BRIEF REPORT: North Korea, Climate Change and Security

By Catherine Dill, Alexandra Naegele, Natalie Baillargeon, Monica Caparas, Dominick Dusseau, Madeleine Holland, and Christopher Schwalm

North Korea’s provocative posture and its nuclear arsenal have shielded it from much of the pressures of globalization and integration with the international community. But neither politics nor arms can defend it from climate change. Impending climate impacts threaten to exacerbate North Korea’s already precarious ability to provide public goods for its population and thus maintain regime stability, multiplying risk factors for the Korean peninsula and the entire region.

Our new report “Converging Crises in North Korea: Security, Stability and Climate Change,” accompanied by a visual storymap, projects climate impacts on crop yields by 2040, inland flooding by 2050, and sea levels by 2050. Projections reveal rice and maize yield failures will become more likely along the Western coastlines by 2030. The country will experience significant intensification of extreme rainfall and increased flooding, with coastal areas increasingly at risk from sea level rise and inland areas – including sensitive nuclear sites – at risk of inundation if not properly protected.

These climate impacts will aggravate food insecurity, damage infrastructure, induce migration, and constrain already limited resources. The subsequent societal effects could be wide-ranging and grave. First-order outcomes could have cascading effects, ultimately increasing regional instability, exacerbating underlying tensions, introducing new escalatory pressures and posing risks of misinterpretation and failures of diplomacy. 

Just as unanticipated climate change is a threat multiplier, recognized climate impacts could  generate new avenues of negotiation and cooperation. Opportunity lies in understanding and mapping the climate impacts that North Korea will face in the coming decades, and supporting global and regional initiatives to increase climate resiliency in the country. This first-of-its-kind analysis lays the foundation for developing future strategies for climate mitigation and adaptation as a means to increase overall stability and security in the Indo-Pacific region.

Converging Crises in North Korea: Security, Stability and Climate Change” is the third of a series of case studies produced by a collaboration between the Converging Risks Lab of the Council on Strategic Risks and the Woodwell Climate Research Center. The project seeks to elevate political focus on nuclear-armed or latent nuclear states that could be escalated or exacerbated by impending climate change. Its objective is to engage policy makers in a discourse on potential policy responses to prevent, mitigate or alleviate these potential crises. To read previous case studies in the series, please see Melting Mountains, Mounting Tensions: Climate change and the India-China Rivalry and the accompanying storymap; and Security and Climate Risk in the Arctic: Temperatures and Tensions Rise and the associated storymap.


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