[Contribution] How to restore deforested land in North Korea
By Nam Song-hee
The restoration of deforested and degraded land in North Korea is becoming a critical issue not only in the two Koreans and among international organizations. According to the “Forest Resource Assessment” by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, the country’s forest cover has dramatically decreased from 8.2 million hectares in 1990 to 5.67 million hectares in 2010, representing a deforestation rate of 127,000 hectares per year over the past two decades.
With its topographic features and meteorological characteristics, deforestation has led to productivity reduction in forested land by soil erosion and depletion, lack of food security and degradation of agricultural land by increased flooding and droughts and loss of significant property and life.
Understanding the severity of the negative impact of deforestation, North Korea has made forest and landscape restoration a primary policy and has made many efforts to restore the degraded and deforested land. North Korea made a 10-year National Forest Restoration Plan (2014-2023) in 2014 and developed a National Agroforestry Strategy and Action Plan (2015-2024) in 2015. Despite these efforts, it has been difficult to implement these policies due to insufficient internal resources and little international support in light of UN sanctions.
Between 1976 and 1977, South Korea spent $4.16 million contributed by the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development on fuel-wood forest establishment, which was conducive to the successful completion of the First-10-Year Forest Rehabilitation Plan. North Korea has been asking the FAO to initiate the implementation of the project of forest and landscape restoration since 2015.
The large-scale restoration requires a long time and the massive mobilization of resources. The huge cost of modernization across various sectors in North Korea can be a big and painful burden to the two Koreas. Thus to restore successfully the deforested and degraded land in North Korea, it is essential to get help not only from South Korea, but also from other international organizations.
Given North Korea has a limited capacity among the international community, South Korea by cooperation with North Korea should play a significant role in leading the international community in supporting the restoration by means of a few strategies.
First, both Koreas should actively take the lead in creating a global political initiative to raise awareness on the restoration of North Korea.
The forest restoration initiative on the Korean Peninsula will hugely contribute to creating “green” Koreas, reducing natural disasters, enhancing food security and, ultimately, leading to settle peace in the Far East and unify the two Koreas.
Second, both Koreas should establish the effective international institutional and operational mechanism for large-scale restoration in North Korea at a global level.
This mechanism will play an important role by regularly creating updated information on deforestation and restoration, developing project proposals and collaborating on restoration programs among international partners, such as executing agencies for forest restoration, neighboring countries around the Korean Peninsula and potential donors. Thus, it has a strong convening power to participate a variety of stakeholder for restoration.
Third, the mechanism should be able to leverage financial and technical resource mobilization for forest restoration in North Korea.
Potential international resource partners for forest restoration in North Korea may include the Global Climate Fund, Global Environmental Fund and bilateral funds around the Korean Peninsula. To implement restoration projects on a large scale, key international executing agencies who are approved by major finance organizations also has to participate actively in the mechanism.
Finally, North Korea has to do its best to establish internal and external enabling environments such as by setting up an internal institutional and operational framework, providing updated statistical data, building trust in the international community and getting the UN sanctions lifted.
The forest cooperation between the two Koreas, the least political and most future-oriented sector, will contribute to breaking the tense relationship. However, they have to keep in mind that large-scale forest restoration requires a long-term strategy and sustainable inputs with massive resource mobilization until completion. Thus, the two Koreas need to approach wisely to let the international community engaging in restoring deforested land in North Korea.
The writer is a senior forestry officer at the Forest and Landscape Restoration Mechanism in the Food and Agriculture Organization. The views reflected in the article are his own. --Ed.