United Nations Environment Programme
environment for development Search 
News Centre
 Home News Centre
 Media Contacts
 Press Releases
 In Focus
 RSS / Podcasts

 Printable Version

UNEP and the sustainable development of the marine and coastal environment in the NOWPAP Region

Your Excellencies, Vice-Governor Onaga, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure for me to be here in the beautiful city of Toyama, surrounded on the east by the impressive mountains and on the south, the west and the north by the Toyama bay, the link to the open blue sea.

May I thank the Toyama Prefectural Government, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the people of Toyama for their kind invitation to address you and for the warm hospitality.

I. Global and Regional Environmental Concerns

Ladies and Gentlemen,

One of the main issues on today’s global environmental agenda, as you well know, is water. As a matter of fact, water and sanitation, urbanization, health and poverty will be the most important issues discussed during the next GC of UNEP, the GMEF. When we say water, we mean not only fresh water in lakes, rivers and ground water, but we are talking also about the strongly connected ecosystems of the coastal and marine environments. From the snow in the mountains, to the smaller and then bigger rivers, to the coastal plains, to the river estuaries and down to the coastal water, mixing with the large volumes of the open sea – they are all connected. H2O - from Hilltops to the Oceans, this is our approach to deal with global concerns related to water.

Although Toyama Prefecture is naturally gifted by this amazing marine, coastal and land environment, it is located in the centre of the NOWPAP region, which comprises of four major countries: China, Korea, Russia and Japan. These major countries are facing some of the most serious environmental concerns and

problems, which are very common to other coastal regions of the world.

Let me mention just a few of these problems:

• Water scarcity and pollution are key issues, with the region experiencing one of the lowest per capita freshwater availability in the world (due to the high population density). This scarcity of water is accompanied by deterioration in the quality of available water due to pollution and environmental degradation.

• Rapid degradation in the quality of air. Air in Asia’s cities is amongst the most polluted in the world, producing serious human health impacts and affecting aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. Of the 15 cities in the world with the highest levels of particulate matter, 12 are located in Asia. Particluates and air contaminants are travellers without passport! The wind in this region is blowing from west to east and the Yellow Sand Storm is a well known phenomenon in the region.

• Land degradation, including soil and land erosion is another major issue. Acidification and biological degradation is occurring due to un-sustainable land use practices - for example, agricultural expansion and intensification. Population growth coupled with increasing population density and poor land use practices are just some of the causes of land degradation in the region.

• Global warming and climate change have become evident in the region, with an increase in the frequency of natural disasters ranging from cold waves, floods, cyclones and draughts. I am therefore very happy that Japan was so instrumental in negotiating the Kyoto Protocol. Most of the countries in the Northwest Pacific and East Asia regions will be particularly vulnerable to climate change and associated seas level rise because so many human settlements and so much industrial infrastructure are located in coastal or lowland areas.

• Finally, a critical issue that has emerged in the region during the past 30 years is the depletion of coastal resources and the degradation of coastal and marine habitats. The main causes for this include:

o Over-exploitation of living marine resources, especially unsustainable fisheries;

o Urbanization and industrialization coupled with population growth

o Input of pollutants and nutrients into the marine environment through rivers and atmospheric transport

o Eutrophication and the occurrence of harmful algal blooms (known as red tides) which is well known in this region, causing often massive fish kills.

o Coastal modification causing destruction of natural habitats

o Oil spills due to marine accidents or due to routine operational pollution caused by the shipping industry. Related to this subject are also chemical spills of harmful substances;

o Marine litter is also a major problem in the region. You all know how terrible the beautiful beaches look, when they are covered with plastics and garbage. This is especially annoying in this region as most of the marine litter is not generated locally;

o Dumping of wastes; unfortunately, the marine dumping of industrial waste still takes place in the NOWPAP region.

In many regions of the world, and to some extent also in our region, these pressures on the marine and coastal environment are exacerbated by poverty. In a region in which so many people are directly dependant on the marine and coastal environment for their livelihoods, there is an urgent need to protect the natural environment and moreover, manage it in a sustainable manner, so that the next generations will be able to enjoy it and benefit from it – just like us.

II. UNEP and the Regional Seas

Vice-Governor Onaga, ladies and gentlemen,

UNEP - the United Nations Programme for the Environment addresses marine and coastal environmental issues in a variety of approaches, closely related and integrated. In a major global meeting held one month ago in Nairobi, it was decided by over one hundred countries, to strengthen the scientific base of UNEP and its diverse activities, which will allow us to take the right decisions related to the sustainable management of the environment, based on sound scientific background. This of course, will apply also to the sustainable development strategies of the marine and coastal ecosystems of this region, through the NOWPAP programme – the NorthWest Pacific Action Plan.

