As various efforts are being undertaken around the world to protect forests, in May, KOICA signed an agreement with the Asian Forest Cooperation Organization (AFoCO), a treaty-based intergovernmental organization, to strengthen cooperation for the protection of forests in Asia. We met with Vice Executive Director of AfoCO Jin Sunpil to discuss the organization’s ongoing programs and projects as well as its future plans.
Q. Could you briefly introduce the role and responsibility of the Asian Forest Cooperation Organization (AFoCO)?
AFoCO was officially established in April of 2018 as a treaty-based intergovernmental organization. Its establishment was led by Korea and undertaken as an extension of the 2011 Korea-ASEAN forest cooperation agreement. With countries in Asia, we share the will to create field-oriented solutions regarding global issues such as climate change, biodiversity, forest disasters including forest fires, livelihoods of mountain villagers, and sustainable forest management.
Q. As an international organization in the forestry sector representing the Asian region, AFoCO has been conducting various ODA projects in each country. Please tell us about a few of the most remarkable achievements that have been made thus far.
Some of our most significant achievements include the project to build a proliferation center for rosewood around Siem Reap, Cambodia and the project to restore mangrove in the Thai Binh province of Vietnam. The project to build a proliferation center for rosewood is significant in that it seeks to transfer technology to produce superb seeds and seedlings of the Cambodia rosewood, an endangered species, and foster experts. The mangrove restoration project in Vietnam not only creates mangrove forests with excellent carbon absorption, but also provides technical guidelines for preserving existing forests and regenerating mangroves. The Vietnam Administration of Forest (VNFOREST) recognizes the value created from this project and the resulting technical guidelines which can be applied to other parts of Vietnam.
Q. Deforestation and environmental issues around the world are growing increasingly severe. In your opinion, how serious are the current deforestation and environmental issues in Asia?
Southeast Asia is home to about half of the world's tropical forests, storing vast amounts of carbon, and many species found nowhere else on Earth. However, we are witnessing a trend of converting forests to agricultural land at an unprecedented rate; during the past decade, in particular, we have seen notable forest loss in countries including Indonesia, Cambodia, Myanmar, and Laos. The combined effects of deforestation and climate change present a worst-case scenario. Deforestation in the upper regions not only increases the risk of landslides and floods in low-lying areas but also reduces crop yields as the function of “green dams” deteriorates. In addition, an increase in the number of dry days due to climate change causes large-scale forest fires, driving the spread of pests and diseases, as well as desertification.
Q. AFoCO was approved as an international organization eligible to implement ODA (Official Development Assistance) by the OECD DAC (Development Assistance Committee) in March 2021. AfoCO also joined the 27th Conference of the Parties (COP27) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, held in November this year, as an observer. Could you explain these processes and any meaningful discussions held at this year’s COP28, in relation to AfoCO’s future plans?
In March 2021, at the OECD DAC Development Finance Statistics Working Group (WP-STAT) meeting, the proposal to recognize the AFoCO as an organization eligible to implement ODA was unanimously approved, which means all contributions from the AFoCO are now recognized as part of the ODA budget. For about a year, the AFoCO Secretariat, working with the Korean government, has engaged in active discussions with OECD DAC member countries. AFoCO becoming an official development assistance organization is expected to make it easier to pursue efforts to strengthen cooperation with donor countries and other organizations and to secure financial resources.
In addition, AFoCO participated in COP27 as an observer as of this year to hold various discussions on the agenda of the international community and to build various networks. The main agenda of COP27 was compensation for loss and damage, and an agreement was reached to gather a fund to support countries vulnerable to climate disasters. As for the forestry sector, the launch of a Forest and Climate Leaders’ Partnership and the ‘Green Gigaton Challenge’ drew significant attention. In addition, other meaningful discussions were held on various subjects covering aging forests, peatlands, mangroves, and indigenous rights.
AFoCO is preparing a new program that connects the demands of member countries in the field of climate change with global climate finance and ESG activities of private companies. The key focus will be response to damage caused by climate change and forest carbon projects. In addition, we are planning to fully implement a program to restore drylands in Asia (LPA, Landscape Partnership Asia), launched in May.
Q. What are some of the key ODA projects that AFoCO is implementing to achieve the UN Strategic Plan for Forests (2030)?
The first goal of the UN Strategic Plan for Forests (2030) is to increase forest area by 3% worldwide by 2030. Forest restoration is also a top priority for AFoCO. In particular, we are focusing on restoring forests in ecologically important areas including mangrove forests and areas damaged by large-scale forest fires. Such activities are closely related to supporting the livelihood of local residents and strengthening local governance capacities, which we are carrying out alongside forest restoration. The key is to create a sustainable and resilient forest ecosystem and mountain villages.
