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Goal 12
"Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns"

Sustainable consumption and production increase resource and energy efficiency, create sustainable infrastructure, and provide a better quality of life for everyone along with basic services as well as eco-friendly and appropriate jobs. Implementing sustainable consumption and production helps achieve overall development plans, reduce future economic, environmental and social costs, strengthen industrial competitiveness, and reduce poverty.

Currently, metal consumption is increasing among natural resources, especially in East Asia. Countries around the world also continue to deal with issues related to air, water and soil pollution.

Sustainable consumption and production aim to "do more and better with less," which can increase welfare benefits from economic activities by improving quality of life while reducing waste of resources or pollution. It should also focus on operating supply chains involving everyone from producers to end consumers. This includes education on sustainable consumption and lifestyle to consumers, provision of appropriate information through standard regulations or labels, and participation in sustainable public procurement.

12.1 Implement the 10-year framework of programmes on sustainable consumption and production, all countries taking action, with developed countries taking the lead, taking into account the development and capabilities of developing countries

12.2 By 2030, achieve the sustainable management and efficient use of natural resources

12.3 By 2030, halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses

12.4 By 2020, achieve the environmentally sound management of chemicals and all wastes throughout their life cycle, in accordance with agreed international frameworks, and significantly reduce their release to air, water and soil in order to minimize their adverse impacts on human health and the environment

12.5 By 2030, substantially reduce waste generation through prevention, reduction, recycling and reuse

12.6 Encourage companies, especially large and transnational companies, to adopt sustainable practices and to integrate sustainability information into their reporting cycle

12.7 Promote public procurement practices that are sustainable, in accordance with national policies and priorities

12.8 By 2030, ensure that people everywhere have the relevant information and awareness for sustainable development and lifestyles in harmony with nature

12.a Support developing countries to strengthen their scientific and technological capacity to move towards more sustainable patterns of consumption and production

12.b Develop and implement tools to monitor sustainable development impacts for sustainable tourism that creates jobs and promotes local culture and products

12.c Rationalize inefficient fossil-fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption by removing market distortions, in accordance with national circumstances, including by restructuring taxation and phasing out those harmful subsidies, where they exist, to reflect their environmental impacts, taking fully into account the specific needs and conditions of developing countries and minimizing the possible adverse impacts on their development in a manner that protects the poor and the affected communities

SDG 12 and the North Korean Government


North Korea is a state party to the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal (2008), the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade (2004), and the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (2004). The three conventions are multilateral environmental agreements set up with the goal of protecting people’s health and the environment from the dangerous effects of chemicals and wastes.

The Environmental Protection Law of 1986 (last amended in 2014) contains two articles dealing with recycling. Article 24 (recycling of urban waste) encourages the provincial people’s committees in the country and all corresponding agencies, factories, offices, and organizations to recycle waste materials (scrap iron, scrap paper, coal ash, glass, etc.) as much as possible. Additionally, Article 41 (Introduction of recycling technology) compels all relevant agencies, offices, and organizations to acquire technology which can be used to recycle by-products and waste in the production process to reduce environmental pollution and to decrease the consumption of materials.

The North Korean government adopted the Law on Recycling in 2020 at the Third Session of the 14th Supreme People’s Assembly. The text of the law is still not available outside North Korea. Additionally, during the Eighth Congress of the Workers Party of Korea, Kim Jong Un included recycling as part of the five-year plan by stating that “the light-industry sector must increase the output of consumer goods by regarding it as the main link to obtain available raw and other materials domestically and recycle wastes, and thereby bring about a fresh advance in the effort for improving the people’s living standards.” As well, in its 2021 VNR report, the DPRK government presented sustainable consumption and production as a key policy in economic development, and clearly stated that “Reuse and recycle of the industrial and household wastes are vigorously pushed ahead across the country.”

This was not the first time that the North Korean government has reported on its ambitions to substantially reduce waste generation and encourage recycling. Articles published in state media have reported on recycling efforts by the Pyongyang Daily Necessities Factory, Pyongyang Mechanical Pencil Factory, and the Hamhung Building-Materials Factory as well as instructions to “accelerate the work to recycle all the by-products and waste from production” during a field guidance given by Kim Jong Un.

SDG 12 and North Korean Escapees

“Almost no recycling takes place in North Korea. I first heard the word “recycling” when I came to South Korea. Then you may ask how is trash thrown in North Korea? In every house there is a compost pile and this is where we throw the trash. All waste that comes up in the household is thrown out there. Reusable items are also thrown there and then set on fire. After burning most of what is left is used as fertilizer. However, things like plastic bottles are valuable so we don’t throw them away as trash and use them again.

