Diverging views between governments put the future of the Baltic Sea in jeopardy

Baltic Sea Environment Ministers will put pen to paper and sign the review of the Baltic Sea Action Plan in less than a month. Surprisingly, Sweden seems to be blocking any real progress, changing positions on a number of key issues.This week, representatives from the Baltic Sea countries met in Copenhagen to review environmental targets for the Baltic Sea. Sadly, marine conservation NGOs, including Oceana, FISHCoalition Clean Baltic (CCB), and the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation, witnessed the squandering of a chance to reach a strong agreement in time for the upcoming Ministerial meeting.

“If this watered down agreement is adopted at the upcoming Ministerial meeting in Copenhagen 3rd October, the future of the Baltic Sea looks grim,” stated Hanna Paulomäki, Oceana’s Baltic Sea project manager.

Surprisingly Sweden, which was among the forerunners in 2007 when the Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP) was adopted, has now changed its mind on a number of key issues. The Swedish delegation tabled a controversial proposal on agricultural run-off applauded by the industry, which severely waters down the proposal to control over-fertilisation, a big factor behind the yearly algae blooms in the Baltic Sea. Sweden’s proposal goes so far as to make the fulfilment of already agreed targets in the BSAP voluntary for the member states – something that has rarely worked in the past

“This proposal is a catastrophe. Sweden has changed its position from the most environmentally friendly country to worst of the bunch, and now has the lowest ambition when it comes to agricultural runoff from farming. It’s embarrassing for Sweden,” added Gunnar Norén, Executive Secretary of Coalition Clean Baltic. The proposal received little support from the countries present and Germany issued some harsh criticism, but the issue remains unsolved for the moment.

The new Ministerial agreement – the reviewed HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan– is supposed to pave the way to solving the environmental challenges of the Baltic Sea and reaching good environmental status by 2020. Despite a straightforward path to reach this objective, diverging views and hesitation between different delegations are hijacking the progress.

“Even after two days of discussion, it is clear that there is a lack of willingness to proceed and stronger action is needed. Decision makers need to show courage and start implementing the targets they already agreed on”, concluded Hanna Paulomäki.

To restore the health of our sea, Baltic Sea governments need to deliver on their environmental promises.

Oceana, FISH and CCB want to see a commitment and clear actions in order to:

Restore water quality through a significant reduction of the amount of agricultural nutrient run-off; the main cause of eutrophication in the Baltic Sea.
Recover the natural wealth of fish stocks in the Baltic Sea to ensure long-term sustainability and ecosystem integrity.
Revive the biological diversity by protecting important areas from destructive practices and putting in place proper management plans and measures.

The next round of discussions, ahead of the Ministerial meeting, will take place on the 23-24 September.