Northwest Pacific Action Plan

A. Overview

The Northwest Pacific region features coastal and island ecosystems with spectacular marine life and commercially important fishing resources. Home to a wealth of biodiversity and mineral resources, the region is also one of the most densely populated in the world, resulting in unprecedented pressures on ecosystems and the environment. Climate change, rapid coastal development, onshore and offshore industry, tourism, and pollution (especially caused by eutrophication), marine litter and microplastics, biodiversity loss and the introduction of invasive non-indigenous species are taking an increasing toll on Northwest Pacific marine and coastal environmental health. Situated in one of the busiest international shipping lanes, the region is also at high risk of accidental oil and hazardous and noxious substances spills at sea. NOWPAP marine ecosystems are rated among the world's most vulnerable to human impact. The region is vast and features a large variety of marine and coastal ecosystems, from cold and deep-water ecosystems in the north to coral reefs in the south. The region comprises semi-enclosed marginal seas situated in both the sub-polar and temperate zones. It has spectacular marine life and commercially important fishing and mariculture grounds and rich offshore mineral resources such as oil. Coastal development, industry, transport, oil production and activities such as land reclamation and intensive mariculture take an ever-greater toll on coastal ecosystems. Chemical and industrial wastes, untreated municipal sewage, agricultural pesticides and nutrients in runoff cause widespread damage and stimulate eutrophication and harmful algal blooms. Added to these are pollution from land, accidental oil spills, atmospheric pollution and marine and coastal litter.

B. Introduction

The Action Plan for the Protection, Management and Development of the Marine and Coastal Environment of the Northwest Pacific Region (NOWPAP), launched in September 1994 is part of the United Nations Environment Regional Seas Programme. The overall goal of the Northwest Pacific Action Plan is "the wise use, development and management of the coastal and marine environment to obtain the utmost long-term benefits for the human populations of the region, while protecting human health, ecological integrity and the region's sustainability for future generations". Three complementary goals were also defined as follows:

  1. The control, halting and prevention of any further degradation and deterioration of the coastal and marine environment and its resources;
  2. The recovery and rehabilitation of the coastal and marine environments that have been degraded and which still have the potential for such a recovery;
  3. The long-term sustainability of coastal and marine environmental quality and resources as assets for the present and future human populations of the region.

In implementing its mandate as a regional cooperative mechanism for the protection and sustainable development of the Northwest Pacific marine and coastal environment, NOWPAP has often been at the forefront of addressing environmental challenges through its technical assessments, capacity-building and policy support.

The current member states are: Democratic People’s Republic of Korea; Japan; People’s Republic of China; Republic of Korea; Russian Federation.

C. History

In 1991, representatives of northwest Pacific countries met in Vladivostok, Russian Federation to discuss an Action Plan to implement the Regional Seas Programme in the region. At the second meeting of Experts and National Focal Points on the Development of the Northwest Pacific Action Plan, held in Beijing from 26 to 30 October 1992, in cooperation with the National Environmental Protection Agency, the first draft of the Action Plan was discussed. Subsequently, UNEP arranged for revisions and improvements to the draft and final draft was discussed and agreed to by the participants at the Third Meeting of Experts and National Focal Points on the Development of the Northwest Pacific Action Plan, which was held in Bangkok form 10 to 12 November 1993.The Northwest Pacific Action Plan was adopted in 1994 by the four Member States, namely the People’s Republic of China, Japan, the Republic of Korea and the Russian Federation as a part of the UNEP Regional Seas Programme.

D. The Convention and its legal instruments

  1. Northwest Pacific Action Plan goal is the wise use, development and management of the coastal and marine environment so as to obtain the utmost long-term benefits for the human populations of the region, while protecting human health, ecological integrity and the region’s sustainability for future generations.
  2. NOWPAP Regional Oil and HNS Spill Contingency Plan (RCP) - The NOWPAP Marine Environmental Emergency Preparedness and Response Region Activity Centre (MERRAC) established jointly by UNEP and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) supports Member States in building capacity and coordinating preparedness and response to oil and hazardous and noxious substances (HNS) spills and implementing the NOWPAP Regional Oil and HNS Spill Contingency Plan (RCP). The latter enables a member state to request assistance from other countries in the event of a major spill incident. The NOWPAP Regional Oil Spill Contingency Plan was adopted in 2003. The Plan was amended to cover the hazardous and noxious substances (HNS) in 2008.

