Baltic Marine Environment
Protection Commission

 

Baltic Marine Environment
Protection Commission

HELCOM activities in 2023 highlighted in annual report

The HELCOM Annual Report 2023 has been published. The report provides a comprehensive overview of our activities, including the achievements and challenges in the great range of working areas HELCOM deals with.

In 2023, these included Species and habitats, Spatial conservation and MPAs, Agriculture, Nutrients, Hazardous substances, Marine litter, Seabed, Underwater noise and energy, Shipping, Response to spills, Submerged hazards, Fisheries, Maritime Spatial Planning, Climate change, Economy and society, Monitoring and assessment as well as International processes.

The major events of the year for HELCOM included the launch of the holistic assessments of the state of the Baltic Sea (HOLAS 3) and the ongoing strategic pause of HELCOM.

“The publication of HELCOM’s Third Holistic Assessment of the Baltic Sea (HOLAS 3) in 2023 offered stark and startling new insights into what we are up against in seeking to protect our regional marine environment. [It] does not present a pretty picture. In a nutshell: there was little to no improvement of the Baltic Sea environment during the assessment period.

Yet HOLAS 3 is not all gloom and doom. While it underscores the urgency of transformative action in all socioeconomic sectors across the entire Baltic Sea region, it also shows that measures to reduce pressures on the Baltic Sea do have a beneficial effect, if duly implemented.”

Rüdiger Strempel, Executive Secretary of HELCOM

Download the full report here.

HELCOM adopts new measures to mitigate ammonia emissions from agriculture

HELCOM has just adopted a new Recommendation, following Article 20, Paragraph 1b of the Helsinki Convention, aimed at mitigating ammonia emissions from agricultural practices. This aligns with the 1992 Helsinki Convention’s overall commitment to preventing and eliminating pollution to the Baltic Sea from land-based sources. 

Ammonia (NH3) is a significant environmental pollutant, originating primarily from agricultural activities, such as fertilisation and animal farming. When released into the environment, ammonia can contribute to the formation of particulate matter and eutrophication, leading to harmful algal blooms and oxygen dead zones in aquatic ecosystems like the Baltic Sea. Reducing ammonia emissions is crucial for maintaining a healthy Baltic marine environment as well as clean air, making its reduction a priority for environmental policy. 

The Recommendation emphasises the need for integrated sustainable nitrogen management, such as urging the use of nitrogen budgeting tools. A crucial step will be to adapt protein content in livestock diet, to avoid unnecessary excess excretion of nitrogen via faeces and urine.  

The Recommendation also states that animal housing techniques should include frequent manure removal and the use of ammonia-absorbing materials to avoid ammonia volatilisation into the air. Additionally, to avoid this volatilisation, manure storage, covering storages and encouraging manure acidification is advised. In the field, fertilisers should be applied using low-emission techniques and sustainable grazing practices should be promoted to also reduce ammonia emissions. 

Monitoring these ammonia emissions and supporting research to optimise nitrogen management and assess the effectiveness of mitigation measures are also crucial components of the Recommendation. For this, Contracting Parties are required to report actions to the Commission in 2027 and every four years thereafter.  

HELCOM acknowledges the urgent need to address the persisting problem of excess ammonia emissions, and this recommendation serves as a vital step towards ecological restoration and an overall healthier Baltic Sea environment. 

The full Recommendation can be found here: Rec-42-43-5.pdf (helcom.fi)

New tool strengthens marine assessments in Arctic, Baltic and North-East Atlantic regions

The new, openly available Harmonised Regional Seas Assessment Tool (HARSAT) has been presented this week to the HELCOM working group (WG) Source to Sea*, as it is an essential part in HELCOM indicator evaluations for hazardous substances.  

The release of the open source tool is another strong indication of the long-standing cooperation of the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP), Helsinki Commission (HELCOM) and the OSPAR Commission (OSPAR). The HARSAT tool greatly improves the efficiency of marine environment monitoring across adjacent sea areas, that facilitates applying resources available within the three organisations in a cost-effective and efficient manner, benefiting all parties. Moreover, the tool supports providing policymakers and users with a centralized platform for accessing critical and consistent information to support informed decision-making.

HARSAT is a statistical package that is publicly available on GitHub. A user community is being established to support the future maintenance, development and application of the tool – with potential for continuing the cooperation of the neighbouring sea regions in the necessary follow-up work.

