Informed consent utilizing satellite imagery in forestry carbon trading with North Korea


Informed consent can assist in mitigating investment risks associated with forestry carbon trading in North Korea by supporting corporate responsibility. Scientific developments for collecting information necessary to informed consent far outpace the development of inter-Korean regulatory frameworks. This paper seeks to identify how the intersection of legal and technological disciplines can foster informed consent, through the responsible application of satellite data. The permanent record of standard satellite remote-sensing systems demonstrates its capability of presenting area-wide visual evidence of forest conditions. Such data are essential to initiating informed consent, establishing a carbon stock baseline, detecting and quantifying rates of land-cover change, and quantifying above-ground biomass stocks as specified in the Kyoto Protocol. This research could be a valuable reference for utilizing the capabilities of satellites with informed consent obligations in North Korea by suggesting the provision of realistic informed consent mechanisms.

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  1. 1.

    The fundamental idea behind carbon trading is deceptively simple: Countries or communities are rewarded carbon stocks for improved protection and management of forests.

  2. 2.

    North Korea’s official name is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). South Korea’s official name is the Republic of Korea (ROK).

  3. 3.

    There are two forest carbon markets: the regulated (or compliance) market and the voluntary market. The compliance market is typically operated by the Afforestation/Reforestation-Clean Development Mechanism (ARCDM) and the United Nations Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (UN-REDD). The voluntary market is evolving, mainly driven by the private sector and consumer interest (e.g., corporate social responsibility). Both operations regulate activities taking place under international negotiations through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

  4. 4.

    Article 3.1 of the Kyoto Protocol states, “The Parties included in Annex I shall, individually or jointly, ensure that their aggregate anthropogenic carbon dioxide equivalent emissions of the greenhouse gases listed in Annex A do not exceed their assigned amounts, calculated pursuant to their quantified emission limitation and reduction commitments inscribed in Annex B and in accordance with the provisions of this Article, with a view to reducing their overall emissions of such gases by at least 5 % below 1990 levels in the commitment period 2008 to 2012.” The 2012 United Nations Climate Change Conference (November 26 to December 7, 2012, in Qatar) extended the life of the Kyoto Protocol until 2020.

  5. 5.

    The South–North Korean Cooperation Fund could compensate for financial loss and damages to North Korea resulting from trade and investment. The fund was created in 1991 to support humanitarian and economic exchanges between the divided Koreas (Inter-Korean Exchange and Cooperation Act, 1990, South Korea).

  6. 6.

    Chun (2012, p. 7).

  7. 7.

    Several major international instruments address the right to Free and Prior Informed Consent: the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the ILO Convention 169, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), and the World Trade Organization (WTO) on access and benefits sharing of biological resources and associated traditional knowledge, the World Conservation Union on the establishment of parks and protected areas, and other multilateral banks and development and financing agencies with respect to their resettlement policies and other projects affecting indigenous peoples. The main elements of a common understanding of FPIC are that consent should be freely given without coercion, intimidation, or manipulation (“free”); sought sufficiently in advance of final authorization and implementation of activities (“prior”); and founded upon an understanding of the full range of issues entailed by the activity or decision in question (“informed”). It is a central procedural device enabling parties to conduct the regulatory measures required by multilateral environmental agreements (MEA).

  8. 8.

    See, for example, the statement of the International Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change, as reported in IUCN 2010, Briefing Document on Indigenous Peoples and Climate Change/REDD: An overview of current discussions and main issues.

  9. 9.

    Mostly developing countries that bear no responsibility for mandatory GHG emission reductions by the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol.

  10. 10.

    Habib (2010, p. 385).

  11. 11.

    Ibid at 397.

  12. 12.

    COP21, also known as the 2015 Paris Climate Conference, the annual Conference of Parties (COP) for UN Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCC), aims to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate, with the aim of keeping global warming below 2 °C (

  13. 13.

    The baseline refers to activity and emissions in a defined period as they existed prior to a policy. There are two basic ways to develop a baseline, one based on observed activity over some historical period and another based on expectations of what would unfold under “business as usual,” A business-as-usual (BAU) baseline refers to activities or emissions that might otherwise occur were a policy not put into place.

  14. 14.

    A source is any process or activity through which a greenhouse gas is released into the atmosphere. Both natural processes and human activities release greenhouse gases. A sink is a reservoir that takes up a greenhouse gas from another part of its natural cycle.

  15. 15.

    Tg CO2 Eq (CO2 equivalent): units used to report greenhouse gas emissions—teragrams of carbon dioxide are equivalent to 1 million metric tons (

  16. 16.

    Cui et al. (2014, p. 225).

  17. 17.

