The Korea Forest Service (KFS) is working on various programs for the development of leisure culture and welfare services for the general public with the importance of forestry and forest protection on the rise amid global climate change. At the same time, the organization is contributing to the implementation of the creative economy and job creation by opening its forest-related data to the public. Business Korea recently interviewed KFS Minister Shin Won-seop to hear about the Park Geun-hye administration’s forest policy. The following are excerpts from the interview with the Minister.
First of all, what is the KFS moving ahead with in order to implement a creative economy, which is one of the key national policy goals of the current administration?
My agency is putting a significant amount of resources towards combining forest administration with a variety of other sectors to realize the creative economy in the field of forest management, and to adopt more advanced information technologies on-site.
For example, we released the Healing Train into the Forest sightseeing product for recreational forest aficionados together with KORAIL in August. It is a new cooperative business model. Also, we have utilized smart devices such as tablet PCs in forest surveys to shorten the time required to perform them by at least 60%, while boosting the survey accuracy, productivity, and efficiency.
In addition, we are trying to create jobs, share our data, and cooperate more closely with other agencies in an attempt to realize the core value of the incumbent government. We are planning to make 57 out of our 75 databases public by 2017, including mountain trail information. By Mountain Day this year, October 18, we plan to make five databases public. These are information about mountain trails, forest paths, forest type maps, illustrated plant books, and the Korean Plant Names Index.
The first two of them have much to do with the welfare of the general public. We are expecting that the private and corporate sectors will be able to make good use of them to create new value in tourism, education, and convergence industries in the form of navigation maps, applications, and the like. The last two, in the meantime, will cover the A to Z of the flora of the country so that the people can become more familiar with the native plants.
These days, the popularity of forests is increasing among urban dwellers as a place for rest and healing. It is thought that not a few new forest-related projects are feasible to meet the policy agenda of the incumbent administration for the well-being of all people.
The healing function of forests is drawing much attention as social conditions are going through changes in the middle of urbanization and the aging of the population. Under the circumstances, the KFS is in pursuit of various policies to enhance the welfare of the people by means of forest-based healing.
For instance, the KFS is going to build 34 National Healing Forests and two Forest Healing Complexes nationwide by 2017, so that more people can benefit from the function. Plus, we will train at least 500 forest healing instructors until then. 36 of them have completed their courses at the end of September this year. Related laws will be revised for city dwellers to enjoy the healing programs in nearby forests, too.
The government is trying to foster the development of eco-friendly energy sources, but the construction of wind power stations in industrial complexes is progressing slowly. What is your solution to this problem?
The KFS has been engaged in the supply of wood pellets since 2009. It has consumed approximately 500,000 tons of wood pellets by September 2013 to take the place of about 230,000 tons of petroleum.
It is expected that the necessity of new and renewable energy sources will continue to increase down the road as fossil fuel replacements. However, as you already mentioned, the related projects have some issues to deal with such as damage to the landscape, natural disasters, noise, and conflicts with local residents.
The KFS will work more closely together with the authorities concerned to facilitate the construction of wind power plants in industrial zones and better meet the eco-friendly energy policy of the government. We will come up with legal and systemic improvements for the growth of the wind power industry while minimizing the damage and forestalling the possibility of natural disasters.
What is the current status of cross-border cooperation and exchange, and how are foreign countries interested in Korea’s afforestation experience and technologies?
Korea, 64% of the territory of which is forests, is one of the afforestation success cases officially acknowledged by the UN. Also, its experience since the Second World War has been extolled by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and a lot of countries around the world are hoping to share the experience and technologies we have developed.
My agency is moving ahead with afforestation projects for the prevention of desertification and restoration of forest ecosystems in China and Mongolia. It has been imparting its advanced technologies to Indonesia, Myanmar, and the like as well.
Korea, as the chair country of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), has taken a leading role in Africa to fight the desertification of that continent, too. For a stable supply of wood resources, Korean companies have made inroads abroad and developed forests with us. Between 1993 and the present, a total of 30 corporations have found their way into 13 countries and made woodlands as wide as 290,000 ha, which is equivalent to five times the area of Seoul.
Such afforestation projects in developing countries not just help their wood production, but also contribute to the livelihood of the locals, ensure the sustainable development of forests, and prevent the devastation of forests. For wider international cooperation in the industry, the KFS has signed agreements with 22 countries and launched co-projects for afforestation, restoration of devastated regions, and anti-climate change efforts.
Your organization is actively participating in the UN REDD+ Programme. What are its accomplishments up to this moment?
The UN REDD+ Programme, which stands for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation in developing countries, grants carbon emission rights to those that better cope with climate change by preventing the appropriation and devastation of forests in developing regions. Advanced economies are expecting much from the program as a way of offsetting their greenhouse gas emissions.
Korea has the ambitious goal of cutting its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 30% compared to the business as usual (BAU) scenario by 2020. The forest sector’s target is 40 million tons, 30 million at home and 10 million abroad.
The KFS is spearheading the efforts to establish cooperation networks with vulnerable developing countries in Southeast Asia, including Cambodia, Indonesia, Myanmar, and Laos. Various pilot projects are underway to reduce CO2 emissions too.
We are focusing on Indonesia as one of the regions where the potential of REDD+ is particularly large. At present, an inter-government test project is in progress in the 14,000ha-wide peat land in Sumatra for the prevention of the appropriation of forests and sustainable forest management. Business registration and the procurement of carbon emission rights are scheduled in the near future there, too.