Between 1990 and 2005, North Korea lost 25 percent of its forest cover, or around 2 million hectares, which is the highest rate among countries in East Asia.
Cultivation, logging, and natural disasters have all put pressure on North Korea’s forests. During the economic crisis of the 1990s, deforestation accelerated, as people turned to the woodlands to provide firewood and food. Deforestation has led to soil erosion, soil depletion, and increased risk of flooding. Deforestation also presents a serious threat to forest ecosystems, especially for several endangered species, such as Amur leopard, the Asiatic black bear, and the Siberian tiger.
To reverse these problems, North Korea and South Korea will hold meetings this week on bilateral economic projects such as border transport and the reforestation of the North, following agreements reached during their April summit.
On July 4, the two sides will hold a meeting on forest policies and possible projects regarding reforestation of North Korea, where the landscape remains affected by the destruction of the Korean War (1950-1953) and the famine in the 1990s that led to many forests being turned into agricultural areas.
The South Korean government-run Korea Forest Service (KFS) is set to push ahead with a project aimed at analyzing deforestation and broader environmental trends in North Korea.
In the first project of its kind in 10 years, the KFS’s National Institute of Forest Science (NIFoS) will examine trends in deforestation by monitoring degraded forest land, the organization said in a request for funding seen by NK News.
By collecting up-to-date information on the DPRK’s forests, NIFoS said, the South Korean government can “support effective policies for inter-Korean cooperation.”
The new economic map of the Korean peninsula policy aims to build three inter-Korean economic belts on the peninsula: an energy-resource belt in the eastern coast, an industry-logistics and distribution-transportation belt on the western coast, and an environmental tourism belt on the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).
The deforestation study plans are one of a number of recent initiatives by Seoul aimed at exploring broader inter-Korean economic cooperation: February saw the South Korean government-run Rural Research Institute (RRI) release plans to explore DPRK-ROK agricultural cooperation projects.
In addition to its inter-Korean objectives, NIFoS said assessing changes in North Korea’s deforested land could also help assess the feasibility of a UN REDD+ (Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation) project in the North.
The REDD+ is a mechanism developed by parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to mitigate climate change and support reforestation efforts in developing countries.
NIFoS will use satellite imagery provided by the German company RapidEye of North Korean forests in dormant and growing stages. Research conducted in 1999 and 2008 will serve as reference points, and a subcontractor is being sought to analyze images of areas photographed between 2016 and 2017 and to visit border regions to conduct field surveys.
Deforested land, according to NIFoS, applies to areas which, under the terms of the Kyoto Protocol, require immediate reforestation.
NIFoS plans to release the results of the research and hold a seminar for North Korean experts.
The proposal was uploaded on Monday for potential bidders on the website of South Korea’s Public Procurement Service (PPS), and the registration deadline is March 26.
North Korea has in recent years placed an increased emphasis on the problem of deforestation and environmental issues, following major damage to the country’s land following years of famine and drought.
Kim Jong Un has repeatedly emphasized the importance of reforestation and afforestation, even declaring a “war against deforestation” in late 2015. The following year, signs appeared in the DPRK threatening individuals who cut down trees with execution.
In February, the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported that the country had implemented “the first-phase tasks for the forest restoration campaign.”
“After the construction of the land- and manpower-saving tree nursery, a model in the work to put the sampling production on a scientific, industrial and intensive basis, mother tree nurseries were built or remodeled in different parts of the country to produce billions of saplings,” KCNA said in an English-language report.
The North has also developed an “information service program for managing forest resources,” KCNA reported in April 2017, and a month earlier opened the Forest Science College at Kim Il Sung University.