An eco-friendly North Korea?

North Korea won't tell its citizens this, but the Hermit Kingdom is broke. Luckily, ever-ingenuous Dear Leader Kim Jong-Il and his government have a new plan -- sell carbon offsets for cold hard cash. The isolated Stalinist enclave has a series of hydropower projects that it hopes to leverage with the United Nations' Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) scheme, which allows developing countries to partner with typically richer countries looking to reduce emissions under the Kyoto Protocol. The industrialized countries (or companies from such countries) earn carbon credits, while the host country gets cash from the sale of these credits.

Since 2006, over 2,000 projects have been approved -- according to the New York Times, 40 percent of the projects are located in China and most involve hydropower. In 2008, carbon credit transactions totaled close to $7 billion.

According to Reuters, North Korea is looking to get approval for three hydro power plants of 7-8 megawatts in the northeast part of the country.

North Korea -- currently facing sanctions over its nuclear weapons program -- faces serious challenges in selling carbon offsets. Aside from serious economic mismanagement, Reuters lists a whole host of reasons why these projects might not make it past the brainstorming stage:

"Even if they open up, who in the world wants to pay for North Korea that is blamed for its nuclear weapons programme?" said Choi Soo-young, a senior researcher at the Korea Institute for National Unification.

Cho said the UN needed to prevent outside cash going into its nuclear development activities, while Luckock, of global law firm Norton Rose, said: "Their limited access to hard currency has to be a concern for buyers - the damages clauses will carry limited weight without some security there."

Another challenge is that North Korea would have to make public its energy consumption and generation data and disclose information on the amount of energy linked to the hydro project.

"Annual inspection, constant measurement and energy flow posting on the [UNFCC] website - all these things are new for North Korea," [Bernhard] Seliger [of the Hanns Seidel Foundation of Germany] said.

North Korea has a history of serious flooding disasters, although these might be better solved through fixing the country's drainage systems and reversing the effects of enormous deforestation.

Of course, enabling North Korea's nuclear program might be good for the environment in other ways: NASA recently used computer simulations to prove that a "limited" nuclear war might temporarily halt global climate change.

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'Someone in Libya is still watching YouTube'

As we noted last week, Internet service has been shut down in Libya,  but the implementation is quite different from the Internet blackout put in place by Hosni Mubarak's regime last month. Rather than cutting off traffic at the router level, the Libyan authorities are diverting traffic going through the country's Internet. James Cowie of Renesys discusses why this strategy is actually far more sophisticated

[T]he Libyan Internet is actually still alive, even though almost all traffic is blocked from traversing it. The BGP routes to Libya are still intact, which means that the Libyan ISP's border routers are powered on and the fiberoptics are lit. In fact, we've identified a handful of isolated live IP addresses inside Libya, responding to ping and traceroute, and presumably passing traffic just fine. Someone in Libya is still watching YouTube, even though the rest of the country is dark.

Why did Libya put its Internet in 'warm standby mode' instead of just taking it down, as Egypt did? Perhaps because they're learning from Mubarak's experience. Cutting off the Internet at the routing level (powering down the Internet exchange point, going after the remaining providers with secret police to enact a low-level shutdown) was a technically unsophisticated desperation move on Egypt's part. It signalled to the world that the Egyptian government considered itself out of options, ready to cut off internal communications and external dialogue, looking for a last chance to turn off all the cameras and clean out the Square.[...]

Throttling the Internet to the point of uselessness, instead of killing it outright, also delayed International recognition of the fact that the Internet was down during the most critical period. Most international media didn't clue into the fact that the Libyan Internet had gone silent until after the sun had gone down in Tripoli on Friday. By taking a softer route to shutdown, the government deprived the opposition of much of the international "flash crowd" of attention and outrage that an unambiguous "kill switch" tactic might have garnered.

In a 2009 piece -- "The Autocrats' Learning Curve" -- Jeffrey Wasserstrom discussed how the Chinese Communist Party had adapted and ultimately benefited from observing the Eastern European anticommunist revolutions. During the current wave of revolutions, social networking technologies have, as promised, boosted the speed and global reach of antiauthoritarian activists. But as we're increasingly seeing, the autocrats are adapting faster as well. 

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