Recent months have seen a major increase in interest in the future of the DMZ, with several focused meetings and a recent spike in media coverage, including an article last week by the Washington Post which introduced the perspectives of the DMZ Ecology Research Institute and of Birds Korea to their readership (with much more detail of the latter provided below).
To this background, the first DMZ International Forum on the Peace Economy was held in Seoul on August 28th and 29th. Organised by the Korea Institute for International Economic Policy (KIEP) and the National Research Council for Economics, Humanities and Social Sciences, this high-level meeting brought together a hundred or more distinguished decision-makers and policy experts, including the Mayors of Seoul and Incheon, the Prime Minister of the ROK, former Presidents of Indonesia and of Mongolia, a former Prime Minister of Japan and the former Chancellor of Germany, and dozens of ministers, institute heads and professors.
All public comments and speeches recognised the need to secure peace on the Korean Peninsula and to strengthen regional relationships in order to maintain or grow Korea’s economy – meant by some to mean the economy of the ROK, and by others to mean the economy of both the ROK and the DPRK. The challenges of achieving this were apparent to all of the participants. Even within the ROK itself, there are widely divergent views on how to secure peace on the Korean Peninsula and the model of economic growth which should be pursued. Moreover, all five North-east Asian nations (i.e. the ROK, the DPRK, Japan, The Russian Federation and PR China) are either technically still at war with or are involved in territorial disputes and / or trade wars with one or more other NE Asian nation and / or also with the USA – one of the major players in the all-Korea peace process. How then to build trust and to respond to shared needs on the Korean Peninsula and within Northeast Asia, when even at a meeting like this no-one could be present to share perspectives from either the DPRK or from PR China?
It was nonetheless an honour to be invited by the Korea Environment Institute to attend this meeting and to try to share some of Birds Korea’s insights and experiences. The meeting provided several opportunities for discussion, including of course with colleagues from the Hanns Seidel Foundation (Korea office) (HSF); as well as time for an interview with KIEP (for their Youtube channel) and to present a few ideas to an audience of 40 or 50 as a discussion panelist at the Parallel Session on Environment and Agriculture.
In the limited time available, I tried (respectfully) to outline several of the dozen or so steps Birds Korea has identified toward Sustainable Development – and a Peace Economy – on the Korean Peninsula.
All are based on our collective experience of working for decades for conservation in the ROK and elsewhere in Northeast Asia, including since 2014 in the DPRK with the Ministry of Land and Environment Protection and the HSF (Korea office). Many of the proposed steps are therefore similar to those taken previously (just rather more comprehensive in scope and scale). They include a combination of much-needed trust-building measures and practical conservation actions:
- In the ROK, call for a Presidential-level moratorium on any development proposals or designations affecting the ROK part of the DMZ or any proposals which directly impact DPRK territory. (Justify this moratorium as a confidence-building measure in the peace process as unilateral proposals being made now, e.g. by Incheon City, to create road networks into the DPRK could be interpreted by some as preparation for economic absorption).
- In recognition of the global biodiversity and climate crises, and as central to any new Peace Economy, explicitly recognize the inter-dependence of conservation of biodiversity and action against climate change in efforts to realize peace and economic growth on the Korean Peninsula. This recognition would be fully in accordance with the UN-defined Sustainable Development Goals and existing conservation convention texts, all signed-on to already by both the ROK and the DPRK and other Northeast Asian nations. (This model of Peace Economy could then be presented as a Korean model of Eco-civilization).
- Redirect much of the funding for proposed infrastructural development in the ROK part of the inner border region (i.e from Baekryeong Island in the divided Ongjin County in the west, in the Civilian Controlled Zone south of the DMZ east to the divided Goseong County in the east), to land purchase and major subsidies for landowners so that they can farm, fish and manage lands and waters in ways that will simultaneously help to conserve biodiversity, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve local livelihoods. (Some of this land near the inner border area in the ROK Civilian Controlled Zone (CCZ) is government-owned already. Current infratructure investment plans include e.g. 5.9 trillion won in Gangwon Province, presumably trillions of won in parts of Incheon for their road and tourism belt linking Incheon through several internationally important wetlands to Haeju in the DPRK, and 90 million USD for Baekryeong’s new airport).
- Empower local community groups and NGOs in the ROK working near to the inner border (and those with experience of working in the DPRK) to advise on, promote and work toward the inter-dependent goals of peace, economic growth, biodiversity conservation and climate change action – in the ROK first and on the whole Korean Peninsula second.
- Based on scientific data, the strength of local support and agreement with military bodies, identify a dozen or more pilot project sites where e.g. land and waters can be managed to increase yield, populations of key species (including Red-crowned Crane, Oriental Stork and Watercock) and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
- In accordance with commitments derived from biosphere reserve designation of near border areas in Gangwon and Yeoncheon/ Imjin River in June 2019, conduct intensive research in these pilot sites (and in non-managed control areas), and test new improved approaches for e.g. biodiversity- and climate-friendly organic agriculture. Prioritise approaches and technologies which can be shared easily with the DPRK and adjacent nations. (Some possible measures are included in our Baekryeong Proposals Report, published in Korean last week).
- Organise meetings in third nations like PR China and in Far East Russia at which information on sustainable agriculture and mariculture based on research conducted in these “Peace Economy Pilot Project Sites” can be shared with relevant DPRK agencies and appropriate agencies in other nations of the region.
- Following these meetings, provide funding and political support for collaborative research programs between the ROK and the DPRK and other Northeast Asian nations which are relevant to: biodiversity conservation, tackling climate change (including the development of genuinely sustainable energy pilot projects), and sustainable agriculture and mariculture. These collaborations to be conducted by relevant bodies, as appropriate, including government officers, research institute staff, university researchers, industry representatives and local community groups and NGOs (as in step 4 above).
- Once greater trust and institutional structures to maintain and expand collaboration have been established, organise study tours and research exchanges to the CCZ and inner border area (and / or less sensitive pilot project sites) for relevant officials from the DPRK and other Northeast Asian nations.
- Throughout this (5-year?) process, publicise progress and seek solutions to challenges through local-level meetings, national conferences and international meetings, including at CBD and Ramsar COPs and at the UN.
- Integrate lessons learned into the ROK’s national strategies on biodiversity conservation, climate change, economic development and progress towards peace and reunification.
- Following this process, hold high-level summits between the ROK and the DPRK to discuss the future use of the DMZ (and other areas) in ways that will simultaneously conserve biodiversity, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, recognize cultural and economic needs, and build understanding for sustained peace on the Korean Peninsula.
Not easy: but all hugely positive and necessary in their own way. And most important, all would help support the emergence of the ROK as a true global leader in sustainable development, creating many new economic opportunities.
Do you agree with these steps? What changes would you like to suggest?
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