AMAP, HELCOM and OSPAR are responsible for monitoring and assessing the state of the marine environment in adjoining, and partly overlapping, sea areas of the Arctic Ocean, Baltic Sea, and North-east Atlantic, respectively. All three organizations have a long history of expert-level collaboration, to streamline the work on monitoring the marine environment, not least in regard to harmonizing methods and protocols for monitoring and data analysis, and promoting common data management systems including using a shared, thematic data centre at the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES).

The HARSAT tool is the latest collaborative effort between the Baltic, North-east Atlantic and Arctic Regional Seas Conventions, supported by ICES as well as consultants and members of the relevant expert groups, to upgrade the existing tools used for statistical analysis of data on contaminants in marine samples.

The developed tool facilitates local, national and regional evaluations of hazardous substances in the marine environment, including from different monitoring material (water, sediment and biota samples). These evaluations form the backbone of environmental health or status assessments across these three regions and these assessments in turn are catalysts for reviewing the monitoring carried out and the setting of measures to improve environmental status. The harmonised core of this tool allows strong comparability across all three regions.

*full name: HELCOM Working Group on Source to Sea Management of Nutrients and Hazardous Substances and Sustainable Agricultural Practices (WG Source to sea)


Background

The HARSAT work was financially supported by resources from AMAP, HELCOM and OSPAR, including resources from external projects, such as the Nordic Council of Ministers HARSAT project and the NEFCO Baltic Sea Action Plan Fund co-financed PreEMPT project, as well as supported by a close working cooperation with the Baltic Data Flows Project that was co-financed by the Connecting Europe Facility of the European Union.

For further information, please contact the [AMAP|HELCOM|OSPAR] Secretariat.


About HELCOM

The Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission, usually referred to as the Helsinki Commission or HELCOM, is an intergovernmental organization of the Baltic Sea coastal countries and the European Union. HELCOM has worked since 1974 to protect the marine environment of the Baltic Sea from all sources of pollution and to ensure safety of navigation in the region.

HELCOM is the governing body of the “Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Baltic Sea Area,” more usually known as the Helsinki Convention.


Contact

Mock Employee
Johanna Laurila

Communications Advisor
johanna.laurila@helcom.fi
+358 40 647 3996

HELCOM 50th anniversary: recording, speeches and videos now online

To mark the 50th anniversary of the Helsinki Convention and HELCOM, Latvia, currently holding the Chairmanship of HELCOM, hosted a celebration on 25 April 2024 in Riga.

The online stream of the event is now available at the event webpages, along with the keynote speeches, videos, photos, and congratulatory remarks and greetings from the event.

The guests of the 50th anniversary event, including representatives of the HELCOM Contracting Parties, observers and other friends of HELCOM past and present, enjoyed a special programme reflecting on the achievements of the first 50 years of HELCOM while looking forward to future challenges.

The event was preceded by the 2024 Ministerial Meeting on the Baltic Sea Marine Environment in the morning of the same day.

Participants at the HELCOM 50th anniversary event. Photo by Gatlis Orlickis.


HELCOM 50th anniversary event: photos and the opening film now available

We are delighted to announce that a photo gallery as well as the opening film, Motion, are now published from the 50th anniversary event of HELCOM which was held in Riga, Latvia on 25 April 2024. Latvia, currently holding the Chairmanship of HELCOM, hosted the celebration on the occasion of 50 years since the signing of the Helsinki Convention, preceded by a Ministerial Meeting of the Contracting Parties in the morning of the same day.

The guests, including representatives of the HELCOM Contracting Parties, observers and other friends of HELCOM past and present, enjoyed a special programme reflecting on the achievements of the first 50 years of HELCOM while looking forward to future challenges. The list of keynote speakers can be found here. The recording of the online streaming will shortly be made available.

Event webpage

Photo gallery

182-6O6A7045-BalticPictures.lv

MOTION – 50th anniversary film

Ministers Unveil Ambitious Commitments to Protect Baltic Sea Marine Environment

Yesterday, the ministers and high-level representatives of the Baltic Sea coastal states and the EU gathered in Riga, Latvia, for the 2024 Ministerial Meeting on the Baltic Sea Marine Environment. They reaffirmed their strong commitment to continued joint efforts to reach a healthy Baltic marine environment. A Ministerial Declaration, as well as a statement on the geopolitical situation, are the outputs of the meeting, convened under the auspices of the current Latvian Chairmanship of HELCOM.

