Start with planting treesEconomic cooperation is pivotal to upholding the agreements of the April 27 inter-Korean summit. While inviting President Moon Jae-in to visit Pyongyang later this year, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un suggested that Moon fly to the North instead of using the roads because of poor “road conditions.” His comment underscores how much modernization work North Korea requires.
But South Korea cannot immediately initiate aid and cooperation due to international sanctions. It also cannot stay idle while North Korea fully dismantles its nuclear weapons — a process that could take years. While keeping key sanctions intact until the denuclearization process is verifiable, South Korea needs to gradually renew cooperation in areas that are permissible. The Blue House held a meeting to discuss follow-up measures to the Panmunjom Declaration and decided to launch a task force to study inter-Korean cooperation in forestry. Forestry is not included in the sanctions that mostly center on telecommunications and railway infrastructure, but it can contribute to the global environment.
Planting trees can directly help North Korea and also South Korea across the border. Although mountains cover 70 percent of the North, most of them are bare because North Koreans cut down the trees for heating. Forestation can prevent floods and provide food supplies to help farmers reduce the food shortage in the North. Kim has vowed to turn his country green, saying it is the contemporary generation’s responsibility not to hand down a rocky and barren land to the future generation.
North Korea set up a forestry science school at the elite Kim Il Sung University last March and broke ground for a forestry research institute in Pyongyang last month. Pyongyang has been paying attention to greenery projects as natural disasters increased after the deforestation during the Great Famine period in 1990s and worsened people’s livelihoods. According to a UN report, forests and woodland made up 47.1 percent in North Korea in 2010, a sharp decrease from 68.1 percent in 1990.
South Korea can share its knowledge about forestation with North Korea. The task force not only includes state institutions but private reforestation companies. The two Koreas can join to restore ecosystems and combat environmental challenges. They can invite the UN and other international bodies to help make the Korean Peninsula greener. This green campaign can contribute to accelerating the peaceful transformation in the region.
JoongAng Sunday, May 5-6, Page 34