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Korea steps closer to agency to preserve forests

Korea Forest Service maps out plans to establish AFoCO after landmark agreement signed with ASEAN in Bali

South Korea took an important step in nurturing global green growth by agreeing last month with ASEAN member states to form the Asian Forest Cooperation Organization, the Korea Forest Service said on Thursday.

The agreement, signed at the ASEAN Summit in Bali, Indonesia, is expected to pave the way for international cooperative networks in the field of forest preservation.

ASEAN leaders welcomed the agreement at the 14th Korea-ASEAN summit talks on Nov. 18, expressing hope the pact would help strengthen and sharpen the adaptability of Asian regions against climate change.

The agreement also reaffirmed that member nations will work together to accelerate the establishment of AFoCO, the KFS said.

Under the plan, the first Asian international agency will be set up by 2013 and its headquarters will be based in Seoul.

Korea made the proposal to launch AFoCO in 2009 to prevent deforestation and forest degradation in Asia through close cooperation among countries.

At a press conference following a signing ceremony, Surin Pitsuwan, Secretary General of ASEAN, stressed the importance of forest preservation and praised the significance of the agreement toward forest cooperation in Asia.

Pitsuwan noted that about 20 percent of the world’s forests are in Asia, covering 213 million hectares and affecting regional economies directly and indirectly.

A great number of Asian people depend on forests socially, culturally and environmentally, and Korea’s efforts to get the agreement signed and push forward with the new Asia-wide organization are hallmarks for green growth, he said.

The secretary general also said problems with biodiversity and climate change are increasingly a threat, while appreciating the Korean government’s willingness to share its expertise and technology through AFoCO.

Korea’s endeavor, led by the KFS, traces back to 2008 when the country considered setting up an organization through which it could provide advanced forestation solutions with other Asian countries.

The move has much to do with Korea’s rapid economic growth in the aftermath of the Korean War. The country received help in various forms from advanced countries, which was followed by one of the fastest economic developments in the world. Now, many see it as Korea’s turn to return the favors it received by offering what it has learned to other developing countries in Asia.

President Lee Myung-bak proposed the AFoCO at the Korea-ASEAN special summit talks held on Jeju Island in 2009, which was welcomed and supported by participating ASEAN leaders.

ASEAN agreed to the necessity of setting up such an agency and the KFS spearheaded negotiations in five sessions. As a result, Korea and ASEAN will join the organization first and work out details about cooperative projects as well as the establishment of the agency.

The pact signed by foreign ministers of ASEAN members in Bali has several implications that could affect the way experts, scholars and government officials handle the matter.

First, Asia-wide forest cooperation used to center upon academic networks and NGOs, but the new agreement shifts the format to a formal agreement among countries with greater binding effect. This type of agreement also opens up inter-governmental channels for fostering cooperative projects to fight deforestation.

The KFS said AFoCO is one of the important achievements of the current Korean government, as the agency will provide a key vehicle through which Korea can work together with other Asian countries to better prepare for climate change.

Korea is in a unique position to undertake the projects in question as it has successfully restored forests, a feat recognized by the international agencies.

In battling climate change, forestation is deemed critical, but many regions in Asia are suffering from debilitating deforestation amid a continued state-led drive for economic development across the region.

Given that Korea has proven its edge by achieving both forestation and economic growth, the new agency will benefit Asian countries in need of technologies, personnel and resources.

The KFS said the regional cooperation through AFoCO will lead to new jobs for Korea and other countries.

In the next two years, Korea will get things ready for the launch of AFoCO. A working-level office is set to be established in Korea so that both Korean and ASEAN forest experts can work together.

The KFS said Korea’s status in the field of forest preservation and restoration will be heightened through the agency, particularly concerning carbon emission rights and other climate change initiatives in the future.

AFoCO will also expand its membership to other Asian nations such as Mongolia and Nepal.

The initiatives by the KFS drew the international spotlight at the UNCCD conference held in October this year, which adopted the “Changwon Initiative.”

The initiative supported by officials and experts from over 190 countries, as well as the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification and the United Nations Environment Programme includes a series of action plans the three will carry out for reforestation in Asia and Africa.

The KFS has pushed for bilateral cooperation agreements with 12 countries since 1987 in the field of forest preservation and related projects. Bilateral pacts were signed with Indonesia and three other ASEAN nations.

The KFS is now planning to implement four pilot projects under the AFoCO plan and nine cooperative forest-related programs.

By Yang Sung-jin