is where all the universities are located, and much of Mongolia’s employment.
To make Ulan Bator a healthier place, it has to stop mushrooming, which means that rural areas have to be developed instead, he said..
That might sound like a radical prescription, but drastic changes are needed.
“For years we thought the effects of air pollution fell on a straight line: If you reduced it by 10 units, it didn’t matter whether you were at the higher or lower end. What we seem to be learning more recently is that it is a curve, not a straight line, and actually you get the biggest bang for your buck in lower [pollution] conditions,” Allen said. “In a city like Ulan Bator you would actually need to have quite a dramatic reduction in air pollution before you started to see really good improvements in public health.”