Yongusil 58: Benjamin Habib: Building a Literature of North Korean engagement with the UNFCCC

By | February 27, 2015 | No Comments

Quite what His Excellency Kim Hak-chol and Mr. Song Se-il, respectively North Korea’s Ambassador and Embassy First Secretary in Lima, Peru made of the progress towards the important decisions focused on the replacement of the Kyoto Protocol at COP21 this December in Paris, France during COP 20 is anyone’s guess. The fact of their attendance is, however, marked within the UNFCCC documentation, as the grand total of North Korea’s delegation to those discussions on climate change, one of the smallest national groups in attendance (a fraction of the size of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s). Of course, when it comes to climactic conditions, North Korea is famous for unpredictable long-term weather patterns and their impact upon human life within its territory. The famine period of the early 1990s, known as “the arduous march” was famously claimed to be the output of extreme weather events by Pyongyang and the attendant crop and resource failures; it should not surprise observers of North Korea’s interest in the UNFCCC process or in climate change more generally.

Equally, as any analyst of North Korean developmental approach or governmental structures knows, one of the key difficulties in analytical or methodological terms when it comes to addressing the reality of Pyongyang’s action, output or aspiration is access to utilisable, functional, and valid data. Intriguingly, the UNFCCC process and its accompanying CDM system is one area of international interaction on the developmental level in which data which meets international norms and standards is readily available and can be incorporated into empirical analytical review. Having overcome the paperwork and validation process necessary, North Korea CDM projects have their accreditation documents accessible for all to see on the CDM registry. Successful in registering some six projects during the Kim Jong-il era, it is apparent that climate change issues and the process of mitigating the environmental or developmental damage potentially done to North Korea’s resource capacity is an item of interest to Pyongyang.

Benjamin Habib of the LaTrobe University in Melbourne, Australia and a contributor to Sino-NK has been reviewing and analysing the process, potential and inspiration behind North Korea’s engagement with the UNFCCC process for some years now. Following his intriguing paper on the impact of changing climactic conditions on the sustainability of the Kim dynasty from 2010, Habib supplied the International Review of Korean Studies with what must be one of the most coherent and readable pieces on North Korean environmental interaction to date. However, it is Habib’s most recent publication that this Yongusil ultimately concludes with.

While impact, introduction and incorporation are, of course highly interesting and useful to the analyst of North Korea, assessing intention in Pyongyang’s case is altogether more difficult. Seeking to determine causality, Habib has developed in his latest article for Pacific Affairs, “Balance of Incentives: Why North Korea Interacts with the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change,”a useful conceptualization of North Korea’s intentions, insofar as its current and future interactions and engagements are concerned. Whether North Korea’s diplomatic office Neuilly sur Seine will supply participants to the coming COP 21 in Paris is yet to be seen. Whether North Korea’s focus on the mitigation of Climate Change moves any further than its current state of stasis under Kim Jong-un’s is also yet unkown. Habib’s growing body of analysis, however, allows the interested and concerned with North Korean environmental issues to move beyond the shifting narrative ground to some empirical solidity.