One of the most important programmes of UNEP dealing with the marine environment is the Regional Seas Programme. The Programme, established in 1974 is based on two main ideas: Firstly, that marine and coastal environmental issues do not have boundaries for environmental problems. One problem created by one country may affect its neighbors. A large polluted river, for example, entering a semi-enclosed sea, may cause environmental degradation to many countries bordering that sea. Marine environmental problems can be delt only by cooperation between countries sharing the same body of water. Today, 17 Regional Seas Conventions and Action Plans span the entire globe, involving more than 140 countries. These countries, grouped under the various Regional Seas share common bodies of water and the associated environmental problems. Environmental protection has proved to be a unifying cause especially in regions in which political issues are still a dividing and not unifying factor. For example – our first Regional Seas Programme, the Mediterranean Action Plan, or the Barcelona Convention was the first political and diplomatic framework under which countries could share and develop dialogues: Greece and Turkey, the Arab countries and Israel, during the tense years of the 70s and 80s and later on, the divided countries of ex-Yugoslavia, all worked together to protect the Mediterranean under this fruitful environmental UNEP programme.

The second idea behind the Regional Seas Programme is that Marine environmental issues can not be managed globally. Each region has specific concerns and has to develop specific approaches to deal with them: the warm coral seas of the Pacific, the Caribbean or Southeast Asia can not be handled in the same manner as the cold environment of the north or south Atlantic. Thus, the regional approach is a unifying factor for the Regional Seas.

These regional agreements have been effective in engaging the respective governments in protecting the common environment. The limited geographic focus of the Regional Seas Action Plans and Conventions enables them to channel the energies of a wide range of interest groups towards a global puropose: preserving the world's oceans and coastal ecosystems and the human livelihoods they secure.

In 2002, the WSSD Plan of Implementation called to strengthen regional cooperation and coordination between the relevant regional organizations and programmes, including the UNEP's Regional Seas programmes. It is one of UNEP's main objectives to implement the global goals of WSSD, and the Regional Seas Programme, including NOWPAP, may be used as one of the best platforms to achieve these goals.

Last year, the UNEP Governing Council at it’s 22nd Session called for the use of Regional Seas Conventions and Action Plans as an instrument contributing to sustainable development. It also called for the Regional Seas to be used as an exisiting, effective platform for regional implementation of international conventions (such as the CBD or Basel Convention) global agreements and global initiatives related to oceans, seas, coasts and the catchments areas affecting them.

NOWPAP is an important member of our Regional Seas family. We are sure that as a young and enthusiastic member of the family, it will assist UNEP and the parties in the region in achieving the goals which were defined by the coordinators of the Regional Seas and Action Plans during their 5th Global Meeting in Nairobi in November 2003:

o To increase Regional Seas contribution to Sustainable Development

o To increase the Programme’s visibility and political impact in global and regional policy setting; and

o To increase the use of Regional Seas as a platform for developing common regional objectives, promoting synergies to jointly implement relevant MEAs and global and regional initiatives

III. NOWPAP and the Toyama Office

Ladies and gentlemen,

As you are aware, the NOWPAP sea area is of fundamental importance for the region, historically, culturally, economically and environmentally. The coastal areas bordering this area are extremely populated. The access of coastal populations to seafood is of the highest intensity in the world, and thus, the health of the marine environment is of utmost importance.

The NOWPAP sea area is a major source of fisheries resources for the region. Fisheries is a large industry for the countries with in this region. Japan follows China on the world ranking list in fisheries production and has the highest annual consumption of fishery products per person. This region has the highest annual aquaculture production per capita, which has increased markedly in the last 10 years.

The total catches in the Northwest Pacific have increased steadily since the 1950s, reaching a peak in 1988. The catches have declined since then, caused mainly by increased fishing pressure and over-fishing, land reclamation, impacts of extensive mari-culture, heavy metal pollution, oil spills and red tides.

It is feared that the recent rapid industrialization, overpopulation in urban areas, and expanding use of the ocean for fishing and marine transport purposes are leading to an alarming deterioration of the marine environment.

UNEP is addressing these issues through one of the youngest and least developed Regional Seas programmes, the Northwest Pacific Action Plan (NOWPAP) adopted by the countries in 1994. The programme aims to protect the marine and coastal environment of the north west Pacific region by enlisting the cooperation of the countries sharing those seas. NOWPAP provides a platform for environmental cooperation for the protection and sustainable management of the marine and coastal ecosystems in a region which is shared by Japan, the People’s Republic of China, the Russian Federation and Korea.

