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Press release


HELCOM makes history with ambitious plan to restore the Baltic


Krakow, 15 November (HELCOM Information Service) – The Ministers of the Environment and Senior Government Officials of the Member States of HELCOM, an international organization for the protection of the Baltic marine environment, at their meeting today in Krakow, Poland, adopted an ambitious overarching action plan to drastically reduce pollution to the Baltic Sea and restore its good ecological status by 2021. The programme of actions was approved by representatives of Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia, Sweden and the European Community, which is also a HELCOM Member. Denmark is expected to adopt the plan at a later stage following the formation of the new cabinet.

“After 18 months of drafting and negotiating, the coastal countries have reached broad consensus on concrete and meaningful measures that are needed to achieve our common goal of a healthy marine environment,” said Prof. Mieczyslaw Ostojski, HELCOM’s Chairman.

“The adoption of the Baltic Sea Action Plan represents a milestone in our join efforts to restore the Baltic marine environment,” said HELCOM’s Chairman. “The plan is the first attempt by a regional marine protection convention to implement the ecosystem approach defined by the 1992 Rio Declaration and the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg. It will lead to profound, innovative changes in the ways the coastal countries manage the environment in the Baltic Sea region.”

This cross-sectoral plan is designed to solve all major environmental problems affecting the Baltic Sea. It sets an ambitious target of achieving a good ecological status of the Baltic Sea - a sea with diverse biological components functioning in balance and supporting a wide range of sustainable human economic and social activities. The plan contains concrete and meaningful actions to curb eutrophication, prevent pollution involving hazardous substances, improve maritime safety and accident response capacity, and halt habitat destruction and the decline in biodiversity.

The environmental state of the Baltic Sea is rapidly deteriorating and requires urgent and comprehensive actions in order to prevent an irreversible environmental catastrophe,” said HELCOM Chairman. He also emphasised that failure to react right now will undermine both the prospects for the future recovery of the sea, and a vital resource for the future economic prosperity of the whole region. “If we continue the same way as today, the cost of non-action will be tenfold higher than the cost of action,” said Ostojski.

Clearly realizing this, the Baltic Sea countries came together in a spirit of unprecedented co-operation to devise a recovery strategy that lists joint goals for Baltic’s future and sets forth a commitment to achieve these goals through specific actions that the coastal countries will jointly undertake.

Of the many environmental challenges, the most serious, and proving difficult to tackle with conventional approaches, is the continuing eutrophication of the Baltic Sea, caused by excessive nutrient pollution loads of nitrogen and phosphorus to the sea originating from agriculture and untreated sewage. This leads to problems like increased algae blooms, murky waters, oxygen depletion and lifeless sea bottoms. Compared to pristine conditions in the 19th century, nitrogen input to the Baltic Sea has increased ninefold, resulting in extensive summer algal blooms, as can be seen almost everywhere in the main basin of the Baltic Sea.

“The results that we get from modeling are encouraging and show that it is really possible to restore the Baltic Sea and achieve good ecological status,” says Anne Christine Brusendorff, HELCOM’s Executive Secretary. “We will not perhaps reach the pristine conditions but quite a pleasant situation as a result of more effective treatment of municipal waste waters, use of phosphorus-free detergents and best practices in agriculture. But we can also see that if we continue business as usual the future is not looking good for the Baltic Sea. The algae blooms will be twice as intensive as today.”

HELCOM has estimated that for good environmental status to be achieved, the maximum allowable annual nutrient pollution inputs into the Baltic Sea would be 21,000 tonnes of phosphorus and about 600,000 tonnes of nitrogen. Over the last years, average annual inputs amounted to 36,000 tonnes of phosphorus and 737,000 tonnes of nitrogen, therefore, annual reductions of some 15,000 tonnes of phosphorus and 135,000 tonnes of nitrogen would be required to reach the plan’s crucial “clear water” objective.

To achieve this, the action plan duly proposes provisional country-wise annual nutrient input reduction targets for both nitrogen and phosphorus (see table below).




Phosphorus (tonnes)

Nitrogen (tonnes)




























Transboundary Common pool*



*Non-HELCOM countries


Most of the reductions are required in such sub-basins as the Baltic Proper, the Gulf of Finland, the Danish Straits, and the Kattegat.

The concept of the HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan has already been widely supported by politicians at various forums, and heralded as a pilot project for European seas in the context of the proposed EU Marine Strategy Directive. The European Community has described HELCOM’s plan as a cornerstone for further action in the Baltic Sea region, emphasising that the plan is instrumental to the successful implementation of the proposed EU Marine Strategy Directive in the region.

The proposed EU Marine Strategy Directive foresees such an action plan for each eco-region, including the Baltic. HELCOM is in a unique position to deliver this already, given its embracing of all the countries in the Baltic Sea catchment area. HELCOM is also in a unique position to ensure that the special characteristics of the Baltic Sea are fully accounted for in European policies.

As a pioneer in the application of the ecosystem approach, the innovative HELCOM action plan will also serve as a model example to be followed by the Regional Seas Conventions and Action Plans under the auspices of the United Nations Environmental Programme Regional Seas Programme.  


Note to Editors: 

The Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission, more commonly as the Helsinki Commission or HELCOM, is an intergovernmental organisation of all the nine Baltic Sea countries and the European Community working to protect the marine environment of the Baltic Sea from all sources of pollution and to ensure safety of navigation. 

HELCOM is the governing body of the "Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Baltic Sea Area," also known as the Helsinki Convention.

For general details on the HELCOM Baltic Sea Action, please see its  summary http://www.helcom.fi/press_office/news_helcom/en_GB/BSAP_Summary/.


For more information, please contact:

Mr. Nikolay Vlasov

Information Secretary


Tel: +358 (0)207 412 635

Fax: +358 (0)207 412 639

E-mail: nikolay.vlasov@helcom.fi