What's Kim up to?

North Korea is now green, or at least that’s what the state propaganda machine would have you believe. According to Central TV, the secretive regime’s government controlled broadcaster, North Korea now produces busses completely powered by solar panels. 

Jeong In-sung- the technology spokesman for the city of Nampo- said on state TV that the solar powered bus is capable of carrying 140 passengers at 25mph. It is not clear if the bus requires external charging or an on-board generator to run, and one solar expert says the claims have ‘no credibility’.  

However the solar powered bus is part of a far bigger commitment to renewables within the Hermit State. In February, the state unveiled a series of new slogans mostly focussing on scientific and green development. 

Renewable energy seems like a relatively new goal in North Korea, yet the same concerns have driven similar development for some time. While Pyongyang is a net exporter of energy, North Korea has no significant oil, gas, or coal reserves to be mined, and had depended on support from China for its fuel. As the need for energy has intensified, and international sanctions on the regime have hardened, the Hermit State’s already precarious energy security has increasingly been threatened. 

It seems the stats back this up. According to the IEA, energy production in North Korea hasn’t yet overtaken the 1970 peak, and is still today down on 1990s levels. However from 2004-2013 energy use in North Korea fell whilst energy production rose by over 5%. Over the same time period, CO2 emissions fell by 5.7%.  

It is widely thought that the Chinese leadership is struggling to justify providing so much support to the troublesome North Korean regime. Continued military provocation and incidents like the Sony hack have made the state toxic in China’s negotiations for closer economic and political ties with the West. It is incredibly likely that North Korea’s new direction is a reaction to China’s increasingly frosty reception to North Korean antics on the international stage. 

Nevertheless, the green revolution seems to have started in the red state. It may have little direct effect on international politics, but it is broadly positive for environmentalism. Domestically it makes Kim Jong-un’s totalitarian regime more powerful and more secure and is unlikely to affect the lives of the majority of North Koreans who either can’t afford or aren't allowed to buy many electrical appliances and whose most pressing concern is the ever present danger of famine.