The countries of the region realized that by joining forces they could strike a wise balance between the provision for human needs, use of resources, and economic development on the one hand, and the protection, enhancement and sustainability of the environment on the other.

IV. The opening of the RCU and the future of NOWPAP

Vice-Governor Onaga, Ladies and Gentlemen,

During the last two Governing Council meetings UNEP was requested by the countries of the region to serve as the interim secretariat for NOWPAP. UNEP’s Regional Seas Office is now committed to this demanding obligation and serves the region in the capacity of the interim secretariat. UNEP has been supporting intensively the implementation and the strengthening of the NOWPAP Action Plan. However, so far, due to the fact that the Regional Coordinating Unit has not been established yet, most of NOWPAP activities are carried out by the four Regional Activity Centres in Vladivostok, Russia; Daejon, Republic of Korea; Beijing, China and in Toyama.

So far, the RACs are addressing the main environmental issues in the region through:

o Improving monitoring and assessment of the environment;

o Establishing an effective Data and Information Network; and

o Improving the region’s preparedness and response to oil spills.

One of the RACs is based here in Toyama. The Special Monitoring & Coastal Environmental Assessment Regional Activity Centre (CEARAC), founded in 1999, is hosted by the Northwest Pacific Region Environmental Cooperation Center (NPEC). We are sure that more responsibilities and activities will be added in the future to the RACs and the RCU and that Toyama will continue to serve as one of the most important centres for NOWPAP.

The establishment of the Regional Coordinating Unit (RCU) for NOWPAP has been a long and difficult process which has already taken more than 5 years. I am sure that the RCU, once opened in Toyama and in Busan, will serve the region as a symbol of regional cooperation. UNEP looks upon the establishment of the RCU as a major step forward for NOWPAP, which, by this, will move into the next chapter of its rich history.

The coordinator of NOWPAP and the staff of the RCU will be recruited as full UNEP staff members. We start this process today. This will ensure the improved coordination and implementation of NOWPAP activities. I have no doubt that the present activities, coordinated until now from Nairobi and carried out mostly by the Regional Activity Centres (RACs), will benefit greatly by the opening and operating of the RCU.

Vice-Governor Onaga, Ladies and gentlemen,

So where are we now?

As you know, the RCU will be co-hosted by Toyama and Busan, in the Republic of Korea. UNEP has assisted in the finalization of the Host Country Agreements for the co-hosted RCU with Japan and the Republic of Korea. It is therefore with great pleasure that I can announce that UNEP and Japan (Ambassador Asani) signed the Host Country Agreement for the Toyama office on 16th September 2003 in Nairobi.

It is also a great pleasure for me to bring you the good news that finally after intensive negotiations we have finally reached an agreement on the text of the Host Country Agreement between the Government of the Republic of Korea and UNEP.

This good news will allow us to begin the practical steps towards the international recruitment of the staff of the RCU. It is my sincere hope that we shall be able to see soon the UN flag rising on top of one of the highest and most modern buildings of Toyama.

Before I finish, let me tell you about another important development in NOWPAP: A major accomplishment of the 8th NOWPAP Intergovernmental Meeting, held in November of last year in Sanya, China, was the adoption by the NOWPAP members of the Regional Oil Spill Contingency Plan. The Contingency Plan and its related MoU were adopted as technical and operational guidelines for cooperation in the NOWPAP region, in case of major oil spill emergencies. I am sure that you all remember the large oil spill of the Russian tanker the "Nakhodka", which polluted many tens of kilometers of beautiful Japanese coast. It is our hope that such accidents will not happen again in this region. However, in case this does occur, the new NOWPAP Regional Contingency Plan will serve as the basis for regional cooperation between the affected country and its neighbours, who will surely provide assistance.

This is an important step forward for the region and a good example on how NOWPAP can be used for improving regional cooperation for the protection of the marine environment.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Freshwater, sanitation and human settlement issues will be featured at CSD12. All these issues are closely linked to the marine and coastal environment. This important event will contribute to meeting the United Nations Millennium Development Goals and will provide a good opportunity to showcase the renewed strategic alliance of the Regional Seas, and it’s role in combating threats to both freshwater and marine environments.

I wish to express again my thanks to the Government of Japan for its strong and long lasting links to UNEP. I am sure that the opening of the NOWPAP RCU in Toyama will serve as another important building block, enhancing this continuous cooperation.

Thank you