Is time running out for the Baltic Sea?

  • 2007-11-14
  • By Asmund Kristoffersen, Member of Parliament, Norway
On Nov. 15, Ministers of Environment of all the countries surrounding the Baltic Sea will meet to decide the future of that sea trough [by discussing] the Baltic Sea Action Plan. The HELCOM (Helsinki Convention) ministerial meeting in Krakow, Poland, is the single most important meeting to save the Baltic Sea from an ecological disaster in the future. For 30 years HELCOM has been actively trying to protect the marine environment of the Baltic Sea. 

There is nothing new about the severe status of the marine environment of the Baltic Sea. Intensive agriculture in the riparian states has lead to run-off of abnormal amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus into the Baltic Sea. In turn, this excess of nutrients gives algaes highly favorable growing conditions at the expense of all other life in the Baltic Sea. The sea, which is the world's largest brackish water, is also under pressure from heavy shipping and receives various sources of pollution from the densely populated areas along the coast. The once-thriving fishing industry is strictly regulated and high levels of dioxins in fish from the Baltic Sea no longer give ground for making a living out of fishing.
The leaders of the Baltic Sea states have a golden opportunity to agree upon an action plan to save the Baltic Sea and restore the ecological balance [so that it can] be enjoyed by future generations.

Short-term gains take the upper hand

HELCOM has for years worked for an action plan to save the Baltic Sea. The contracting parties 's Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia, Sweden and the European Community 's principally agree that an ambitious action plan is needed to restore the Baltic Sea to a sound ecologic state.
However, the last meeting of Heads of Delegations to discuss the final text of the Baltic Sea Action Plan reveals that many countries, and I will not name any particularly, have chosen to listen to the interests of the agricultural sector, shipping industry and what little is left of the fishing industry, rather than to take long-term responsibility for the environment.

I believe this position will lead to a loss for all parties in the long run. We cannot advance further than the limits set by our environment. The number of reservations to the draft Baltic Sea Action Plan are so numerous that they [threaten to leave] the Action Plan having only slightly more value than the paper it is written on.
The last negotiations show that intentions and action do not go hand in hand with most Baltic Sea state leaders. 

Parliamentary support for an ambitious and effective Baltic Sea Action Plan

I feel it is the right time to remind the governments of the Baltic Sea states about the parliamentary working group on eutrophication of the Baltic Sea, which I was chairing from early 2006 under the Baltic Sea Parliamentary Conference (BSPC). Members of the working group represented the riparian countries of the Baltic Sea and our mandate was to raise awareness about the problem of eutrophication and suggest mitigations.

In Berlin this August, parliamentarians of all the Baltic Sea states approved the recommendations of the working group at the annual meeting of BSPC. All member-states of the BSPC are also members of HELCOM.
The recommendations ap-proved in Berlin consist of 25 concrete measures... most of them can be implemented shortly. I would like to mention all 25 here, but will highlight the third recommendation to the governments of the Baltic Sea states: "The HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan, (BSAP), which is based on ecological objectives, is welcomed. All governments of the region are strongly urged to support an ambitious action plan, to commit to the plan, and to implement it fully."

I will urge all parties involved in negotiations of the HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan to take a second look at the recommendations for the 16th Baltic Sea Parliamentary Conference, and remind themselves that these 25 recommendations do have public support. The governments' political room for maneuvering is bigger than perceived. My hope and wish is that the work of the working group on eutrophication of the Baltic Sea will, at the last minute, show representatives of the governments that they have support for agreeing on an ambitious Action Plan that will save the Baltic Sea for coming generations. 

Asmund Kristoffersen, a Member of Parliament in Norway, is Chairman of the Nordic Council Environment Committee and former Chairman of the working group on eutrophication of the Baltic Sea under the BSPC.

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