Q. Korea is the only country that has succeeded in reforestation during the early phase of national development. Many developing countries may be interested in Korea's experience in afforestation and its accumulation of technological knowledge. How are Korea's success stories being utilized and shared among Asian countries?
Korea's success stories indeed contributed to successfully establishing AFoCO and to convincing member countries. High-level government officials from developing countries who have recently visited Korea to experience Korea’s reforestation facilities have proposed cooperation projects in various fields, including not only forest greening but also forest fire prevention, and forest recreation. In many developing countries, forestry projects fall behind other national policy priorities, making it difficult to secure a sizeable budget. Accordingly, through ODA projects, AFoCO is supporting developing countries in the field of forestry through projects to foster field experts, with a particular emphasis on sharing Korea’s experience and technology.
Q. Could you tell us how joint response and cooperation are being implemented among Asian countries in tackling the problem of deforestation in Asia?
At AfoCO, we implement regional projects, through which countries with similar conditions or interests can work together from the early stages of a project. In the case of the project for local residents to manage forests using GIS/RS, implemented for 5 years from 2015, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Thailand implemented the project in each country while also sharing cases and finding room for improvement together, thus developing the project. The forest fire management system establishment project, which is being jointly carried out by Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar, and Laos since 2022, will be implemented as a cooperation project that reflects the common geological features of the Mekong region (topography, forest fire causes, forest fire extinguishing organization, etc.) and characteristics that are unique to each country.
In addition, the AFoCO holds an ‘Annual thematic Dialogue’ forum every October to hold in-depth discussions on Asian forest cooperation with sector experts and professionals. In addition, a biennial ministerial-level meeting is held to develop joint response measures to address forestry issues in the Asia region.
Q. We hear more and more about discussions emphasizing the diversification of finances in responding to climate change. Could you tell us about the AFoCO Green Partnership program which is based on cooperation with the private sector?
The AFoCO Green Partnership is a private sector cooperation platform in which various entities, including businesses, participate to contribute to the implementation and achievement of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals as well as a number of international climate agreements. It aims to diversify finances through private investment and blended finance, and to better connect the needs of member countries with the demands of businesses.
Q. In May, an agreement-signing ceremony was held between AFoCO and KOICA. What kind of synergy do you expect from combining AFoCO's expertise in forestry and environment and KOICA's experience in development cooperation?
We are well aware that KOICA has been working hard to expand the scale of ODA projects and create synergy by collaborating with various domestic and foreign partners in the field of climate change. One of the strengths of AFoCO is that it is able to apply expertise in the forestry sector and technologies for sustainable forest management and climate change response that have been proven in their effectiveness in a field-oriented way. If KOICA seeks to join international efforts and prioritize issues surrounding the forestry sector, AFoCO, whose secretariat office is located in Korea, can be an instrumental partner in achieving these goals.
In addition, as an international organization, AFoCO is in partnership with not only member countries, but also leading forestry sector organizations within the international community, such as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), and we hope that these partnerships can create opportunities for us to participate in additional relevant international programs. Lastly, the development plans envisioned by AFoCO, such as the expansion of private sector cooperation, blended finances, and voluntary carbon market access, are expected to contribute to the implementation of KOICA's future strategy and the achievement of Korea's net zero goal.
Q. We are reaching the end of 2022. Could you tell us about AFoCO's future direction and plans for major projects that will be implemented in 2023?
In September, AFoCO became a partner of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. One of the major plans is to operate a forest restoration project in full swing in 2023 along with the LPA (dry land restoration) program launched in May. Southeast Asian mangroves, central Asian drylands, and areas vulnerable to forest fires are targets of priority. We also plan to make the year 2023 the first year that forest carbon projects (REDD+1), etc.) can be backed by private companies. To do so, AFoCO will serve as a platform for forest carbon businesses while seeking ways to reduce corporate risk. The third goal is to launch a forest fire response system using ICT. In addition to the ASEAN Korea Cooperation Fund project launched in 2022, preparation for the Korea-Mekong cooperation project (ICT-based forest disaster management) and FAO's AFFIRM (Integrated Forest Risk Management) project are in progress. The fourth goal is the NTFP (Non-timber Forest Products) project in which all member countries participate. We will discover and implement projects in connection with local forestry, and plan to jointly analyze each country's institutional conditions and market demand.
1) Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation Plus refers to various projects implemented in developing countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions caused by deforestation and deforestation.