North Korea

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Environmental Crime Legal Framework in North Korea

The Constitution of the Republic of Korea (Constitution) sets out constitutional rights regarding the environment. It provides the framework and guidelines for the interpretation of the environmental rights of citizens and the obligations of the state, and laying down relevant legal principles. Article 35 of the Constitution, for example, provides for the Framework Act on Environmental Policy (FAEP), which sets out the purpose of Korean environmental policy and basic principles of Korean environmental law.

Featured Legislation

1986: The Environmental Protection Act was enacted in order to protect the environment in its multiple forms from any type of pollution. It was amended for the last time in 2013, and included global warming as an issue to address. Article 39 of the law deals with the development of renewable energy resources, encouraging organizations to reduce their consumption of fossil fuels, such as coal and crude oil, and adopt renewable energy sources to allow for sustainable development to happen.

1995: The Energy Production Act was introduced. The Law on energy production is a general document that legally frames the country’s energy sector. It was adopted through Decision no. 65 of the Standing Committee of the Supreme People’s Assembly in 1995 and amended in 1999, 2001, 2006, 2008 and 2015. The law mentions that the country’s new power plants being built will include projects using wind, geothermal and solar sources.

1999: The Korea Rural Community Corporation and Farmland Management Fund Act was unveiled. The purpose of this Act is to contribute to increasing agricultural productivity and the economic and social development of rural communities by performing projects for improving rural communities and farmland banking projects, comprehensively managing agricultural infrastructure and promoting the rationalization of the scale of farming for farmers, through the incorporation of the Korea Rural Community Corporation and the establishment of the Farmland Management Fund. The text consists of 18 articles.

2007: The Small and Medium-sized Power Plant Act was signed, ensuring the power sector meets North Korea’s energy demand. The Act’s objective is to set an institutional framework over the country’s power sector. The capacity of regulated plants can go up to 20 MW, and specifies the inclusion of thermal, hydro and wind resources.

2007: The National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP) was adopted. The long-term objectives of the national biodiversity strategy are: enhance the conservative ability of protected areas including nature reserves and to establish protected area networks; make efforts to conserve ecosystem, species and genetic resources and establish the system for sustainable use of biodiversity components. The immediate objectives are: 1. to restore degraded ecosystems, halt the deterioration of the ecological environment, reduce the rate of loss of biodiversity components and improve the whole ecological environment; 2. to improve the management of nature reserves for raising the effectiveness of the system; 3. to increase bio-productivity and service function of ecosystem and establish the system for the sustainable use of bio-resources.

2012: The Air Pollution Control Act was adopted by Decree No. 2520 of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly and amended by Decree No. 3292 of the Assembly Standing Committee. The Law consists of a series of measures aiming at preventing and controlling air pollution levels to protect human and environmental health. It also specifies that the North Korean State encourages the gradual reduction in the use of fossil fuels, as they lead to air pollution and climate change. Finally, the legislation encourages the development and use of renewable sources, including hydro, wind, solar, geothermal and biofuels.

2013: The Renewable Energy Act was passed. The legislation encourages the development of the renewable energy sector and of the institutional framework to accompany such developments. “Regenerative energy" is defined here as renewable sources including solar, wind, geothermal, biomass and marine.  The Act also encourages investments in the sector to reduce costs and improve efficiency, and charges the National Planning Agency, the Central Science and Technology Administrative Guidance organ, other organizations and enterprises to establish a prospective development and utilization plan of renewable energy.

Featured Case Studies: Transnational Environmental Crime, Human Security, and Biosecurity

  • North Korea is a largely denuded nation, facing the imminent threat of food shortages and deadly natural disasters. North Korea’s deforestation is one aspect of a bigger environmental crisis which originated during the famine of the 1990s, going from 8.3 million hectares to 7.6 million hectares of forest in just a few years. A recent report by the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, and Gyeonggi Research Institute concludes that forests in the north are becoming more fragmented, with less contiguous tree cover leading to the depletion of topsoil that’s unable to do the work of feeding North Korea’s population. What is more, deforestation means a lack of ground cover: with no roots to anchor soil in place, soil runs off into rivers and streams during extreme weather events. In fact, The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations revealed  that just 17% of North Korea’s territory is suitable for agriculture and the region’s food supply has fallen by 9% last year, according to estimates by FAO and the World Food Programme. Subsistence logging is one of the drivers of the aforementioned environmental issues. While South Korea fares much better due to aggressive reforestation policies and a crackdown on illegal logging during the latter half of the 20th century, North Korea continued to harvest forests for fuel and to make fields during a succession of famines. What is needed now is more reliance on foreign researchers providing expertise on issues the regime cares about. The Center for Science, Technology and Security Policy for the American Association for the Advancement of Science has received clearance from North Korea to bring a small delegation of scientists to Pyongyang for a two-day conference on deforestation and soil health. It was followed by site visits outside of the capital. A national tree planting program has been approved but a lack of transparency has left American scientists puzzled on the extent of the program and “buy-in” from citizens: propaganda seems to create the illusion that North Korea will successfully “regreen” its landscapes, but scientists are not convinced.

References and Further Reading


Ministry of Environment: