The Korea Herald


[Contribution] Korea’s green leadership shines in combating desertification, land degradation

By Lee Ji-yoon

Published : June 16, 2023 - 09:11

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Nam Sung-hyun, Minister of the Korea Forest Service Nam Sung-hyun, Minister of the Korea Forest Service

By Nam Sung-hyun

Minister of the Korea Forest Service

The United Nations General Assembly designated June 17 as "World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought" in December 1994. The annual UN observance day aims to raise awareness of global efforts to combat desertification, land degradation and drought. In 2023, the UN day holds special significance for Korea, as this year commemorates the 50th anniversary of Korea's national reforestation plan launched in 1973.

Land and forests are a vital source of human prosperity and well-being. However, according to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD)'s Global Land Outlook report, about 25-33 percent of land is degraded globally, and drought is becoming more frequent and intense. This threatens global food and water security as well as livelihoods. It is essential that we take action now to halt, avoid and reverse land and forest degradation.

The Republic of Korea was once plagued by barren land and severe deforestation and was one of the least developed countries in the aftermath of the Korean War. However, with support from the international community and the Korean people's active participation in the national tree planting campaign, the ROK has successfully turned its once-desolate land into a lush green forest and now 63 percent of Korea's land area is covered by forests. This success has been internationally recognized and inspires many countries affected by land degradation. In 2021, the ROK recorded a growing stock 165.2 cubic meters per hectare and GDP per capita of $34,984.

To share this successful experience with the global community, the Korea Forest Service has been building partnerships at bilateral and multilateral levels to protect and sustainably manage forests across the world. The KFS has established bilateral forestry memoranda of understanding with 39 countries and cooperates with 11 international organizations. The Korean government has increased its Official Development Assistance (ODA) for the forest sector from 1.2 billion won ($940,000) in 2007 to 18.8 billion won in 2022.

The ROK cooperates with countries such as Mongolia, Tajikistan, Vietnam and Indonesia supported by the ODA grant. For instance, the ROK and Mongolia have made concerted efforts to create over 3,000 ha of forests and raise awareness of the importance of forests in Mongolia since 2007. As the fruit of this effort, Mongolia established National Tree Planting Day and launched a national campaign to plant 1 billion trees by 2030.

Furthermore, the ROK has been building global and regional partnerships with the UNCCD, Desertification, Land Degradation and Drought (DLDD)-North East Asia Network (NEAN), and other international organizations such as FAO and UNEP.

In particular, the ROK hosted the 10th session of the Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification in Changwon, South Gyeongsang Province, in 2011 and launched the Changwon Initiative to support global efforts to combat desertification and land degradation. This Initiative has played a critical role in developing and promoting Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN), which was adopted as a target of Sustainable Development Goal 15 by the UN General Assembly in 2015. The initiative has continued to support the UNCCD to develop a program to help countries set voluntary LDN targets. As of 2023, some 130 countries have participated in this global program and over 70 countries have adopted their LDN targets.

The ROK is also actively cooperating at the regional level with countries in Northeast Asia. As sand and dust storms affect the ROK across borders each year and become more frequent and intense driven by land degradation and climate change, international cooperation is crucial. Thus, in 2011, the ROK joined forces with China and Mongolia to combat desertification and sand and dust storms in Northeast Asia and established the DLDD-NEAN. Since 2011, the ROK has worked with DLDD-NEAN countries to exchange knowledge and best practices and to develop a pilot forest cooperation project in Zamiin Uud, Mongolia.

As climate change intensifies, forests are emerging as a nature-based solution to climate change. Nature-based solutions are being recognized as an essential part of addressing climate change. The Nature-Based Solutions for Climate Manifesto, which was developed for the UN Climate Action Summit 2019, notes nature-based solutions as “a fundamental part of the action for climate and biodiversity.” As valuable resources, forests must be protected from deforestation.

Recognizing the importance of forests as a key solution to climate change, world leaders have expressed their political will to halt deforestation and sustainably manage forests in international fora.

At COP26 in 2021, 141 world leaders signed the Glasgow Leaders' Declaration on Forests and Land Use and, as of 2022, 145 countries have committed to halting and reversing forest loss and land degradation. In 2022, world leaders launched the Forests and Climate Leaders' Partnership to combat climate change through forests. The partnership consists of over 20 countries and the ROK is participating in the partnership as a founding member. In addition, together with UNEP, the KFS is developing projects that can conserve biodiversity and develop the capacity of developing countries. Through diverse forms of international cooperation, the ROK is strengthening its green leadership.

In addition to this international cooperation, the ROK is working to create healthy forests that deliver multiple benefits on the national level. Under the Yoon Suk Yeol administration, KFS has introduced a range of forest policies and measures to increase the social and economic values of forests. Korean forests are expected to help the ROK achieve around 11 percent of its climate goal by 2030.

The Korean government is now pushing for Green ODA. In line with the ROK's Green ODA, KFS has recently developed a five-year International Forest Cooperation Strategic Plan to guide and inform its forest cooperation with other countries. KFS plans to expand its partnerships to 43 countries.

Building on its achievements to date, KFS will continue its efforts to address land degradation and climate change, and thus help the ROK strengthen its green leadership and increase its contribution to the global community as a global pivotal state.

Nam Sung-hyun is minister of the Korea Forest Service. Views in this column are his own. – Ed.