After several years in the making, HOLAS 3 thematic assessments on the state of the Baltic Sea have been published, covering the period of 2016–2021. The thematic assessments are part of the third HELCOM holistic assessment (HOLAS 3), providing a holistic view of the Baltic Sea ecosystem health.
The holistic approach highlights the interconnectedness of various environmental factors and their impact on the ecosystem. The five assessment reports each focus on a specific topic, addressing the state of biodiversity, environmental pressures, eutrophication, and the relationship between humanity and nature. The findings offer valuable insights for policymakers, scientists, and stakeholders alike.
The results of HOLAS 3 have been published in stages, commencing in March 2023, and the process will culminate in the publication of the summary report State of the Baltic Sea, expected at the end of October 2023.
A comprehensive holistic assessment on the state of the Baltic Sea is conducted once every six years. The reports result from collaborative efforts among HELCOM member states, scientific experts, and organizations dedicated to the protection of the Baltic Sea. They serve as a cornerstone of HELCOM’s work and policymaking, assisting in the monitoring of the implementation and the effectiveness of the Baltic Sea Action Plan(BSAP).
HELCOM Annual Report 2022 has been published. The report provides a comprehensive overview of our activities, including the achievements and challenges in the 17 different areas HELCOM works on.
In 2022, these included Species and habitats, Spatial conservation and MPAs, Agriculture, Nutrients, Hazardous substances, Marine litter, Dredging and seabed, Underwater noise, Shipping, Response to spills, Submerged hazards, Fisheries, Maritime spatial planning, Climate change, Economy and society, Monitoring and assessment as well as International processes.
“At the beginning of 2022, COVID-19 gradually seemed to abate and, after two years of working in pandemic mode, hopes within HELCOM – as elsewhere – ran high that this might be the first relatively “normal” year since 2019. It was not. Inevitably, the current geopolitical crisis also seriously impacted our organization. However, it did not bring HELCOM to a standstill. Rather, new mechanisms for the work of the Commission were established, enabling continuity of operations.”
This year’s Baltic Stakeholder Conference (BSC2023) was held last week on 9 March 2023, with the aim of harvesting ideas from stakeholders around the sea – and beyond – for accelerating the implementation of the HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan.
More than 200 participants from the public, the private and nonprofit sectors all sharing an interest in achieving a healthy Baltic Sea registered for the online event.
The programme included presentations and discussions on awareness raising, municipal level implementation, private sector cooperation and financing, encouraging the participants to brainstorm outside-the-box solutions for both long-standing and emerging challenges.
The online event was hosted by Latvia, which currently holds the chairmanship of HELCOM.
All presentations given at the conference as well as the memo including the session summaries are available on the BSC2023 website.
The recently updated online tool HELCOM Explorer allows to easily see how HELCOM cooperation bears fruit, and how the countries’ actions are being fulfilled when reaching the majority of their ambitious HELCOM targets and the ultimate goal: Baltic Sea in good ecological state.
The actions listed in the Explorer include the entire updated Baltic Sea Action Plan (2021), HELCOM Ministerial Meeting commitments from 2010 onwards as well as selected HELCOM Recommendations. The updated BSAP contains 199 concrete actions and measures addressing biodiversity, eutrophication, hazardous substances, and sea-based activities such as shipping and fisheries. In addition, it includes new actions on emerging or previously less highlighted pressures such as climate change, marine litter, pharmaceuticals, underwater noise, and seabed disturbance.
“As the HELCOM Explorer provides a comprehensive overview and a great amount of information on both joint and national actions, with easy filtering tools, it is quite a unique system in regional marine governance. Moreover, it is a very concrete indicator of transparency for our stakeholders and to the broader audiences”, says Rüdiger Strempel, Executive Secretary of HELCOM.
Joint actions are carried out together by all HELCOM Contracting Parties, for example creating a new Recommendation, joint management guidelines, or assessments of environmental status. National actions are implemented at the country level, and they include e.g. incorporating the provisions of a HELCOM Recommendation into relevant national legislation or guidelines.
The Explorer allows for easy overview browsing, but also for more detailed filtering, according to the details of the actions in the Baltic Sea Action Plan such as segment, theme, or target year. The tool further provides information on why the action is needed (rationale), what pressures or activities are addressed by the action in question, and, for some, what is the potential effect of the measure to reduce pressures or improve the state of the Baltic Sea. All data is available for download.
The HELCOM Explorer tool to track the progress on the implementation of HELCOM commitments was first launched in 2016, and the interface was updated in 2020.
The reporting on the implementation of the joint actions is done by relevant HELCOM Working Groups and the reporting on the national actions by the countries. The first reporting on the implementation of actions in the 2021 BSAP is planned to take place in 2025, followed by the second reporting round in 2029.
Associate Professional Secretary
About the Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP)
The Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP) is HELCOM’s strategic programme of measures and actions for achieving good environmental status of the sea, ultimately leading to a Baltic Sea in a healthy state.
Initially adopted by the HELCOM Contracting Parties in 2007, the 2021 BSAP is based on the original plan and maintains the same level of ambition. It also retains all actions previously agreed on that are still to be implemented, while, in addition, includes new actions to strengthen the existing efforts and tackle emerging concerns.
Guided by the HELCOM vision of “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”, the updated BSAP is divided into four segments with specific goals: biodiversity, eutrophication, hazardous substances and sea-based activities.
