“The 15th World Forestry Congress (WFC) will be held in Seoul next May. Under the theme of ‘Building a Green, Healthy and Resilient Future with Forests,’ the Congress will focus on the role of forests as a means of responding to climate change,” said Minister Choi Byeong-am of the Korea Forest Service (KFS).
In an interview with the Korea Post, Choi said, “The World Forestry Congress was first held in 1926, and is held every six years. It is the most influential and largest international conference in the field of forestry. “As a host country, Korea plans to publicize its status as an advanced country in forestry by sharing with the participants its international forestry cooperation efforts, its various experiences, and its know-how in forest reforestation which is unparalleled in the world,” he said.
The following is an excerpt from an interview with Choi Byeong-am, Minister of the KFS.
Question: What projects have you been focusing on this year?
Answer: This year, the KFS is focusing on policies to prepare for the coming era of forestry management by raising the value of forests that have reached maturity, with the vision of ‘a new daily life in the forest’. First, we are changing the paradigm of forest policy to fit the era of forestry management in order to realize a strong and sustainable forest management.
To this end, we have prepared a carbon-neutral strategy that reflects the various values of forests, such as the carbon absorption function. Forestry is the only carbon-fixing industry that absorbs carbon, and wood functions as an important carbon storage.
This is because the forest sector and forestry play an important role in curbing carbon emissions, a global problem. The KFS is in the process of supplementing the carbon-neutral strategy by collecting opinions from forestry groups and environmental groups. In addition, a future-oriented timber harvesting plan was prepared and announced in September which takes into consideration the environment and ecology.
Second, we have prepared a policy that provides direct support for foresters who are important partners in forestry policy.
For forestry workers suffering from the impact of COVID-19, a new budget for ‘Forester Voucher’ has been established to alleviate temporary difficulties. We are in the process of making a law on the Forestry/Forest Public-Benefit Direct Payment System in order to gain recognition for foresters’ activities that promote public benefits.
Third, we are expanding forest healing resources such as the Healing Forest so that all people can live a healthy life, and we are also increasing the forest welfare infrastructure in living areas such as urban forests, gardens, and arboretums. In addition, the Korea Forest Welfare Institute (FoWI) is expanding its forest healing program to help overcome the coronavirus, targeting medical staff, volunteers, and marginalized people who are suffering various psychological difficulties due to the coronavirus. Fourth, we are preventing or minimizing damage by preemptively using ICT technology so that people can live a safe life from forest disasters such as forest fires and landslides.
Conservation and restoration measures for alpine conifers, such as Korean fir, which are endangered due to climate change, are being prepared and implemented. Lastly, as an advanced forestry country, we are expanding our forestry cooperation and developing partnerships with countries in Central and South America and Central Asia, and we are diversifying our international cooperation projects in response to climate change, including deforestation and deforestation prevention.
Q: What are the changes and innovations of the KFS?
A: As the head of the KFS, I am promoting changes in the Forest Service from two perspectives: internal innovation through communication with organizational members and external forest policy innovation. First, communication with the MZ generation (Millenials and Generation Z) is a hot topic everywhere these days.
The KFS is also making various changes to overcome the generation gap and become an organization that can empathize and communicate. An employee group called 'Kwaejina Cheongcheong (聽廳)' was set up voluntarily to create a pleasant workplace culture. Employees of the MZ generation, who have been in the company for less than three years, share their working styles and problems with one another and find solutions on their own through questionnaires and discussions.
Irrational practices such as an unhealthy workplace drinking culture, contacting workers after hours, and habitual overtime work are disappearing. All employees are participating in the new workplace culture, and executives are taking the initiative to deliver results. In addition, we are running a non-contact health promotion program called “Today’s Daily Exercise” (Oh Haun for short) to relieve employees’ feelings of helplessness and depression.
This is a program that gives a prize to an activist with excellent participation in the program or a person who provides a fresh idea if any Forest Service employee enjoys the suggested workout and expresses support for it. This means that the trend of the MZ generation, who routinely exercise, is being reflected in the public service society.
The KFS is taking the lead in creating a healthy workplace culture by adding fun elements to an organizational culture where social distancing has become the norm. Next, external forest policy innovation is being pursued from three perspectives.
First, it is necessary to transform forest policy into a new paradigm in line with changing global trends such as the climate crisis, the ecological crisis, and the health crisis. Second, we plan to approach social issues with a more flexible attitude. We will seek reasonable alternatives through thorough discussion and the gathering of opinions on issues such as the carbon neutral debate, excessive logging, and the restoration of Mt. Gariwang.
Finally, we will develop and implement policies to meet the new demands on forests. We will not neglect to develop new policies and will secure budgets, for such things as creating forests in cities, designing garden policies, establishing fine dust-blocking forests, and supplying companion plants to people suffering from corona depression.
Q: What about international exchange and overseas business?
A: Korea has long been recognized as a representative successful reforestation country, and now stands tall as an advanced forestry country.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) evaluated it as the only developing country that succeeded in reforestation after World War II (1982). Lester Brown, a global environmental activist, evaluated ‘Korea’s reforestation as a global model’ through ‘Plan B 4.0 (2009)’.