    Since 1998, South Korean tourists have been allowed to visit Mt. Geumgang. The area was developed by Hyundai Asan (South Korean Company). In 2008, a South Korean tourist was killed by North Korean soldiers. Due to the shooting, South Korea has suspended all trips to Mount Geumgang.

  18. 18.

    Article 3.3 of the Kyoto Protocol states that “the net changes in greenhouse gas emissions by sources and removals by sinks resulting from direct human-induced land-use change and forestry activities, limited to afforestation, reforestation and deforestation since 1990, measured as verifiable changes in carbon stocks in each commitment period, shall be used to meet the commitments under this Article of each Party included in Annex I.” Article 3.4 of the Kyoto Protocol states that “the Conference of the Parties … decide upon modalities, rules and guidelines as to how, and which, additional human-induced activities related to changes in greenhouse gas emissions by sources and removals by sinks in the agricultural soils and the land-use change and forestry categories shall be added to, or subtracted from, the assigned amounts for Parties included in Annex I, taking into account uncertainties, transparency in reporting, verifiability … in accordance with Article 5 and the decisions of the Conference of the Parties.”

  19. 19.

    Forest carbon is stored in five places within and around vegetation. These are called carbon pools. The total carbon stock in a particular land area is divided into five carbon pools: above-ground biomass (stems, bark, leaves, etc.); below-ground biomass (roots of all sizes); dead wood; leaf litter; and soil organic carbon (SOC).

  20. 20.

    Images where only large features are visible are said to have coarse or low resolution, while small objects can be detected in fine or high-resolution images.

  21. 21.

    WorldView-4 will have the highest resolution of any commercial imaging system (

  22. 22.

    Simple demonstrative displays of satellite data and many complicated satellite mapping technologies have been adjusted to accommodate the legal profession. More advanced sensors (e.g., hyper-spectral sensors or LiDAR [Laser Imaging, Detection, and Ranging]) and image-processing technologies (e.g., false color composite) will provide greater detail and a wider variety of localities and features.

  23. 23.

    See, for example, the 1989 Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal, the UNEP London Guidelines for the Exchange of Information on Chemicals in International Trade (amended 1989), and the FAO International Code of Conduct on the Distribution and Use of Pesticides (1990).

  24. 24.

    77 % of the world’s forestland is government-owned (White and Martin 2002).

  25. 25.

    Article 8(j) of the CBD also requires that the traditional knowledge of indigenous and local communities be used only with their “approval,” which implies that their prior informed consent is required. Article 8(j) further requires that benefits arising from the application of traditional knowledge, innovations, and practices be shared equitably with the indigenous communities concerned.

  26. 26.

    In fact, from the capitalist point of view, domestic corporate entities do not exist. Domestic companies represent the state itself and its subdivisions and collective production units.

  27. 27.

    Spina (2007, p. 6).

    See transcript of Kim Jong-il’s conversation with Huh Jong-man and Suh Man-sul, two top leaders of the General Association of the Koreans Resident in Japan (Chongryun), a pro-DPRK organization. The conversation took place on the evening of April 25, 1998, at Kim Jong-il’s villa.

    Kim Jong Il’s Candid Talk Caught on Tape, Wolgan Chosun, April 25, 1998.

  28. 28.

    The tree-planting tour in North Korea was conducted in April 2015, and the price was 1200 USD per person for 8 days/7 nights. In 2014, North Korea also accepted the tree-planting initiatives of several ethnic Korean NGOs, such as the Green Korea Movement from the US (650 million seedlings) and the Korean Church Green Peace Movement from South Korea (80 million seedlings).

  29. 29.

    Zook (2012, p. 131).



Asian Forest Cooperation Organization


Afforestation/Reforestation-Clean Development Mechanism

Basel Convention:

Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal


Business as usual


Convention on Biological Diversity


Certified Emission Reduction


Corporate social responsibility


Democratic People’s Republic of Korea


Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations


FLRM Forest and Landscape Restoration Mechanism


Free Prior Informed Consent


Global Environment Facility


Greenhouse gas


International Court of Justice


Korean Nature Conservation Union, DPRK


Korean Federation of Science and Technology (DPRK)


Laser Imaging, Detection and Ranging


Land Use, Land-Use Change, and Forestry inventories


Multilateral environmental agreements


National Coordinating Committee for Environment (DPRK)


Prior Informed Consent


United Nations Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries


United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples


United Nations Environment Program


United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change


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This research was supported by Basic Science Research Program through the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF) funded by the Ministry of Education (NRF-2015R1D1A1A01056801). We thank NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration, United States) and US Geological Survey for providing Landsat satellite data.

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Um, DB., Um, JS. Informed consent utilizing satellite imagery in forestry carbon trading with North Korea. Int Environ Agreements 17, 531–552 (2017).

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  • Informed consent
  • Satellite imagery
  • Forestry carbon trading
  • North Korea