North Korea’s Environment Is in Sorry Shape

Its rivers and streams are filled with industrial waste, its air is polluted, and its landscape is increasingly devoid of trees. Can’t tell what country we’re talking about? It’s North Korea. The first large-scale environmental assessment of the country, conducted by dozens of government and academic researchers under the auspices of the U.N. Environment Program, found that increasing population, agriculture-related problems, natural disasters, and an over-reliance on coal power are pushing the nation toward a troubling future. (And while the report didn’t highlight the country’s brutal, repressive, totally isolated communist government, it can’t be helping matters.) At a ceremony last week in which North Korea signed an agreement on international environmental cooperation, UNEP Director Klaus Toepfer lauded the country’s “willingness to engage with the global community” (ironic given that the North Korean delegation refused to appear at a press conference after the signing) and urged a shift to sustainable agricultural practices and cleaner-burning coal.