Restoring Baltic Sea can’t be delayed for another decade – political ambition must be raised by Baltic countries

June 7, 2021 –This year marks a milestone for the protection of the Baltic Sea. The updated Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP) – which will be adopted in October 2021 – is HELCOM’s strategic programme of measures and a key tool for restoring the Baltic Sea by 2030.  However, Baltic countries at the HELCOM Heads of Delegation meeting last week showed a lack of bold commitment and high ambitions. Coalition Clean Baltic and WWF are calling for concrete political targets to reach a good environmental status in the Baltic Sea. Investing in nature is a prerequisite to supporting economic activities which depend on the sea’s natural resources while building resilience of vulnerable coastal communities. 

Coalition Clean Baltic and WWF have been active in the update process and presented a joint Shadow Plan [1] with recommended actions across not only the main themes addressed by the current Action Plan (biodiversity, eutrophication, hazardous substances and litter, sea-based activities), but also emerging issues such as climate change, underwater noise and seabed disturbance.

“There are inevitable trade-offs that need to be made if we are to bend the curve on biodiversity loss and avoid reaching critical tipping points. Our economic prosperity is dependent on the health of the Baltic Sea’s ecosystems. The reluctance of Baltic Sea countries to set bold political targets is undermining the very possibility of achieving good environmental status, which was set to be achieved this year by the current BSAP,”

says Ottilia Thoreson, Programme Director at WWF Baltic Ecoregion Programme.

“In order to meet the BSAP targets, HELCOM has to operationalize the ecosystem approach that was introduced at the Ministerial Meeting back in 2003. It’s time to implement it in practice across all sectors and human activities, both at sea and on land, including fisheries, shipping and agriculture,”

says Mikhail Durkin, Executive Secretary at Coalition Clean Baltic.

The updated BSAP has an impressive 200 actions set to be rolled out over the course of the next nine years to prevent further deterioration of the Baltic Sea. Certain measurable targets are particularly positive: allocating 30% Marine Protected Areas across the Baltic Sea by no later than 2030, including ⅓ to be strictly protected and for countries to adopt legally binding management measures. Eutrophication is a major land-based threat to the overall state of the Baltic Sea environment and food web. The national nutrient input ceilings set clear thresholds for pollution reduction measures to be achieved by individual countries by no later than 2027.

Nevertheless, the overall actions fall short and lack the force and sense of urgency that is now essential. Concrete political targets are the only way to shift away from the current trajectory of cumulative, negative impacts from human activities towards actions to improve the Baltic Sea environment. It is not enough to keep updating BSAP measures to establish and develop guidelines, road maps, evaluate existing programmes and conduct baseline surveys. While these are vital in addressing pressures, they are not in themselves going to help achieve good environmental status by 2030. Even the ambition set for the desired state of the Baltic Sea is underwhelming –  calling for ‘minimal’ harm and disturbance to biodiversity, ecosystem and marine life – instead of committing to achieve zero pollution and impact.

Between now and October 2021, all Baltic countries must raise their political ambitions and implement an updated BSAP that includes:

  • Setting concrete political targets and binding measures to reduce eutrophication, overfishing and which steer towards net zero pollution and environmentally sustainable sea-based activities.
  • Reaches cross-sectoral political support to ensure ecosystem-based management is applied.
  • Acts on scientific advances and expertise. 
  • Ensures the plan will be financially resourced and driven by agencies from national to local levels.
  • Sets targets in national policies and strategies for all relevant sectors to adapt to the BSAP goal of achieving good environmental status.

The coming decade will be decisive. Action must be taken now to support communities on land and in coastal areas, to increase resilience to climate change, and to prevent the deepening crisis of collapsing fish stocks, nature loss and dead zones in our sea. 

NGOs call on all Baltic countries to take the necessary steps in the last stretch until October to ensure a robust, future-proof BSAP that will lead to change in the condition of the sea.


Notes to editors:

CCB – Coalition Clean Baltic is a politically independent, non-profit association, which unites 23 member organizations and 1 observer, with over 850,000 members in all countries around the Baltic Sea. The main goal of CCB is to promote the protection and improvement of the Baltic Sea environment and its natural resources. More info at www.ccb.se

WWF Baltic Ecoregion Programme – is an ambitious and highly influential force working to conserve and restore the health of the Balitc Sea. The programme is comprised of WWF and NGO partners in each of the nine coastal Baltic Sea countries. Representing the region’s largest membership network, the programme’s approach has been to work with public and private sector partners toward ensuring a healthy, productive Baltic Sea through sustainable, ecosystem-based management. More info at: https://www.wwfbaltic.org/

The HELCOM State of the Baltic Sea Report – shows that despite a few promising trends in the last 12 years, the objectives of the current BSAP have not been reached and countries have missed the 2020 deadline – outlined in the European Union’s Marine Strategy Framework Directive – to achieve and maintain a ‘Good Environmental Status’ in the sea.

The update process – An updated plan is currently being developed and negotiated by the ten HELCOM members – the nine Baltic Sea countries plus the European Union – and is due to be adopted at a Ministerial Meeting 2021. Its focus will be on the same areas as the current plan with some adaptation to include additional pressures from human activities including: climate change, eutrophication, hazardous substances and litter, sea-based activities and achieve a healthy and resilient ecosystem. It will also address emerging issues to be tackled on a regional scale such as, marine litter, underwater noise and seabed disturbance.

[1] The Baltic Shadow Plan: For the future of the Baltic Seahttps://www.wwfbaltic.org/news/the-baltic-shadow-plan-for-the-future-of-the-baltic-sea/