Byonghyon Kwon, president of non-profit organization Future Forest, was named as the first Sustainable Land Management (SLM) Champion by the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).
His job is to take care of the earth for not being desertification for the next two years. Greening Ambassador Kwon has been working on promotion to raise awareness on desertification for the past 10 years. In particular, he put a lot of efforts onto a project of ‘Great Green Wall’ in the Kubuqi esert of China, which even its own people gave up on. His SLM champion means that his various projects for saving the earth are well recognized by the international community. His next move is drawing more attentions since the year 2010 marks the final year for 5-year project for Kubuchi Desert. The Asia Business had an interview with Amb. Kwon, who has just returned to Korea after 4 years of the overseas activities to protect Mother Nature. The following is the excerpt from the interview with him.
-UNCCD has named you the first SLM Champison for the Convention. Please tell us about SLM.
“SLM is a part of efforts to mitigate climate change and strenghten the resilience to its impacts and I am trying to raise awareness on how serious the land troubles are getting. Especially, the UNCCD mainly covers issues on desertification, land degradation and drought. These problems related to the land are as equally important issues as the global warming.”
-Everyone is aware of the environment troubles that the earth is facing, but it is difficult to put into the action a solution to fix the problems. Upon retirement, you became one of the most active persons to promote the movement to plant. What brought you to be into this project?
“I happened to experience the severe yellow dust in 1998 when I was appointed as the Ambassador of Korea to China and then the next day I received a phone call from my daughter saying that she also could not go out without a mask on due to the dust from China. At that moment, I felt that what happens in the desert from thousands of miles away can affect to life of my children. I had no choice but to start this planting project because I realized an urgent need to do something for the sake of my children and grandchildren.”
-Isn’t desertification a nature disaster?
“I think desertification is rather a man-made disaster because deserts today were made by people using the land unsustainably. Land used to restorable in the age of agriculture when the human being was in harmony with nature. In recent decades, however, experts say human activity and climate change has accelerated the progression of the phenomenon to the point where it can be justifiably described - at least in part - as a man-made disaster. The land should be restored before it is too late.”
-As the Greening Ambassador, what kinds of activities do you have in mind?
“First of all, I am going to promote the definition of SLM to the public by the help of media. I think it is critical for me to raise awareness of the fact that the world is facing the time where the earth is no longer playing its own role and that the clock is ticking. One third of the Earth's surface has become desertified, and still it is growing. The Earth itself is in real danger now. If we do not do anything, we are fast approaching the tipping point and might need to leave this planet.
SLM involves with a strategic plan to manage the land in a durable way. We can only manage the surface soil within 15-centimeter thick in order to mitigate the desertification in the planet. The wrong management on this surface directly leads to desertification. Beijing is one of victims due to mismanagement on its surrounding land.”
-Why did you in particular pick out Kubuqi desert as the first target?
“Kubuqi desert in Inner Mongolia is the easternmost frontier of the moving desert and one of the origins of yellow dust storm affecting vast areas including northern China and the Korean Peninsula. So, our organization initiated an ambitious project of building the “Great Green Wall” across the Kubuqi desert. It is important to break the idea that a moving desert cannot be prevented. I believe our efforts play quite a critical role in changing such a presumption. Desertification is not a nature disaster but a man-made incident. I did not want to stand back and watch desertification, claiming that there is nothing I can do about it. “
-How much progress did your organization see in the 5-year long project of planting trees on Kubuqi desert starting from 2006?
“Personally, I consider the project successful. The People’s Daily in China released a special article on an entire page in October of 2008, saying that the project had already made a visible result. Great Green Wall project brought the hope back onto Kibuqi desert which even experts gave up on. The 28km-long Great Green Wall is now under construction from the northern top to the southern end across the Kubuqi desert. In 2006, the first year of the five year-long project, half a million trees were planted, and one million in 2007. More than 1.5 million trees are scheduled to be planted this year alone. The <Great Green Wall> project has been tried against the false belief that the expansion of the moving desert like Kubuqi can not be stopped by human efforts, and now more than 10km of the 28km of the Great Green Wall has been erected against the sand storms and moving sand. Once completed, it is probably going to be the first case in human history to erect a green windbreak stopping the moving desert. About 2.6 million trees were planted on five deserts in China for the past 10 years through Future Forest.”
-What is your next target?
“My next goal is to rebuild the environment-friendly village which includes returning the land to desert refugees. China has lost more than 20,000 towns due to the desertification. Since the desertification has been prevented by planting trees, now is high time to build up the village for human being. A project to create eco-village along the green wall has already been started in 2007.”
-Will you please give any comment on our newspaper’s project called “Green Company” which has been set up to introduce environment-friendly efforts among Korean companies?
“According to a book titled Cosmos, there are 200 billion to 300 billion galaxies out in the space and the earth is one of trillions of planets in the galaxy. We might to be relocated into another planet in order to survive unless we would do something for the suffering earth. From the perspective of bigger picture, we have no time to waste our energy on taking control over certain area in the earth. We need to focus on the efforts to rebuild our mother nature. Most of the trees we planted have not only survived, they have thrived and their seeds and roots have spread. You can see new saplings and other vegetation growing in our project area. That is the way of nature. If you provide the right environment, nature can take care of itself."
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