North Korea was early to recognize the importance of responding to climate change, actively participating in international cooperation on climate change. In 1994, it joined the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol and is now participating in the Paris Agreement, the current legally binding treaty on climate change. In 2000 and 2012, North Korea also submitted its National Communication on Climate Change to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, reporting on the impacts of climate change, adaptation measures, greenhouse gas emissions, and reduction plans. Internally, North Korea took steps to adjust to climate change, establishing the National Disaster Risk Reduction Strategy in 2019 and revising relevant laws and regulations. However, it still remains highly vulnerable to climate change. Moreover, sanctions against North Korea have prevented international efforts to support climate change adaptation in developing countries from reaching it.
This study has two primary purposes. First, it analyzes the impact of climate change and North Korea’s response measures, focusing on natural disasters and agriculture, identifying the need for cooperation on climate change adaptation with North Korea. We present empirical evidence on the impact of climate change and policy performance in North Korea by using satellite data that observe North Korea in real-time, as well as domestic and foreign statistics, literature, and media reports. Second, we review the current status of North Korean international cooperation, focusing on natural disasters and agriculture, and provide suggestions for major cooperation tasks when South Korea supports North Korea’s adaptation to climate change. We emphasize the importance of cooperating with the international community in this context.
The findings of each chapter are as follows. In Chapter 2, we reviewed the status quo of climate change and natural disasters in North Korea and evaluated the risk factors of natural disasters in North Korea. Dramatic climate change was observed in North Korea, with an increase in temperature in spring and precipitation in summer. Natural disasters occurred almost every year. Floods, which occurred most frequently, often caused large casualties. Droughts, although infrequent, affected more than 10 million people on average. Natural disasters have also been found to have far-reaching effects in delaying the achievement of the SDGs in North Korea, which might result from the high risk of comprehensive natural disasters in North Korea. Based on the INFORM risk index, frequent natural disasters and food shortages in North Korea are increasing North Korea’s vulnerability to disasters, and insufficient institutions and infrastructure are also factors that increase North Korea’s disaster risk. Farmland regions and South Hwanghae Province were found to be highly exposed to floods, raising the possibility of a vicious cycle between natural disasters and food shortages.
In Chapter 3, we used remote sensing data to empirically analyze the impact of extreme weather on North Korea’s agricultural sector, and derive implications for food security in North Korea with the need for international cooperation regarding climate change. Our empirical analysis showed that both rice productivity and maize productivity were negatively affected by heavy rain and drought. North Korea, being a country with a very high food self-sufficiency rate but an absolute shortage of food, is in a highly vulnerable situation to external shocks such as abnormal climate change in terms of food supply and demand. Considering that the occurrence of extreme weather is gradually increasing in North Korea, additional support through international cooperation from a humanitarian standpoint is required for North Korea to respond to extreme weather.
In Chapter 4, we analyzed North Korean laws, regulations, and policies relevant to natural disasters and agriculture. We found that North Korea has a dual disaster control system at the national level and the local level. In order to prevent disasters, North Korea has primarily pursued massive mobilization projects for its national land management. Although the overall degree of deterioration of water resource facilities in North Korea is considerable, analysis based on satellite data confirms that new water resource facilities have been constructed and the massive mobilization project has achieved limited success. In the agricultural sector, North Korean authorities are aware of the impact of climate change on agriculture, and various laws and regulations include provisions to prevent and prepare for natural disasters. However, the provisions of these laws all focus on prevention. These approaches have limitations in that they do not provide the legal basis necessary for disaster risk reduction or when recovering from damages. In response, North Korea has continuously emphasized that the agricultural sector is a core pillar for North Korea within the 5-year national economic development strategy, the 5-year national economic development plan, and the rural development strategy. The authorities have presented tasks to increase production throughout the entire agricultural sector. It is worth nothing that these agricultural policies mention climate change-related factors that hinder agricultural production, such as catastrophic extreme weather, but the specifics of the strategies and plans to practically reduce the impact of climate change are nearly absent.
In Chapter 5 we reviewed discussions regarding climate change in the international community and analyzed trends in cooperation between the international community and North Korea regarding climate change adaptation, agriculture, and natural disasters. The concept of “adapting to climate change” was established at the 16th COP, and was reflected in the most recently adopted Paris Agreement, the New Climate Framework, and the Glasgow Climate Agreement. The NAP-Ag program harmonizing agriculture to the National Adaptation Plan (NAP) is supported by the UNDP and FAO in the agricultural sector. Regarding natural disasters, countries were urged to reduce disaster risk and strengthen disaster resilience centering on the Sendai Framework. North Korea has actively participated in discussions related to climate change and the environment in the international community by joining major international agreements and strengthening its efforts to adapt to climate change. Aid to North Korea continued at a steady pace even after the sanctions leveled against it, with the Humanitarian Country Team (HCT) taking the lead and working closely with North Korean counterparts. International organizations and NGOs affiliated with the HCT have put forth major efforts in areas such as food security, natural disaster response, nutrition, and agriculture. However, they are also facing multiple issues due to North Korea closing its borders, as well as external conditions such as COVID-19 and economic sanctions.
In Chapter 6, we emphasized the need for cooperation with the international community in climate change adaptation cooperation with North Korea and derived primary cooperation tasks for natural disasters and agriculture. Although adaptation to climate change is an urgent issue, the current internal and external environment, such as sanctions against North Korea and rising military tensions on the Korean Peninsula, is not favorable to promoting inter-Korean cooperation. Although this is an inevitable effort for denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, it is not desirable for the so-called “Green Détente,” i.e. peacemaking through environmental cooperation on the Korean Peninsula. Under these circumstances, cooperation with North Korea through the international community can be an effective way to support North Korean adaptation to climate change and strive for a Green Détente. International organizations and many European countries urged the implementation of sanctions against North Korea, condemned North Korea for armed provocations, but at the same time, continued cooperation with North Korea. It is necessary to seek ways to cooperate with the international community to help North Korea adapt to climate change through various channels, such as international environmental agreements and joint cooperation projects with international organizations, NGOs, etc. This study seeks to enhance the understanding of disaster risk, contribute to disaster risk governance, promote investment in disaster risk reduction, improve disaster preparedness and recovery, and reduce agricultural damage caused by extreme climates.