At a time of increasing tension, South Korea’s new government has identified environmental projects as a possible testing ground for co-operation with Pyongyang, in line with President Park Geun-hye’s promise to pursue “trust-based diplomacy with the North”. The plan is being drafted by Seoul’s ministry of foreign affairs and will be presented to Ms Park later this week.
Though most of the media focusses on confrontation, Simon Mundy in Seoul reports for the Financial Times that South Korea is working on a programme to help North Korea – which still has more than 70 % forest cover – address years of deforestation and environmental degradation, as part of a “green détente” aimed at reducing simmering tensions on the peninsula.
He records that the economic collapse of the 1990s prompted Pyongyang to order the clearing of forest to make way for farmland. But instead of helping to boost agricultural production, deforestation further undermined it. Fertile topsoil was washed away from fields no longer protected from heavy rainfall by surrounding forests, while such farmland is also now more vulnerable to drought in dry periods:
“Last year’s severe floods in North Korea, which killed more than 150 people and displaced tens of thousands, reflected the environmental damage caused by the extensive clearing of woodland in recent decades. The country now has the third most severe level of deforestation in the world, according to the UK consultancy Maplecroft”.
Positive news of proposed Seoul co-operation with Pyongyang is welcomed and any implementation will be recorded here.