Regreening
the slopes

 
Dr. Myung Ja Kim describes how her country has reafforested one third of its mountains as a step towards global sustainability

The year 2002 is both the International Year of Mountains and the International Year of Ecotourism. As such, it is expected that we will see an unfolding of copious discussions on the importance of mountains, which provide a vital lifeline to humans and wildlife.

Mountains constitute 66 per cent of the entire territory of the Republic of Korea. Beginning with the Japanese colonialism in the first half of the 20th century and the Korean War in 1950-1953, and on through the reconstruction period of the 1960s, huge parts of these mountains were devastated by excessive logging and reclamation. In 1973 the Government launched a long-term systematic tree-planting campaign to restore them. By 2000, it had turned 2 million hectares (31 per cent) of the total mountain surface into economically valuable forest tracts. Taking a step further, we initiated a Nature Recess Program for major mountains in 1991 in order to rehabilitate their ecosystems by limiting public access for a specified period of time.

Rehabilitation
Most recently, we succeeded in preserving one of our ecosystem treasure troves by nullifying the Young-Wol Dam construction plan for the Dong River in Gangwon Province. When studies revealed its long-term adverse impact on the environment, the President officially dismissed the proposed project on World Environment Day 2000. The Government followed up this action by designating the Dong River as a natural rehabilitation area. We now promote ecotourism in the area and reinvest the revenues generated from tourism into the surrounding cities, making local residents strongly committed to environmental preservation efforts and simultaneously raising their quality of life.
‘If people work in groups it helps everybody, otherwise life is very hard’

Gaumati, Mountain Voices

Regionally, the Republic of Korea has been actively collaborating with China and Japan to revamp our ecosystems in the framework of the annual Tripartite Environment Ministers’ Meeting, first convened in 1999. The three countries have been working on various projects, including the Ecological Conservation Project in Northwest China, to mitigate aggravating yellow sand phenomena. This year Seoul will host the International Congress of Ecology on the theme of Ecology in a Changing World from 11-18 August. Experts and scholars from around the world will be invited to discuss ways to address such grave ecological issues as forests and wetlands protection, biodiversity and climate change.

In a similar vein, we should endeavour to provide an opportunity for people to experience unique indigenous ecosystems, especially as we celebrate the International Year of Ecotourism. To this end, we need to take aggressive measures to raise environmental consciousness among our citizens and protect the fraying web of nature. It is my sincere hope that UNEP and other international organizations will take initiatives in motivating us to foster ecological viability and richness.

Implementation mechanisms for the objectives set forth at the Millennium Declaration should be promptly established if sustainable development is to be fully realized. In this spirit, the Government has been enforcing, among other things, a Volume-Based Waste Charging System since 1995. This has resulted in enormous reductions in waste and corresponding increases in recycling. I am positive that the proliferation of such policies on a global scale will prove helpful in bringing environmental sustainability closer to reality.

Gender perspective
The role of women is also a crucial component of sustainable development. At the Meeting of Women Leaders on the Environment this March in Helsinki, Finland, the participants called for partnership and information sharing between all stakeholders and stressed the need for incorporating a gender perspective in sustainable development discussions. To address these concerns, we agreed to establish a global network of women leaders to discuss and provide input on major environmental issues.

Finally, the conclusion of negotiations on the implementation mechanisms of the Kyoto Protocol in Marrakesh last November marked an auspicious beginning to international efforts to preserve the environment. I anticipate that future negotiations on the implementation tools of Agenda 21, and on trade and environment in the context of rapid globalization, will produce fruitful results. Only when these efforts are well integrated and put on the right track, can the 21st century realize sustainable development


Dr. Myung Ja Kim is Minister of the Environment, Republic of Korea.

PHOTOGRAPH: UNEP/Topham


This issue:
Contents | Editorial K. Toepfer | Saving the common land | Aiming high | Mighty, but fragile | Walking the talk | Regreening the slopes | For the people | High priorities | Natural beauty | Prospects for WSSD: Towards Johannesburg | Along a steep pathway | The height of trouble | Disneyland or diversity? | Path to discovery | On top of the issue | Peak condition | Swimming upstream | Cloudy future


Complementary articles:
AAAS Atlas of Population and Environment:
Population and ecosystems: Forests


Complementary report:
Mountain Watch Report