“Acknowledging the 50th anniversary of the 1974 Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Baltic Sea Area and the vital role of the Helsinki Commission (HELCOM), we have underscored our commitment to addressing the pressing environmental challenges facing the Baltic Sea. Despite the progress made since the adoption of the first Baltic Sea Action Plan in 2007, the current state of the marine environment remains unsatisfactory due to human activities. However, notwithstanding the highly challenging geopolitical situation, the work to protect our fragile common sea continues with even stronger vigor,” said Inga Bērziņa, Minister for Environmental Protection and Regional Development of the Republic of Latvia.

The Riga Ministerial Declaration recognizes the interconnectedness of environmental health and economic prosperity and the importance of stressing the economic benefits of preserving the Baltic Sea ecosystem. As shown by the latest Holistic Assessment of the Baltic Sea (HOLAS 3), achieving good environmental status by the year 2040 can yield economic benefits of 5.6 million euro per year for people around the Baltic Sea.

The ministerial debate focused on better targeting and prioritizing efforts to implement the 2021 Baltic Sea Action Plan, based on the new insights gained from HOLAS 3 and on continuing to successfully implement the HELCOM goals against the background of the challenging geopolitical situation in the Baltic Sea region.

“This high-level meeting took place at a crucial time, as we take stock of the achievements of HELCOM in its 50-year history while also determining how to integrate the findings from HOLAS 3 in shaping and defining HELCOM policies and priorities going forward,” says Rüdiger Strempel, Executive Secretary of HELCOM, adding: “It also sends a strong signal of continued cooperation of the EU and those HELCOM Contracting Parties that are also Member States of the EU in the framework of HELCOM and underscores the organization’s key role in addressing the triple planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution in our region and beyond.”

The 2024 Ministerial Meeting on the Baltic Sea Marine Environment was attended by the ministers and high-level representatives of the Ministries of the Environment, respectively of Climate, of Infrastructure and of Maritime Affairs of eight Baltic Sea coastal states and the European Union.

Key documents:

Ministerial Declaration of the 2024 Ministerial Meeting on the Baltic Sea Marine Environment

HELCOM Statement on the geopolitical situation


About HELCOM

The Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission, usually referred to as the Helsinki Commission or HELCOM, is an intergovernmental organization of the Baltic Sea coastal countries and the European Union. HELCOM has worked since 1974 to protect the marine environment of the Baltic Sea from all sources of pollution and to ensure safety of navigation in the region.

HELCOM is the governing body of the “Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Baltic Sea Area,” more usually known as the Helsinki Convention.

The Helsinki Commission’s member states are the contracting parties to the Helsinki Convention: Denmark, Estonia, the European Union, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia and Sweden. Due to the current geopolitical situation, the EU and the Contracting Parties to HELCOM that are also member states of the EU (H9) have, however imposed a “strategic pause” in HELCOM operations. This pause entails the postponement of the meetings of all official HELCOM bodies, with meetings being carried out as so-called informal consultation sessions involving H 9 participants only and Russian involvement restricted to correspondence procedures.  


About Ministerial Meetings

Every three years, HELCOM arranges a Ministerial Meeting, gathering ministers responsible for environmental or maritime affairs from the Baltic Sea countries and the EU Commissioner for the Environment. These Meetings serve as crucial forums for engaging in shared discussions and reaching agreements at a high political level. They further reinforce HELCOM’s objectives in protecting the Baltic marine environment.

Ministerial meetings result in the adoption of political declarations, through which Contracting Parties commit to taking further actions to protect the marine environment of the Baltic Sea and agree on the future agenda for HELCOM. The declarations complement the Helsinki Convention and HELCOM Recommendations.


About HELCOM Holistic Assessments

HELCOM carries out holistic assessments every six years. They focus on how the Baltic Sea ecosystem is doing and, importantly, on following up on how well the agreements – namely, the measures set in the 2021 HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP) – are functioning. The holistic assessments cover ‘moments’ in time over the dynamic life history of the Baltic Sea.

The third HELCOM holistic assessment (HOLAS 3) focuses on the years 2016-2021 and includes results at various levels of detail, including monitoring data, indicator reports and thematic assessments.


