• Kyodo

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After a decade of political wrangling, Japan and three other countries have agreed to open joint United Nations-supported offices to address wastewater, oil spills and other threats to the Pacific Ocean.

On Tuesday, coordinating centers for the U.N. Environment Program opened in Toyama, Japan, and Pusan, South Korea, with additional staff from China and Russia. The aim of the UNEP centers is to speed up the process of solving environmental threats and to share expertise on protecting the international waters of the Northwest Pacific Ocean.

Regional “activity centers” in Toyama, Beijing, Vladivostok and Taejon in South Korea, as well as environmental departments under each member government, will support the coordinating centers.

Oil spills from wastewater and shipping accidents are a leading issue, and the four have agreed on a contingency plan to address it.

Chemical and industrial waste, untreated municipal sewage and agricultural pesticide runoff are also priorities. These problems reduce oxygen in the ocean, leading to harmful algal blooms known as “dead zones,” a U.N. press statement said.

UNEP says other harmful problems include coastal trash and atmospheric pollution.

The four countries set up the joint offices to follow up on their 1994 Action Plan for the Protection, Management and Development of the Marine and Coastal Environment of the Northwest Pacific.

Political issues, including the balance of power at the coordination centers and the official names of smaller oceans, including the Sea of Japan, have stalled progress on the centers since 1994, UNEP spokesman Tim Higham said.

“We’re very pleased (that) after 10 years of being a go-between we can turn it over to the countries,” Higham said. “Everybody knows now the seas are under incredible pressure.”

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