The Implications of Climate Vulnerability for North Korean Regime Stability

By Benjamin Luke Habib.

Published by The International Journal of Climate Change: Impacts and Responses

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

This paper fuses theoretical models of climate vulnerability and adaptive capacity to critically examine the “muddle through” thesis of regime stability in North Korea, put forward by Marcus Noland, in the context of global climate change. Literature on regime stability in North Korea has reached a consensus Kim Jong-il’s regime will maintain power by “muddling through,” making ad hoc adjustments as localised problems arise. Climate change is a new variable effecting regime perpetuation that has not been discussed in the academic literature. Climate hazards are likely to disrupt the North’s agricultural sector and the country’s food security, leading to erosion of the state’s institutions. In the medium term, predicted climate change impacts on North Korea include decreasing crop yield from the agricultural sector, changing precipitation cycles, and increasing incidence of extreme weather events. North Korea has limited capacity to absorb and adapt to climate hazards. The state is already weakened from ten years of famine and economic isolation, and is inhibited by a rigid totalitarian political system, and crumbling infrastructure. Over time, increasing food shortage may lead to greater reliance on external aid, increased corruption, internal displacement of people, refugee exodus into China, rejection of official ideology, erosion of coercive institutions and even withdrawal of elite support for the regime.

Keywords: North Korea, Regime Stability, Climate Vulnerability, Adaptive Capacity

The International Journal of Climate Change: Impacts and Responses, Volume 1, Issue 1, pp.83-104. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.793MB).

Benjamin Luke Habib

PhD Candidate, School of Political & International Studies, Flinders University, Adelaide, SA, Australia

Ben Habib is a PhD student and academic tutor in international relations at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia. Ben’s PhD research focuses on the degree to which North Korea’s nuclear program is embedded in the political economy of the DPRK state. He also has a long-standing research interest in climate change and energy security, culminating in his participation in the 3rd Annual Solar Cities Congress in February 2008. Other interests include Asian regional security, American foreign policy, non-proliferation, Australian foreign policy, and teaching methods for undergraduate university courses. Ben has an active interest in Northeast Asia, having taught English in Dandong, China, and studied at Keimyung University in Daegu, South Korea. He has also worked for the Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship.


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