E. Organizational structure

  1. Regional Coordinating Unit (RCU) - is the nerve center directing and promoting the NOWPAP activities. It has the overall responsibility for the implementation of the NOWPAP Members' decisions regarding the operation of the Action Plan. It also coordinates the activities of the four RACs. It was set up in Toyama, Japan and Busan, Korea.
  2. Intergovernmental Meeting (IGM) – This is the high-level governing body of NOWPAP that provides policy guidance and makes decisions. The IGMs are held annually in one of the participating countries on a rotational basis.
  3. Focal Points are senior representatives of the following ministries in the Member States.
  1. Regional Activity Centers  (RACs)They coordinate the network of national institutions that run projects that implement the action plan.  
  1. Secretariat

F. Areas of work

The NOWPAP Medium-term Strategy (MTS) is strategic guidance for members, Regional Activity Centres (RACs) and Regional Coordinating Units (RCU) to implement NOWPAP activities to achieve its overall goal. Member states use the MTS to prioritize NOWPAP projects and activities. The 2018-2023 NOWPAP Medium-term Strategy aims to equip the Member States with an evidence-based cooperative mechanism to ensure a healthy marine and coastal environment, thereby advancing regional progress towards achieving ocean-related Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. The MTS has identified core areas of work to prevent and reverse increasing degradation of the marine and coastal environment in one of the world's most impacted by human activities and natural changes region

  1. Integrated coastal and river basin planning and management for healthy and productive coastal and marine ecosystems. 2030 Impact: SDG 14.2: By 2020, sustainably manage and protect marine and coastal ecosystems to avoid significant adverse impacts, including by strengthening their resilience, and take action for their restoration to achieve healthy and productive oceans.
  2. Regular assessments of the state of the marine environment. 2030 Impact: Evidence-based policy-making and assessments fully integrating the environmental dimension of sustainable development of the coastal and marine areas in support of SDGs 6, 12, 14, 15 and 17.
  3. Developing and adopting effective measures for mutual support in marine pollution emergencies and in mitigating coastal and marine pollution.
    2030 Impact: SDG 14.1: By 2025, prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds, in particular from land-based activities, including marine debris and nutrient pollution.
  4. Biodiversity conservation. 2030 Impact: SDGs 14.1., 14.2 & 14.5: By 2020, conserve at least 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas, consistent with national and international law and based on the best available scientific information.
  5. Strengthening regional cooperation through partnership building and resources mobilization.
    2030 Impact: Enhanced and effective regional cooperation in the sustainable management of the coastal and marine environment.

G. Partnerships

NOWPAP engages in issue-based collaboration with major stakeholders, including other Regional Seas programmes, regional and global multilateral partners, national institutions based on common principles and values and the shared goal of marine and coastal conservation. Partners include: the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in 2014. It is also a non-country partner or collaborator of the following regional institutions: the North Pacific Marine Science Organization (PICES) (ex-officio member of several thematic groups); non-country partner of the Partnerships in Environmental Management for the Seas of East Asia (PEMSEA); partner in the North-East Asian Subregional Programme for Environmental Cooperation (NEASPEC); partner in the Sub-Commission for the Western Pacific (WESTPAC) of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); partner of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)/Global Environment Facility (GEF) Yellow Sea LME Project Phase II; and partner in the Coordinating Body for the Seas of East Asia (COBSEA). NOWPAP works on marine litter issues closely with the Tripartite Environmental Ministers Meeting (TEMM).

H. Ongoing projects 

The 2020-2021 Programme of Work includes 29 individual projects structured within four Priority Areas and a cross-cutting theme on Partnership Building and Resource Mobilization.

  1. Support Ecosystem-Based Integrated Coastal and River Basin Management (ICARM)
  2. Assess Status of the Marine and Coastal Environment
  3. Prevent and Reduce Land- and Sea-Based Pollution
  4. Conserve marine and coastal biodiversity

