The European Commission organises the 2nd edition of the Our Baltic Conference in Palanga (Lithuania) on 29 September 2023. This high-level event brings together ministers from the 8 EU countries surrounding the Baltic Sea (Denmark, Germany, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Finland and Sweden).
Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Virginijus Sinkevičius and ministers are looking at what has been achieved since the first Our Baltic Conference in 2020, and what still needs to be done.
There is a special focus on unexploded munitions from World Wars. Some 300 000 tonnes of unexploded munitions still lie at the bottom of the Baltic Sea, causing pollution and preventing the development of economic activities at sea.
This conference is an opportunity to discuss, collaborate and agree on a joint action to address the current challenges.
The main topics are
- environment & fisheries - progress made on the actions announced in the Ministerial Declaration of the 2020 Our Baltic conference
- economic activities linked to the sea ('blue economy') - finding ways to allow activities at sea to flourish (e.g. offshore renewable energy, aquaculture, bioeconomy, etc.)
- unexploded munitions
News: Healthy seas: Commission leads common efforts to improve state of Baltic Sea (29/09/2023)
Our Baltic declaration – progress on commitments
On 28 September 2020, at the instigation of Virginijus Sinkevičius, European Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, the first Our Baltic Conference took place. EU ministers for agriculture, fisheries and environment from all the Baltic States signed a declaration and committed to step up efforts to improve the environmental status of the Baltic Sea, by phasing out marine pollution, promoting sustainable agriculture, and building up a sustainable blue economy.
The Our Baltic Declaration included 25 commitments addressing the main pressures and their impacts on the Baltic Sea. These commitments cover five thematic objectives:
- Implementing the Marine Strategy Framework Directive and supporting the Biodiversity Strategy to reduce pressures and protect the marine environment
- Fighting human-induced eutrophication, notably via a switch to more sustainable agriculture
- Reducing pollution and contaminants of emerging concern
- Delivering sustainable fisheries and aquaculture to protect biodiversity, secure food supplies and avoid the degradation of the marine environment
- Securing adequate funding and promoting a sustainable blue economy.
The declaration also contained a list of 20 voluntary measures to be implemented at national, regional or European level.
Overall, implementation of Our Baltic declaration is advancing well. Most of the commitments aimed at improving the status of marine biodiversity and reducing marine pollution are at an advanced level of implementation. However, more efforts are still needed to achieve sustainable fisheries and enhance funding for sustainable blue economy, with several commitments related to these issues still at an early stage of advancement.
At the EU Level
Implementation of the commitments is progressing well, thanks to initiatives adopted under the European Green Deal. These include:
- EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030
- Farm to Fork Strategy
- Zero Pollution Action Plan
- plans to revise legislation relating to water and pollution such as the proposal for a revised Urban Waste Water Directive.
Implementation of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, the common fisheries policy and the recently adopted marine action plan are also having a beneficial effect to reduce pressures from marine litter, underwater noise and seabed loss and avoid degradation of the marine environment, notably by setting new limits in those areas.
At the regional level
The updated Baltic Sea action plan of the Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission (HELCOM) at the ministerial meeting of the Helsinki Convention in October 2021 is helping advance several commitments included in the Our Baltic Declaration in a coordinated way.
The plan directly addresses issues such as pollution from nutrients, hazardous substances, marine litter, submerged objects, and the completion of marine protected areas.
It contains concrete measures and actions to be implemented by 2030 at the latest, with the possibility to track the implementation status of actions agreed upon. The third Holistic Report on the State of the Baltic Sea (HOLAS 3 report) of HELCOM also helps to assess how the state of the Baltic Sea has improved in comparison to 2018, when the previous report was published.
At the national level
Member States have complemented the EU and regional efforts with several national initiatives aimed at implementing the Our Baltic commitments by reducing nutrient losses, plastics and chemical pollution.
Many efforts have also been made to safeguard biodiversity, notably by enhancing the designation of nationally protected areas in the Baltic Sea area.
Baltic Sea environmental status
Despite this multitude of measures, the Baltic Sea has not yet reached good environmental status.
Persistent negative trends threaten populations, habitats and the functioning of the ecosystem. whereas pressures from hazardous substances, eutrophication and fishing, remain at high level.
While this may be partly explained by the time required for the effects of the initiatives to be measured, it also indicates the need for further efforts from all actors across the Baltic Sea including at EU and regional level.