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News|01 Oct, 2013

Ministers without power ‘water down’ ambitions to save the Baltic Sea

A HELCOM Ministerial Declaration was agreed today, much delayed, after very difficult negotiations. A key road block in the negotiations related to NECA – and unfortunately, Contracting Parties were not even able to agree to use the same language they agreed at their last HELCOM Ministerial Meeting in 2010. 

“It has become clear that the views of environmental ministries are increasingly challenged by other ministries, departments and sectors around Baltic countries,” says Pauli Merriman, Director of WWF Baltic Ecoregion Programme.

“While a ministerial declaration was finally agreed which included some important provisions even some of the Contracting Parties in the lead up to the  Ministerial Meeting shared their strong disappointment about the lack of ambition expressed in the Ministerial Statement, which they noted had been ‘watered down’ following weak implementation of the plan since 2007. This lowered ambition is a direct result of short-term economic interests, where initiatives to improve the marine environment are seen as unnecessary costs rather than profitable investments in the region’s current and future potential for sustainable economic and social development. What isn’t being discussed is that a healthy Baltic Sea is in fact, in itself, an economic incentive,” says Pauli Merriman.

A recent report produced for WWF by the Boston Consulting Group, Turning Adversity into Opportunity (link to report below) shows that measures to restore the health of the Baltic Sea could bring 550,000 jobs and €32 billion in annual value added to the region by 2030. It further highlights that the Baltic Sea has better prerequisites than most other regions to address the existing challenges, and that there is a global market for the innovations and solutions created by doing so.

“One reason for the failure is the clear lack of integration and cooperation between countries, between ministries, between different levels of government as well as between the public and private sectors, which undermines effective implementation of agreed actions,” says Pauli Merriman.

“Although Environment ministers have expressed their intent to save the Baltic Sea, their lack of action speaks louder than their words,” Pauli Merriman continues, “we believe we have the wrong ministers here. Environment ministers simply do not have the mandate nor the political power necessary to implement the measures needed to save the Baltic Sea.”

“If governments do not change their approach to the management of the Baltic Sea, the whole plan will collapse”, says Ottilia Thoreson, Manager WWF Baltic Ecoregion Programme, “The health of the Baltic Sea is not only an environmental concern but also an economic and social one. The state of the Baltic Sea should not be an affair solely for the environment ministers but as much for other ministers, such as finance, trade, agriculture, and fisheries.”

The ministerial meeting was held in Copenhagen, Denmark on 3rd October.

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