The Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP) adopted in 2007, had the goal to restore the Baltic marine environment to a good ecological status by 2021.
However, the Contracting Parties to the Helsinki Convention are nowhere near achieving this goal. On any given day, marine life in the Baltic Sea has to navigate increasingly acidic waters, while also dodging trawling nets and abandoned fishing gear, sea bed disturbances and extraction activities, noisy and heavily polluting ships, marine infrastructure, invasive species, diseases from farmed fish, eutrophication and anoxic zones, construction, tourism, and hazardous substances including plastics.
On top of this anthropogenic burden, the Baltic Sea is dealing with new challenges linked to human-induced climate change and extreme weather. Climate change is altering our marine ecosystems and will continue to do so if we do not act immediately. The new BSAP needs to address this problem and help initiate actions that cut greenhouse gas emissions in all countries around the Baltic Sea and ensure the Paris Agreement’s target, to keep global heating below 1.5 °C, is met.
The HELCOM vision and the overall goal of the BSAP (2007) is “A healthy Baltic Sea environment, with diverse biological components functioning in balance, resulting in a good environmental/ecological status…” Yet good environmental status (GES) cannot be reached without effective implementation of the ecosystem approach1 across all the segments of the Action Plan, multiple maritime and land-based sectors, and activities within the Baltic Sea catchment area.
Healthy marine and coastal life and habitats are essential for ecosystem resilience to ecological and climate breakdown. We are dependent on marine and coastal ecosystems to be healthy and rich in fauna, flora, and genetic biodiversity so that they can perform their natural functions, which is crucial to supporting all life on earth. The ocean acts as a vital carbon sink, regulates weather patterns, provides oxygen and pumps nutrients around the globe. We depend on it – for crucial life systems and as a protein source, even for those who live inland, far from the sea.
We are in the middle of a biodiversity and climate crisis. The coming decade will be decisive to safeguard biodiversity and our future. A collapsed Baltic cod population is the most alarming indication yet, signalling the very real need to change and manage the entire ecosystem where we continue to fish, build and extract. With brave and sufficient political commitment, we can deliver that change, but we must act now.
We call on all the Baltic Sea Area countries to take up their responsibility to immediately and effectively follow up the commitments of the 2007 HELCOM BSAP and further strengthen those by adopting a revised 2021 Action Plan that aims to:
- Lead on the protection and conservation of the marine ecosystems on which livelihoods and all marine sectors ultimately depend,
- Urge all actors to intensify efforts to safeguard marine biodiversity and recovery of the Baltic Sea and,
- Invite and engage civil society, stakeholders and rights-holders to work together towards a healthy and sustainably used Baltic Sea.