One year on, Baltic Sea commitments have remained unimpressive
President Halonen: Cooperation between Finland and Russia has aided waste water treatment plant undertaking in Kaliningrad
The commitments made this time last year by the countries bordering the Baltic Sea to save the eutrophic brackish inland waterway, strained by heavy maritime traffic and harmful substances, are advancing very slowly and have remained somewhat unimpressive.
Concrete measures for example with regard to reducing emissions from agriculture are so far conspicuous by their absence.
The Baltic Sea countries discussed the progress of their undertakings In Helsinki on Thursday, exactly one year on from the Baltic Sea Action Summit held in the city on February 10th, 2010 (see linked articles and link to BSAS).
Even though most of the countries’ commitments are already included in previously agreed programmes, President Tarja Halonen was still pleased with the results of the summit: “We are heading in a radical direction. The fact that there have been a few failures as well only shows that we are being realistic.”
Halonen forwarded to the conference guests greetings from the Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin: “I talked with Putin over the telephone and he promised that the next Baltic Sea meeting would take place in Russia.”
Also in other respects Halonen emphasised the cooperation between Finland and Russia: “It has also caused things to pick up once again in Kaliningrad.”
The unfinished construction of the Kaliningrad wastewater treatment plant is set to get back on track.
When completed, the plant will have a huge impact on the Baltic Sea, for at present all of the city’s effluents are discharged into the sea untreated.
According to Finland’s Environmental Institute (SYKE) special researcher Seppo Knuuttila, who has been evaluating the commitments, the bulk of the countries’ commitments are included in the 2007 Baltic Sea Action Plan by the Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission (HELCOM) or the strategy agreed on by the EU nations.
“This will pull the rug for example from under Poland’s commitments. When joining the EU, Poland was saddled with the same obligations as the rest of the member states, but now necessity is turned into a virtue.”
Andrzej Jagusiewicz, Chief Inspector of Environmental Protection in Poland, in turn, emphasised in his presentation Poland’s efforts at improving its waste water treatment activities.
He also said that by 2015 Poland plans to remove a minimum of 75 per cent of all the nutrients from its effluents.
Knuuttila points out that the EU countries have agreed on more radical emission reductions: 80 per cent of phosphorus and 70-80 per cent of nitrogen.
Completely new measures are needed to reduce the emissions from agriculture.
“So far only Denmark has been able to prove that the measures it has put in place towards reducing agricultural emissions are actually working.”
Knuuttila fretted over the fact that most of the commitments relate to the Baltic Sea’s most obvious problem, namely eutrophication.
“There were no palpable commitments with regard to reducing emissions of harmful substances. Likewise, the diversity and conservation of nature remained secondary in importance. Germany is the only country to announce prevention of overfishing as an aim.”
According to Knuuttila, among the most significant commitments is the John Nurminen Foundation’s commitment to reduce the Baltic Sea’s annual phosphorus load by a minimum of 2,500 tonnes.
This would cover 30-40 per cent of the HELCOM objective. HELCOM is the governing body of the "Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Baltic Sea Area", more commonly known as the Helsinki Convention.
The foundation has been realising its undertaking in St. Petersburg, where a thousand tonnes of phosphorus has been removed from the effluent. The foundation has also launched similar operations in the Baltic States, Belarus, and Poland.
The John Nurminen Foundation’s chairman Juha Nurminen points out that a summit that is based on several different commitments is a great thing on the ideological plane, but on the practical level its effectiveness can be questionable.
“When the various projects represent opposite extremes, their ultimate effects can easily remain obscure.”
Previously in HS International Edition:
Countries make few binding commitments at Baltic Sea summit (11.2.2010)
Protection of Baltic Sea losing steam; ministerial meeting in Moscow fails to reach its goals (21.5.2010)
Finland to ban phosphates in laundry detergent (29.1.2010)
Baltic Sea needs urgent attention (14.4.2008)
Baltic Sea (Wikipedia)
Baltic Sea Action Summit
John Nurminen Foundation