The Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission – also known as the Helsinki Commission (HELCOM) – is an intergovernmental organisation (IGO) and a regional sea convention in the Baltic Sea area. A regional platform for environmental policy making, HELCOM was established in 1974 to protect the marine environment of the Baltic Sea from all sources of pollution. Read more.
Constituting the foundation of HELCOM, the Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Baltic Sea Area – also known as the Helsinki Convention – was originally signed in 1974 by all Baltic Sea coastal countries. The Helsinki Convention seeks to protect the Baltic Sea from all sources of pollution from land, air and sea, as well as to preserve biological diversity and to promote the sustainable use of marine resources.
HELCOM has ten Contracting Parties, namely Denmark, Estonia, the European Union, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia and Sweden. They are the signatories to the Helsinki Convention. The Contracting Parties form the Helsinki Commission (HELCOM) and are represented by a Head of Delegation. In addition to an annual Commission meeting, the Heads of Delegation meet at least twice a year.
The chairmanship of the Helsinki Commission rotates every two years between the Contracting Parties, starting on 1 July and according to their alphabetical order in English. The duties of the chairing Contracting Party include presiding over the meetings of the Commission and of the Heads of Delegation and ensuring the observance of our rules of procedure. The chairing Party may also set strategic priorities for its tenure.
The HELCOM Secretariat coordinates the work and meetings of the Helsinki Commission, and ensures that the Contracting Parties meet their obligations under the Helsinki Convention. The international team is led by the Executive Secretary. About half of the staff members perform permanent secretariat functions and the other half work for projects that HELCOM is involved in. Established in 1980, the Secretariat is located in Helsinki, Finland.
HELCOM has over 60 observers, of which governments, intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and which contribute to the protection of the Baltic Sea. Observers can actively take part in the meetings of the various HELCOM bodies and are allowed to make statements.
About the Baltic Sea
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The Baltic Sea is one of the largest brackish water areas – or of low salinity – in the world, with a surface area of 420,000 km2. The water catchment area of the Baltic Sea is about four times larger than its surface area and is inhabited by around 85 million people. Geologically, the Baltic Sea is very young. The recent configuration of the Baltic Sea, with a connection to the North Sea, was established during the Littorina transgression between 7,500 and 4,000 years before present. Most of the species of marine origin in the Baltic Sea originate from a time when the sea was saltier, and since then they have had limited genetic exchange with their counterparts in fully marine waters. Due to its enclosed nature and relatively low biodiversity, the Baltic Sea is especially vulnerable to environmental pressures. Typical pressures occurring in sea the Baltic Sea include eutrophication, contamination, marine litter, the introduction and spread of non-indigenous species, underwater sound, fishing and hunting, as well as habitat loss and disturbance.
- Read more about the Baltic Sea on stateofthebalticsea.helcom.fi
For the purposes of the Helsinki Convention the “Baltic Sea Area” is defined as the Baltic Sea and the entrance to the Baltic Sea bounded by the parallel of the Skaw in the Skagerrak at 57° 44.43’N. It also includes the internal waters (for more details, see the Convention, Article 1).
The HELCOM logo
The HELCOM logo depicts a map of the Baltic Sea, and the ten circles are our Contracting Parties.
HELCOM’s vision for the future is…
… a healthy Baltic Sea environment with diverse biological components functioning in balance, resulting in a good ecological status and supporting a wide range of sustainable economic and social activities.
… an environmental policy maker for the Baltic Sea area by developing common environmental objectives and actions;
… an environmental focal point providing information about the state of and trends in the marine environment, the efficiency of measures to protect it and common initiatives and positions, which can form the basis for decision-making in other international fora;
… a body for developing, according to the specific needs of the Baltic Sea, recommendations of its own and recommendations supplementary to measures imposed by other international organisations;
… a supervisory body dedicated to ensuring that HELCOM environmental standards are fully implemented by all parties throughout the Baltic Sea and its catchment area;
…a coordinating body, ascertaining multilateral response in case of major maritime incidents.