Based on this success in reforestation, Korea is promoting active bilateral and multilateral international forestry cooperation. Since the first forestry cooperation relationship with Indonesia in 1987, the KFS has expanded its forest cooperation and built partnerships with 33 countries – 14 countries in Asia, 2 countries in Oceania, 2 countries in Europe, 1 country in North America, 8 countries in Latin America, and 6 countries in Africa/the Middle East. Key overseas projects of the KFS include Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+), the Korea-Mongolia Greenbelt Plantation Project, and the ODA bilateral cooperation projects.
REDD+ refers to activities that promote the maintenance and enhancement of forest carbon sinks by preventing deforestation and degradation in developing countries. Currently, REDD+ is being implemented in Cambodia, Myanmar, and Laos, and in September of last year, for the first time as a REDD+ pilot project, 650,000 tCO2 emission rights were recognized in Cambodia.
In addition, through the Korea-Cambodia pilot project, we are contributing to improving the income of local residents by discovering various alternative businesses such as beekeeping, cashew nuts, and cassava. The Korea-Mongolia Greenbelt Plantation Project is a project to prevent desertification and to cope with the occurrence of sand and dust storms in Northeast Asia by establishing a green belt establishment project group in Mongolia in 2007. During the first phase of the 10-year project, afforestation was carried out to prevent desertification on an area of 3,046 ha, and in the second phase of the project from 2017 to the present year (5 years), an urban forest has been created.
With these cooperative projects as a beginning, the Mongolian government established an Arbor Day in 2010 and has since been actively promoting tree planting and forest creation at the national level. In the third phase of the project, which will start in 2022, we plan to carry out various projects for forest restoration, disaster response, and income generation, such as the restoration of forest fire-damaged areas, the creation of forests to respond to climate change, and the promotion of agroforestry. Regarding the ODA bilateral cooperation projects, we are conducting cooperative projects with seven countries, including the restoration of peatlands in Indonesia, the creation of natural recreational forests in Cambodia, and the restoration of mangrove forests in Vietnam. In the future, we plan to carry out afforestation projects to prevent desertification in response to serious environmental problems in Central Asian countries such as Kazakhstan and Tajikistan.
Q: Are you ready for the 15th World Forestry Congress?
A: The 15th World Forestry Congress (WFC) will be held in Seoul next May. The conference was scheduled to be held last year, but it was postponed to 2022 due to COVID-19, and although the conditions are still challenging, we are making great preparations to make the Congress a fruitful one.
The 15th Congress will be held under the theme of 'Building a Green, Healthy and Resilient Future with Forests', and the sub-themes are: △Turning the tide: reversing deforestation and forest degradation △ Nature-based solutions for climate change adaptation and mitigation and biodiversity conservation △The green pathway to growth and sustainability △Forests and human health: revisiting the connections △ Managing and communicating forest information and knowledge △Forests without boundaries: enhancing management and cooperation.
Korea, as the host country, plans to publicize its status as an advanced country in forestry by sharing with the participants its international forestry cooperation efforts and experiences, and its know-how for forest reforestation which is unprecedented in the world through this forest conference.
In addition, we will also organize special sessions on the ‘Peace Forest Initiative’ to discuss ways to promote peace between countries through forestry as well as on the ‘Forest Fire Forum’ to prepare a joint response plan between countries and to build a cooperative system for forest fire disasters. In addition, as the Congress is the largest global event in the forestry sector, we are preparing thoroughly for event planning, publicity, and quarantine for a successful event. We are also preparing various exhibitions and hands-on programs so that not only forest officials, but also general citizens and students can participate in the event.
Q: Do you have any dreams or goals that you want to achieve during your term as Minister?
A: There are many things I want to achieve during my term, but above all, my top goal is to enable both current and future generations to enjoy forests’ diverse and valuable benefits. As mentioned earlier, I would like to first promote the radical transformation of the forest policy paradigm, in line with the approaching climate crisis and forestry management era.
The current paradigm had been formed in the era of planting trees in the 1960s and 1980s and in the era of forestry in the 1990s and 2010s. In alignment with the era of forestry management, we plan to completely revise the current 'Forest Resources Act', which focuses on the creation of forest resources and reforestation, and refocus the act on sustainable forest management to revitalize forestry.
We will gradually introduce ecosystem forest management to improve the quality of forest management. We plan to provide institutional support for the transition. Further, we plan to systematically support measures to revitalize the use of wood in everyday life, including wooden houses and wooden cities, so that wood resources, which are entering maturity stage, can be used in a valuable way for carbon storage and public health. I would like to help stabilize the management of forest houses by ensuring the public value of forests and preserving the income of foresters by carefully preparing follow-up measures, such as enacting sub-decrees, so that the ‘direct payment system for forestry’, which foresters want the most, can be established as soon as possible. Lastly, we plan to discover the cultural and humanistic values of our forests, to help forests function as cultural spaces, and to strive to enhance the quality of forests.