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Defining the final shape of the Baltic recovery strategy

The 28th annual Meeting of the Helsinki Commission, held on 7-8 March 2007, conducted an extensive review of the proposed draft Baltic Sea Action Plan, and resolved to intensify efforts to complete the outstanding details of the new environmental strategy in order to have it fully ready for adoption at the Meeting of the Ministers of the Environment of the HELCOM Member States and the EU, slated for November 2007.

The ambitious plan of actions currently being designed by the coastal countries to restore the troubled marine environment of the Baltic Sea was the topmost issue on the agenda of the annual Commission Meeting. Representatives of the coastal countries and the EU discussed the initial structure of the holistic plan, particularly focusing on the actions needed to achieve within a given timeframe the agreed goal of a Baltic Sea unaffected by eutrophication, undisturbed by hazardous substances, with favourable biodiversity and environmentally friendly maritime activities. Following the recommendations of the 2nd International Stakeholder Conference on the Baltic Sea Action Plan, the HELCOM Member States agreed that the set of measures identified so far is a good starting point, since the measures encompass the necessary actions in general, but the meeting stressed that more concrete programmes and measures will have to be elaborated for the strategy to take its final shape.

Acknowledging that HELCOM has now entered the final and most crucial phase in the development of the Baltic Sea Action Plan, the coastal countries also stressed that what is at stake now is strong political commitment of the coastal states to implement existing measures and planned actions in order to reach and maintain good ecological status of the Baltic.

The coastal countries’ officials emphasised the importance of linking the proposed set of actions to the existing funding mechanisms, and examining their cost-efficiency. It was agreed that cost-efficiency is a vital issue when the necessary measures are jointly identified. It was also pointed out that in addition to specifying the cost of achieving the targets, the value of a healthy Baltic Sea should also be highlighted, as well as the eventual cost of inaction. The Commission also agreed that it is necessary to develop a mechanism for the implementation of the action plan, and to set up a clear timetable for the strategy. It was acknowledged that the plan needs to be evaluated on a regular basis to check the status of implementation of the actions.

Extensive discussion focused on the possible establishment of quotas for nutrient reductions for each country, which could be instrumental in reducing the eutrophication of the Baltic Sea. Delegations from the coastal countries agreed on the need to look further into the concept of a quota system and a possible trading scheme.

The Baltic Sea countries approved a new HELCOM Recommendation on the “Strengthening of sub-regional co-operation in response field”, which will also form part of the HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan. This Recommendation will be supplemented by guidance on how to quantify the needed emergency and response capacity in all the sub-regions of the Baltic Sea. The new Recommendation and the related guidelines will be submitted for adoption by the HELCOM Ministerial Meeting.