Thursday, August 26, 2010

'Forestation will be No. 1 priority after unification'

Chung Kwang-soo

Korea Forest Service Minister

By Kim Tae-gyu

Planting trees and preserving the forests of North Korea is expected to become the first crucial project when the two Koreas reunify, according to a senior bureaucrat of the South.

Korea Forest Service (KFS) Minister Chung Kwang-soo made this point during an interview earlier this week held on the sidelines of the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO) World Congress.

“The mountains of the two Koreas are inter-connected across the peninsula. Yet, their eco-systems are disconnected as many of the North’s forests have been destroyed,” said Chung.

“To restore the same eco-system, forestation of the North should be one of our top priorities. In my view, such initiatives have to start even before reunification.”

Traditionally, the mountainous North had more forests than the South. But reckless logging denuded the mountains of the former, while the latter has put forth great efforts for forestation.

As a result, the South has become the world’s fourth most forested country among members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in terms of size compared to territory.

Just three nations, Finland, Japan and Sweden nudged past the South. By contrast, the North suffers from frequent floods due to deforestation.

On top of brightening the future of the two Koreas, Chung said that forestation would be of great help in achieving low-carbon green growth, which is the buzzword of late — trees act as carbon sinks.

“Currently, mankind is facing the three major threats of climate change, reduced bio-diversity and fast desertification. Trees hold the solution to all three problems,” the 56-year-old said.

“The world is also well aware of the fact as demonstrated by the United Nations, which declared 2011 as the International Year of Forests.”

Chung said the so-called “Miracle of the Han River” was not only about the fast economic growth of South Korea but also about the successful forestation over the past few decades.

“We showcased that a country can achieve the two seemingly conflicting objects of economic development and environmental protection at once. Many envy our feat,” said Chung who took charge of the KFS last year.

“Our economic exploits are widely touted. And our success in forestation has also gained recognition. That’s why we are hosting the IUFRO event this week and will organize the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) session next year.”

The IUFRO is a non-profit, non-government international network of forest scientists and their annual gathering is presently underway at the COEX, southern Seoul throughout this week.

Midway through October next year, the 10th session of the Conference of the Parties to the UNCCD will convene in Changwon, South Gyeongsang Province situated in the southeastern part of the country.

Korea would be the first Asian state to hold the high-profile UNCCD gathering.

Chung said that the country would spearhead forestation and the prevention of desertification globally in the future.

“Around a third of the world’s territory is desert and a substantial size of land is becoming degraded every year. In particular, the pace is relatively fast in Northeast Asia.” Chung said.

“We are going all-out to contribute to solving this problem through planting trees. Thus far, we have planted trees on 200,000 hectares in 11 nations. We will increase the figure five-fold to 1 million hectares by 2050.”

The KFS has already signed big contracts with Indonesia and Cambodia under which the Daejeon-based outfit will commission forestation projects on 200,000 hectares and 400,000 hectares of the two countries, respectively.

Chung said Korea surprised officials in China and Mongolia by chalking up tangible results in dealing with desertification.

“Humankind needs land, water and forests to survive. All three have something to do with trees,” said Chung who joined the KFS back in 1980.

“In the past, some regarded rich forests as a representative of underdevelopment. They are now the icons of eco-friendliness and well-being. We will continue our attempts to preserve the all-important forests.”

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