I. Achievements

  1. The first National Reports on Integrated Coastal and River Basin Management in the NOWPAP region, published in 2007 and the Regional Overview on Integrated Coastal and River Basin Management (ICARM) in the NOWPAP Region, published in 2010, documented the status of ICARM in the region and identified opportunities. The “Integrated Coastal Planning and Ecosystem-Based Management in the Northwest Pacific Region ” report published in 2013.
  2. The NOWPAP Data and Information Network Regional Activity Centre (DINRAC) maintains databases on major marine environmental data available in the Member States. These include marine litter, coastal and marine nature reserves, coastal and marine environmental Geographic Information Systems and Remote Sensing applications as well as a database on relevant institutions and experts in the region.
  3. In 2018, the NOWPAP Special Monitoring and Coastal Environmental Assessment Regional Activity Centre (CEARAC) published “Assessment of Major Pressures on Marine Biodiversity in the NOWPAP Region” providing the first systematic overview of the major pressures on marine biodiversity in the region, namely: eutrophication, non-indigenous species and habitat alteration.
  4. In 2017, the “Regional Report on Pilot Assessments of Impacts of Major Threats on Marine Biodiversity in the NOWPAP Region” was published as a first step towards developing a new methodology to assess the impact of pressures/threats to marine biodiversity.
  5. In 2018, the NOWPAP Special Monitoring and Coastal Environmental Assessment Regional Activity Centre (CEARAC) assessed major pressures on marine biodiversity in the region.
  6. The CEARAC Assessment of major pressures, eutrophication, NIS and habitat alteration on marine biodiversity in 2018 found a worsening of the environmental pressures linked to the rapid economic growth in the region. A major factor is the rapid growth of aquaculture in the region with a strong impact on marine biodiversity.
  7. In 2018, CEARAC published a report on the technical feasibility of assessing the regional distribution of ‘blue carbon’ sinks – seagrass beds.
  8. In 2018 and 2019, a total of 1,196 species listed on the Red List of Japan were evaluated by national experts from China, Korea and Russia.
  9. NOWPAP has produced great regional reports notably:
    • Regional Report “Microplastics abundance in river runoff and coastal waters of the NOWPAP region with a case study in the Russian coastal waters” finalized in December 2019
    • Regional overview: Assessment of trends in the river and direct inputs of contaminants to the marine and coastal environment completed in December 2019
    • The regional report on the use of unmanned aircraft during marine pollution response has been developed.
    • A Regional Synthesis Report on NOWPAP EcoQO targets aligned with SDG indicators published in October 2019
  10. Guidelines on the assessment of oil spill response capability in the NOWPAP region developed in 2019
  11. The regional node of the Global Partnership on Marine Litter (GPML) was upgraded in 2019
  12. NOWPAP Eutrophication Assessment Tool (NEAT), a satellite remote sensing technique for the timely detection of potential dead zones in the sea, developed by NOWPAP, is now ready for use to protect oceans from the severe threat of eutrophication which negatively impacts marine and human health, but also can severely harm fisheries and tourism-related business.
  13. Establishment of a robust network of four Regional Activity Centers and the Regional Coordinating Unit as well as a sound financial architecture for the NOWPAP cooperation mechanism.
  14. NOWPAP has established two major regional environmental cooperation frameworks, namely the Regional Oil and Hazardous and Noxious Substances (HNS) Spill Contingency Plan adopted in 2009 and the Regional Action Plan on Marine Litter adopted in 2008. In recent years, Ecological Quality Objectives have been introduced as benchmarks to evaluate progress.
  15. Since its establishment (under NOWPAP) in 2000, the Marine Environmental Emergency Preparedness and Response Regional Activity Centre (MERRAC) – with support from UN Environment and the International Maritime Organization – has been coordinating the RCP activities of relevant national focal points and competent authorities at the regional Level with notable successes.
  16. NOWPAP have conducted regular training courses and practical exercises.
  17. Supported knowledge-sharing and transfer among relevant regional and international organizations such as the Regional Marine Pollution Emergency Response Centre for the Mediterranean Sea; the Centre of Documentation, Research and Experimentation on Accidental Water Pollution; the European Maritime Safety Agency; the Helsinki Commission; and international NGOs (the International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation, International Oil Pollution Compensation Funds and Oil Spill Response Limited).

J. Interesting facts (About the Convention or the Contracting Parties)

  • 143 species included in the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) red list are observed in the Northwest Pacific region
  • A quarter of the world’s fish catch is produced in the NOWPAP region


Contact us

Toyama Office
5-5 Ushijimashin-machi, Tower 111-6F
Toyama City, 930-0856 Japan
TEL.: +81-76-444-16-11 / FAX: +81-76-444-27-80

Busan Office
216 Gijanghaean-ro, Gijang-eup, Gijang-gun,
Busan, 46083, Republic of Korea
TEL.: +82-51-720-3003, FAX: +82-51-720-3009