The Plight of the Korean Peninsula: Climate Change

21 Jun

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By PISA Program Assistant, Jinhyang Kang

Climate change is a global, trans-national issue affecting every region and nation around the planet. And while no single nation is immune, for some, given their location and the particulars of their economic dependencies, the effects are more immediate, wide spread, and direct.

According to the Ministry of Environment of the Republic of Korea (ROK) the Korean peninsula, home to both North and South Korea, is particularly vulnerable. Over the last century, the peninsula’s average has risen twice as fast (1.5°C) as the global average (0.6°C), and is experiencing frequent heavy rainfalls as well as severe droughts. At Juju Island, to the far south of the ROK, the sea has risen three times higher (a 22cm increase over the past 40 years) than the global average.

The economic changes are undeniable, especially in the areas of agriculture, fishery, and forestry. Cultivation of warm season fruits such as tangerines and kiwis, which used to grow only in Jeju Island, is expanding from south to north, while temperate fruits such as apples, pears, and peaches are at risk. Due to the rise in temperature, the damage to agricultural products from noxious insects has also been increasing. In terms of the fisheries, the catch of cold-water species such as walleye pollack and codfish has decreased sharply, so much so in fact, that many are now imported; while the catch of warm-water fish, such as mackerel and cuttlefish, has increased. As for forestry, pine trees, which thrive in a colder climate, face harm and cherry trees blossom earlier throughout the peninsula. Along with the rising temperatures, inconsistent and extreme weather patterns including typhoons, heavy snow, and drought have had huge, negative impacts to all types of productions.

South Korea, through its successful achievement of rapid economic development due in large part to environmentally insensitive development methods and industries that are heavily dependent on conventional fuels, is now facing a serious pollution issue along with effects of climate change.

For North Korea, climate change greatly affects food security, which is one of the great challenges of the country. Only 15% of North Korea’s land is arable and extreme weather patterns, heavy rainfalls, droughts, and other climate changes are harming agriculture, fisheries, and even directly threatening people’s lives. In addition, due to the lack of advanced techniques and practical knowledge, North Koreans are even more vulnerable to certain climate change impacts such as sudden decreases in agricultural productivity as well as landslides and insect outbreaks to name a few.

Though the governments and policies of the two Koreas could not differ more greatly, there is plenty of common ground when it comes to the impact that climate change is having on each. If these changes continue, the Korean Peninsula could become a sub-tropical zone with a new host of challenges such as the need for food adaptation, water resource allocation, as well as the need to face high temperature zone related health issues like malaria and dengue virus. The plight of the Korean Peninsula highlights quite profoundly climate change’s indifference to boundaries, borders, and ideologies, and the growing perspicuity that a trans-national solution to this global challenge is paramount.

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