[Letter] Biosphere reserve status for the DMZ is urgent
Last month, the International Coordinating Council of Unesco’s Man and the Biosphere Programme (MAB) in Paris postponed the designation of biosphere reserve status for the South Korean side of the demilitarized zone. That outcome may seem like a failure, but the discussion itself is meaningful in many ways.
Pyongyang expressed its opposition by sending letters to 32 council member countries, except for Korea, and the Unesco headquarters a month prior to the meeting. At the council meeting, Pyongyang unfolded political rhetoric, claiming that the designation violates the Armistice Agreement. However, not a single member country supported North Korea’s argument.
In fact, there have been various proposals to preserve the demilitarized zone in the past 20 years, including the plan for a World Peace Park, but none of the plans has materialized. So it is a meaningful accomplishment to bring this issue to the international stage and officially discuss the sustainable development of the DMZ through Unesco.
It is an important beginning for international preservation efforts of the DMZ. And postponement is different from rejection. When the conditions that were mentioned as grounds for postponement are fulfilled, the proposal may be reviewed again and approved for a biosphere reserve designation.
After the meeting, Unesco officials and representatives of the International Coordinating Council member countries said that it was not a failure but a good opportunity to internationally publicize the ecological value and significance of peace at the demilitarized zone and Seoul’s will to preserve the ecosystem.
If the South Korean side of the DMZ is designated as a biosphere reserve first, then it may serve as silent pressure urging the same designation within the North Korean part as well. If North Korea wishes to join the cause, there is a possibility to create an expanded biosphere reserve in the border region, for which both Unesco and Seoul hope.
Environmental efforts are being made just in time for the 60th anniversary of the creation of the demilitarized zone next year.
Cho do-soon, a professor of life science at the Catholic University of Korea.
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