Today, high-ranking representatives of the Baltic Sea countries and the European Commissioner for the Environment presented the Baltic Sea Action Plan for the 2021-2030 period. A particular focus is the activities to combat pollution of the Baltic Sea that is caused, in particular, by marine litter and eutrophication due to over-fertilisation. By 2030, 50 percent less waste is to end up on beaches than today. The HELCOM partners also want to improve the protection of marine species and habitats. To this end, one-third of the Baltic Sea is to be under strict protection and provided with effective management by 2030. Germany currently holds the HELCOM Chairmanship.
State Secretary Jochen Flasbarth remarked: "If our oceans are suffering, then people are suffering, too. In the coming years, the HELCOM partners want to get marine pollution under control and restore the Baltic Sea ecosystem. Ecosystems need to be resilient to the pressures of climate change and human intervention. Most importantly, the economic recovery after the coronavirus crisis must not come at the expense of climate action and marine conservation. The Baltic Sea countries are sending a clear message today to COP26: in future, climate action and climate adaptation will be the touchstones for all HELCOM resolutions. By 2030 at the latest, Germany will significantly improve the protection of the German Baltic Sea, thereby strengthening the management system in the entire Baltic Sea area."
The Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP) for the coming years takes into account all challenges and pressures affecting the Baltic Sea marine ecosystem. Some of the most important goals are: less litter in the oceans, less over-fertilisation, fewer adverse impacts on marine wildlife due to underwater noise pollution and as little disturbances of the seabed as possible.
Lilian Busse, current HELCOM Chair, commented: "The Science Agenda, adopted today for the first time under the Baltic Sea Action Plan, reaffirms the Parties’ commitment to tackling these challenges through increased scientific cooperation and on the basis of the latest findings. The Baltic Sea Action Plan is an example of how HELCOM continues to act as a role model in regional marine protection cooperation and contributes to achieving the global goals of healthy and sustainably used oceans. I am delighted that the Baltic Sea Action Plan also enhances our cooperation on different issues with the OSPAR Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic, which includes the North Sea. I am convinced that joining efforts across regions will improve marine conservation and stimulate the development of sustainable solutions. I am also pleased that an action plan on the reduction of underwater noise was successfully adopted and the problem of old munitions stemming from two World Wars jointly tackled."
In future, the HELCOM partners want to devote more attention to eutrophication. Over fertilisation is the reason why many nutrients used in agriculture enter the Baltic Sea through groundwater, rivers and the atmosphere. This results in massive algae growth, which deprives marine life and underwater plants of the oxygen they need. This has led to an increase in dead zones in the Baltic Sea. HELCOM is responding to this situation with a Nutrient Recycling Strategy. In the coming years, the partners plan to establish sustainable nutrient management and minimise the nutrient input into the Baltic Sea as much as possible through the efficient use of nutrients.
The HELCOM partners aim to increase the protected area of the Baltic Sea from the current level of about 15 percent to at least 30 percent. By 2030, one-third of these protected areas should be under strict protection. The action plan also includes targeted measures to maintain or restore the natural diversity of all species in the Baltic Sea, their food webs and habitats.
Moreover, the Contracting Parties updated the Regional HELCOM Marine Litter Action Plan, adopted in 2015. By 2025, at least 30 percent and by 2030 50 percent less litter should end up on the Baltic Sea beaches, compared to the current reference value of 40 pieces of litter per 100 meters of coastline. The focus is primarily on reducing plastic litter discharges into the Baltic Sea.
In addition to specific activities for reducing the amount of microplastics and single-use plastics in the oceans, the HELCOM countries support the initiative to draw up a global agreement on plastics and issue a negotiating mandate. This was recently advocated at international level by Germany, Ecuador, Ghana and Viet Nam. In future, the Baltic Sea countries aim to become a driving regional force at UN level in line with the work of OSPAR. For the first time, the Baltic Sea Action Plan also contains an action plan on the reduction of underwater noise. Moreover, it includes many policy proposals on pollutants and old munitions as well as stipulations on cross-cutting issues such as ocean governance, ecosystem approach or Good Environmental Status (GES).
Denmark, Germany, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia, Sweden and the EU work together in HELCOM. This cooperation is based on the legally binding Helsinki Convention of 1992 on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Baltic Sea Area from all sources of pollution from land, air and sea. The Contracting Parties also undertake to implement measures for the conservation of habitats and marine biodiversity and for the sustainable use of marine resources.
Germany, under the lead responsibility of the Federal Environment Ministry, currently holds the HELCOM Chairmanship. The Chairmanship functions are carried out by a team of representatives from the state and federal level. The Federal Environment Agency (UBA) is acting as Chair of HELCOM on behalf of the German government. Representatives from the states of Schleswig Holstein and Mecklenburg Western Pomerania each hold the Vice-Chair position for one year. The Chairmanship reflects the federal structure of Germany and underlines the important role the interests of the German coastal federal states play in Germany’s positioning in HELCOM.