About HELCOM Recommendations
One of the most important duties of the Helsinki Commission is to make Recommendations on measures to address certain pollution sources or areas of concern. Since the beginning of the 1980s HELCOM has adopted some 260 HELCOM Recommendations for the protection of the Baltic Sea. The implementation of various HELCOM recommendations by the HELCOM Contracting Parties plays an important role in achieving the objectives of the Baltic Sea Action Plan. The HELCOM Explorer covers the reporting on the implementation status of selected HELCOM Recommendations.
The Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission – also known as the Helsinki Commission (HELCOM) – is an intergovernmental organization (IGO) and a regional sea convention in the Baltic Sea area, consisting of ten members: the nine Baltic Sea countries Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia and Sweden, plus the European Union. A platform for environmental policy making at the regional level, HELCOM works for a healthy Baltic Sea. Its mandate stems from a regional treaty, the Helsinki Convention, whose implementation it oversees. The HELCOM Secretariat is located in Helsinki, Finland.
As of 1 July 2022, Latvia will be the Chair of HELCOM until 30 June 2024. The chairmanship rotates between Contracting Parties every two years, in alphabetical order.
Ms Evija Šmite, Deputy Director General and the Director of Fisheries Control Department, State Environmental Service of Latvia starts as the new Chair of HELCOM. She has worked on matters regarding marine environment protection and fisheries control in the public administration of Latvia since 1997.
The priorities of the Latvian Chairmanship will focus on:
HELCOM as an effective and well-functioning organisation of regional cooperation which is capable of action, including in unforeseen and force majeure situations.
Implementation of the updated Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP 2021), with particular attention paid to:
protection of marine biodiversity
advancing ecosystem based sustainable marine management by integration of environmental objectives with socio-economic goals
Strengthening the role of regional cooperation in the context of international ocean governance.
Ms. Ilona Mendzina has been selected as the Vice-Chair. She is the Deputy Director of the Nature Protection Department, and the Head of Species and Habitats Protection Division of the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Regional Development.
A new HELCOM leaflet summarizing German chairmanship
Coincidingly, a leaflet on current HELCOM work and to celebrate the conclusion of the German Chairmanship, ending on 30 June 2022, is now free for downloading in our website:
The success of the Baltic Sea region in nominating Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and the emerging plans regarding Other Effective Conservation Measures (OECMs) will be in key focus in a side event on 30 June 2022, taking place during the UN Ocean Conference in Lisbon, Portugal.
The aim is to present marine protection as a concrete example of the instrumental role of the regional sea conventions in implementing Sustainable Development Goal 14 – Life under water – in particular and other global commitments in general, at the macro-regional and sea-basin levels.
The side event will present HELCOM’s Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP) 2021–2030 as a best practice example for an ecosystem-based approach to marine management from science to action. The BSAP provides concrete tools for reaching the regional commitments, such as the establishment of a coherent MPA network, and the “30/10 target” referring to the expansion aim of the MPA coverage to 30 % of the Baltic Sea, with one third being strictly protected. The latter has a straight link to processes under Convention on Biological Diversity as well as the EU Biodiversity Strategy.
In addition to MPAs, the event focuses on the areas that are achieving the effective in-situ conservation of biodiversity outside of protected areas, so called Other Effective Conservation Measures (OECMs), as referred to in Aichi Target 11 of the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD).
Main organizers of the event are the Ministries of the Environment of Estonia and Germany (HELCOM Chair).
UN Ocean Conference, postponed due to the covid pandemic, will be held in Lisbon, Portugal. from 27 June until 1 July, 2022.
The implementation of the Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP) and the next Holistic Assessment of the Baltic Sea were some of the key topics on which the HELCOM decision makers advanced during their fall meeting, the 61st Meeting of the Heads of Delegation (HOD 61-2021), held online from 8 to 9 December 2021.
To facilitate the implementation of the 2021 BSAP, several measures were agreed on at HOD 61-2022, including the preparation of a technical guidance document and the review of the structure of HELCOM. Planning of the implementation of the BSAP actions has already started in some of the main HELCOM groups.
Also related to the BSAP, the decision makers agreed on the implementation procedures and prioritization of actions regarding the Revised Regional Action Plan on Marine Litter (RAP ML), which is the main instrument for achieving the BSAP’s objectives on marine litter. A workshop on the RAP ML implementation is planned for April 2022.
Following its approval at HOD 61-2022, a project on strengthening the HELCOM framework on hazardous substances will start in July 2022 for a duration of 18 months. The project will notably develop an action plan for HELCOM work on hazardous substances by 2024, as provided for in the hazardous substances and litter segment of the 2021 BSAP. More broadly, the project will also support further HELCOM assessment work.
At HOD 61-2022, the HELCOM decision makers also ensured that the Third Holistic Assessment of the Baltic Sea (HOLAS 3) remains on track, in particular by approving the updated workplan, numerous additional indicators to be used in the assessment, and the organization of several workshops in early 2022 to facilitate the assessment process.
One of the pillars of HELCOM work and policy making, the HELCOM Holistic Assessments provide a comprehensive overview of the ecosystem health of the entire Baltic Sea over a specific time span. The third Holistic Assessment of the Baltic Sea (HOLAS 3) covers the assessment period 2016–2021. The results of HOLAS 3 are expected to be published in 2023. The next HOLAS assessments will also serve to keep track of the implementation and the effectiveness of the BSAP.
Several HELCOM recommendations were also endorsed during the meeting, with a final adoption expected at the next meeting of the Helsinki Commission in March of next year. In addition, the terms of reference for several HELCOM bodies were also updated or approved.
The organization of several events was also approved during the meeting, such as the joint HELCOM and Baltic Earth Stakeholder Conference (HSC2022), which will be dedicated to climate change and is slated to be held online on 9–10 March 2022
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