Remarks by the Deputy Executive Director of UNEP, Mr. Shafqat Kakakhel, on the occasion of a public symposium to mark the 10th Anniversary of the Northwest Pacific Action Plan (NOWPAP), Toyama, Japan, 1 November 2004
Ladies and gentlemen
Thank you for inviting me to this symposium to mark the 10th anniversary celebrations of the Northwest Pacific Action Plan.
I very much look forward to hearing the insights of my distinguished colleagues over the next hour on the nature of this diverse and important sea area, the environmental challenges it faces, and the ways in which it can be protected for future generations.
Let me set the scene by briefly describing the history and purpose of the Northwest Pacific Action Plan, and the environmental context of its work.
This action plan is the youngest of the global network of conventions and action plans established under UNEP’s Regional Seas Programme.
The UNEP Regional Seas Programme, which is thirty years old this year, has been highly successful in channeling the energies of a wide range of interest groups towards a common purpose—preserving the world's oceans and coastal ecosystems along with the human livelihoods they secure.
The origins of the Northwest Pacific Action Plan date back to 1991, when a regional meeting of experts and national representatives from China, Japan, Korea and Russia was held in Vladivostok to develop a regional seas action plan.
They realized that by joining forces they could strike a balance between economic development and protecting the environment.
The Northwest Pacific region is vast. It features a large variety of marine and coastal habitats, from cold and deep water ecosystems in the north, to tropical coral reefs in the south.
Its riches range from commercially important fishing and mariculture grounds to offshore oil deposits.
It is also among the most densely populated and rapidly developing parts of the world.
In 1994, the four countries of the Northwest Pacific adopted the Action Plan for the Protection, Management and Development of the Marine and Coastal Environment.
The Action Plan provides a platform for environmental cooperation and incorporates several priority projects to be implemented through a network of Regional Activity Centres.
Currently, there are four Centres:
• The Special Monitoring and Coastal Environment Assessment Centre, in Toyama;
• the Data and Information Network Centre, in Beijing;
• the Marine Environmental Emergency Preparedness and Response Centre, in Daejon;
• and the Pollution Monitoring Centre, in Vladivostok.
These centres are responsible for carrying out their activities at the regional level and serve all four members of NOWPAP.
As of this week, they will be overseen by NOWPAP’s Regional Coordinating Unit.
The Unit, which is co-hosted by Japan—here in Toyama—and by the Republic of Korea—in Busan—and administered by UNEP, will serve as the nerve centre and command post for the Action Plan’s activities.
Among the many challenges for this Unit in the coming years will be the task of developing regional monitoring and assessment activities, and public outreach and environmental education.
It will also have to implement and further develop a Regional Contingency Plan for oil spills, which is being signed tomorrow in Busan, and prepare a regional strategic action plan to abate pollution from land-based activities.
NOWPAP will also serve as a regional platform for implementing Multilateral Environmental Agreements and other global initiatives that promote the sustainable management of the marine and coastal environment—for example integrated coastal and river basin management programmes, or ecosystem-based management programmes, or programmes that target the protection of marine and coastal biodiversity.
Ladies and gentlemen,
These concepts and tools are increasingly relevant in today’s rapidly developing world.
Everywhere, not just in the Northwest Pacific region, we can see an alarming deterioration of the marine environment.
The facts are disturbing.
Coastal and marine habitats are being degraded at an alarming rate, largely due to coastal development and land-based sources of pollution.
A growing number of coastal seas are becoming dead zones due to excessive concentrations of nutrients that cause algal blooms.
An estimated 21 million barrels of oil run into the oceans each year from street run-off, effluent from factories, and from ships flushing their tanks.
Pollution is a major threat to the health of humans and marine life.
Death and disease caused by polluted coastal waters costs the global economy nearly $13 billion US dollars a year. The annual economic impact of hepatitis from tainted seafood alone is around $7 billion dollars.
Plastic waste kills up to 1 million sea birds, 100,000 sea mammals and countless fish each year.
Fragile habitats, such as corals, are facing pressure from climate change, pollution and wasteful exploitation, from which they may not recover.
Three-quarters of commercial fisheries are exploited up to or beyond their sustainable capacity.
While more than 11 per cent of the land is protected, less than 1 per cent of the oceans is under protection.
The implication of these facts is self-evident.
Protecting the marine environment is essential for food security, for public health and for the livelihoods of the billions who depend to one degree or another on the sea.
This message, I know, is not lost on the people of this region where the marine environment is central to their economies and culture.
In a region where so many people directly depend on the marine and coastal environment for their livelihoods, protecting it and sustainably managing it is an urgent priority.
This is the challenge for the governments of the Northwest Pacific Action Plan as they chart their development course over the next decades.
However, protecting seas and oceans also means addressing human activities on land, which is where 80 per cent of marine pollution originates.
Issues such as poverty, urban development, and the sustainable management of land and water resources must all be tackled head-on to benefit the marine environment.
The world must also address climate change and how it uses energy.
The countries of the Northwest Pacific are particularly vulnerable to climate change.
Floods due to typhoons and sea level rise are a major threat because so many human settlements and so much industrial infrastructure are located in coastal or lowland areas.
The recent announcement by Russia that it will ratify the Kyoto Protocol, thus bringing it into force, is great news indeed, for although the Protocol itself is only a modest step, it is a step in the right direction.
Current projections indicate a possible rise in energy demand of 60 per cent over the next three decades. Eighty per cent of that demand may be met by fossil fuels that generate greenhouse gases.
The sooner the world can start implementing the Kyoto mechanisms and start the serious business of negotiating the next generation of measures that will follow Kyoto, the better it will be, especially for coastal dwellers and the people of the Northwest Pacific.
Ladies and gentlemen,
These are just some of the issues relevant to UNEP’s work, to the Northwest Pacific Action Plan and to today’s symposium.
I thank you for inviting me to stand before you today, and I now give the floor to my esteemed colleagues who, I am sure, will enlighten us more about how the countries of the Northwest Pacific can work together to ensure the marine environment that has been the foundation of their civilization for centuries can continue to give life and prosperity for generations to come.