[Interview by NKDB in 2020 (NKDB Unified Human Rights Database)]

“Most of the people working at Punggye-ri are political prisoners. They do some digging and work in the mines, they are all prisoners. When North Korean get sick, they don’t directly associate it with radioactivity. I have heard that there are many people with disabilities in Gilju. That the water there is bad, that water is the worst in Gilju. It doesn’t occur to people that this is due to the nuclear [waste].”

[Interview by NKDB in 2018 (NKDB Unified Human Rights Database)]

“There is a place in Pyongsan County, North Hwanghae Province where there’s nuclear weapons development. There is uranium mine there. Soldiers go there without any equipment; they are ordered there to work and supply gas. There’s an agency called Bureau 131, there are troops that dig uranium for nuclear power. People who are released from that unit don’t put on any weight no matter how much they eat. Once they get discharged, they are always sick, that’s what people say. They are ordered to dig uranium. Because this should be kept secret. If civilians are sent to work there then the word will spread about this place. That’s why active-duty soldiers do this task. They think that they are protected from the radioactivity and don’t know that they get sick because of it.”

[Interview by NKDB in 2018 (NKDB Unified Human Rights Database)]

“I know a woman in the provincial hospital who works there as a nurse who once a year provided treatment to people who used to work at nuclear test sites or suffered from radioactivity there. Every year from July 1 to July 31 she was dispatched to North Hamgyong Province to deliver volunteer medical services for the people there. She helped (the victims) there and provided them with food. The patients were only people from North Hamgyong Province. There weren’t that many people there. 12 or 13 people. The nurse told me that they were all suffering from radioactivity. They were all honourable discharged soldiers, and when you ask them what kind of work they did in the military, they said that they used to work at a nuclear test site. The nurse told me that they suffered from the radioactivity. They had some disabilities, some of them were crippled. Some of these people had deflated eyes. Some of them couldn’t stand upright and were so sick that they were in a very poor state.”

[Interview by NKDB in 2018 (NKDB Unified Human Rights Database)]

“That is why there are so many babies with birth defects. Their number is the greatest in Gilju, North Hamgyong Province. This is not just a rumour, it is true. I have been in Gilju several times. Not too far away from Gilju there is a nuclear test site. It is called Punggye-ri. There are a lot of newborns with birth defects in Punggye-ri, Gilju. That’s because of the radioactivity. (When I was in North Korea) I knew about this. This is also the reason why the water and the farm fields are not good there. When you walk on the streets there it is very lonesome, it is very quiet. It is much quieter than other places.”

[Interview by NKDB in 2018 (NKDB Unified Human Rights Database)] 

SDG 12 and the International Community

The unsustainable use of natural resources in North Korea contributes to the low quality of life for North Korean citizens. According to the World Population Review, as a result of increased population density in North Korea (214 per square km), there has been an increase in the rate of deforestation. UN Environmental Programme derived that this is because people use wood for heating and cooking, especially in rural areas. The unscientific timber extraction has led to soil loss, which is linked to less arable land and lower agricultural outputs.

Post-harvest loss is a big and persistent problem in North Korea. This has been mainly due to lack of modern farming equipment and infrastructure, inadequate storage facilities, neglect of postharvest handling activities, poor transportation, and lack of general awareness on the concept of post-harvest loss. The high level of post-harvest loss (approximately 16% in rice, 17% in maize and 16% in wheat and barley) in North Korea is contributing to the food insecurity suffered by the North Korean state. Additional exacerbating factors include out-dated mills, inadequate threshing machines and mishandling of the harvest. All of these lead to quantitative and qualitative losses resulting in lesser volume of harvest and lower quality of the products.

According to a study done by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and Pyongyang Agricultural Campus (PAC), Kim Il Sung University, a lot of the post-harvest loss occurs in the stages of transportation, threshing, storage and processing, which can also be linked to low awareness among North Korean farmers about such losses and how to prevent them. Moreover, in provinces where harvest allowances are transported and stored individually by farmers, there are even more losses in the supply of grains. The FAO has assisted the North Korean authorities with the management of post-harvest loss, achieving reduction of such losses by 50%, creating and disseminating guidelines for the reduction of post-harvest loss, and improving existing technology.

Chapter 22 of Agenda 21 pays special attention to the safe and environmentally sound management of radioactive wastes. As it is widely known the North Korean state has conducted six nuclear tests from 2006 to 2020. The DPRK does not consider itself a state party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and thus no regulatory monitoring visits have taken place in order to verify the secure management of radioactive waste in the country. Additionally, the last update to North Korea’s National Profile for Chemicals Management was made in 2009.

The adoption of the Law on Recycling by the North Korean government can be associated more with insufficient subsidiary materials than imperative concern for the environment and the wellbeing of North Korean citizens. It has called for the recycling of scrap iron, scrap paper, copper, vinyl, glass, aluminium, and other materials left as by products in factories and households.

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