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Environment ministers from Asia-Pacific nations adopted a new action program Tuesday aimed at achieving environmentally sound and sustainable development in the region over the next five years.

At the end of their two-day conference here, ministers from 42 members of the U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific also established a network among the regions’ local governments to help exchange information on combating environmental problems.

The ESCAP ministers reviewed achievements made under their 1996-2000 action program, which covered 24 areas of concern, and approved a new program that focuses on eight points for 2001-2005.

The eight issues are environmental quality and human health, biodiversity, coastal and marine environments, freshwater resources, desertification and land degradation, globalization and policy integration, climate change and sustainable energy policy.

Delegates also adopted the Kitakyushu Initiative for a Clean Environment, which incorporates lessons learned by the industrial city, which has overcome severe air and water pollution, and set up a network of local governments to jointly tackle environmental problems.

The network, a project under the new regional action program, will foster exchanges of environmental information using advanced information technology, provide for the monitoring of air and water pollution and waste management in the region, encourage the transfer of technology and promote financial support for cooperation between cities.

The ministers also issued a regional message to be sent to the “Rio+10” U.N. conference slated for 2002 and a formal declaration on an environmental vision for the 21st century.

As part of the message for the conference — a followup to the 1992 Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro — the ministers emphasized the need to eradicate poverty and illiteracy and called for increased financial assistance for developing countries. They also urged that the 2002 gathering be held in Indonesia.

In addition, the ministers pledged to establish border-straddling areas to protect endangered species and conduct cross-border pollution monitoring.

The ESCAP environmental ministers’ meeting has been held every five years since 1985. The three previous meetings were held in Bangkok, where the U.N. body’s headquarters is located.

Clash over whaling

KITAKYUSHU (Kyodo) Australia and Japan clashed Tuesday over Japan’s expanded whale hunt during a U.N.-sponsored meeting on the environment and development here, although the whaling issue was not on the agenda.

An Australian delegate expressed regret over Japan’s whaling program at the meeting, sponsored by the U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific.

A member of the Japanese delegation defended its whaling as being for scientific purposes and insisted that the issue should not be discussed “emotionally.”

The Australian position echoes the stance of the United States, which boycotted the ESCAP meeting to protest Japan’s expansion of its whaling program this year to catch 100 minke whales as well as 10 sperm whales and 50 Bryde’s whales.

Sperm whales and Bryde’s whales have not been hunted by any country since 1987, a year after an international moratorium on commercial whaling took effect.

The Australian delegate said an overwhelming majority at the International Whaling Commission’s plenary session recommended that Japan should not expand its whaling program, forming an international consensus.

The Japanese representative said the country’s program is intended to maintain the sustainability of maritime resources and that catching 10 sperm whales out of an estimated 100,000 in the northwestern Pacific would not be problematic.

He said overprotecting one species would be detrimental to the entire ecological system.

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