Contact

Johanna Laurila
Communications Advisor, HELCOM
johanna.laurila@helcom.fi
+358 40 647 3996

Communication division
Ministry of Environmental Protection and
Regional Development of the Republic of Latvia 
+371 20 200 305
prese@varam.gov.lv
www.varam.gov.lv

Riga Ministerial Meeting bolsters commitments for the Baltic Sea marine environment

Joint press release by HELCOM and the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Regional Development of the Republic of Latvia

​On 25 April 2024, ministers and high-level representatives of Baltic Sea coastal states and the European Union will gather in Riga, Latvia at a joint meeting within the Latvian Chairmanship of HELCOM, for the 2024 Ministerial Meeting on the Baltic Sea Marine Environment. They will discuss the way forward in protecting the Baltic Sea marine environment.

Emphasizing the current state of the Baltic Sea, the discussions will focus on leveraging the results of the latest HELCOM holistic assessment of the Baltic Sea (HOLAS 3) to further strengthen the scientific basis for determining key priorities and shaping the trajectory of future work.

“This ministerial meeting is the culmination of Latvia’s two-year chairmanship of HELCOM. It has been an eventful and challenging period shaped by the current geopolitical landscape,” says Inga Bērziņa, Minister for Environmental Protection and Regional Development of the Republic of Latvia. “However, even in this tense period, we have been able to achieve the objectives of the Latvian Presidency, which are aimed at improving the state of the Baltic Sea environment,” she continues. Latvia currently holds the rotating Chairmanship of HELCOM and is the proud host of the 2024 Ministerial Meeting on the Baltic Sea Marine Environment, as well as HELCOM’s 50th anniversary event, which will also take place in Riga on 25 April 2024.

“Our primary goals during this Chairmanship have been to reinforce HELCOM’s position as an effective and well-functioning regional organization for regional cooperation even in unforeseen or force majeure situations, to implement the 2021 Baltic Sea Action Plan and to strengthen the role of regional cooperation in international ocean governance. I am gratified to note that we have met these objectives, with HELCOM continuing to fulfill its role as the key player in regional environmental cooperation and notable progress in the ongoing implementation of the Action Plan,” says Evija Šmite, the HELCOM Chair.

This spring’s Ministerial Meeting will chart the course for HELCOM work over the next three years. “The main findings of HOLAS 3, summarized in the State of the Baltic Sea 2023 report, will impact the implementation of the 2021 Baltic Sea Action Plan. They will inform the decisions of Contracting Parties in implementing the Plan and help shape the policies of our organization as we progress towards the Plan’s target year of 2030, says Rüdiger Strempel, HELCOM Executive Secretary.

The Meeting is expected to adopt a  Ministerial Declaration reflecting the priorities and ambitions of HELCOM in working towards a healthier marine environment for the Baltic Sea, in line with the longstanding tradition of regional cooperation upheld by the organization.

The celebratory session of the 50th anniversary of the Helsinki Convention can be watched live if you register in advance. Apply by April 23 at this link.


About HELCOM

The Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission, usually referred to as the Helsinki Commission or HELCOM, is an intergovernmental organization of the Baltic Sea coastal countries and the European Union. HELCOM has worked since 1974 to protect the marine environment of the Baltic Sea from all sources of pollution and to ensure safety of navigation in the region.

HELCOM is the governing body of the “Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Baltic Sea Area,” more usually known as the Helsinki Convention.

The Helsinki Commission’s member states are the contracting parties to the Helsinki Convention: Denmark, Estonia, the European Union, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Sweden and Russia. Due to the current geopolitical situation, the EU and the Contracting Parties to HELCOM that are also member states of the EU (H9) have, however imposed a “strategic pause” in HELCOM operations. This pause entails the postponement of the meetings of all official HELCOM bodies, with meetings being carried out as so-called informal consultation sessions involving H 9 participants only and Russian involvement restricted to correspondence procedures.


About Ministerial Meetings

Every three years, HELCOM arranges a Ministerial Meeting, gathering ministers responsible for environmental or maritime affairs from the Baltic Sea countries and the EU Commissioner for the Environment. These Meetings serve as crucial forums for engaging in shared discussions and reaching agreements at a high political level. They further reinforce HELCOM’s objectives in protecting the Baltic marine environment.

Ministerial meetings result in the adoption of political declarations, through which Contracting Parties commit to taking further actions to protect the marine environment of the Baltic Sea and agree on the future agenda for HELCOM. The declarations complement the Helsinki Convention and HELCOM Recommendations.


About HELCOM Holistic Assessments

HELCOM carries out holistic assessments every six years. They focus on how the Baltic Sea ecosystem is doing and, importantly, on following up on how well the agreements – namely, the measures set in the 2021 HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP) – are functioning. The holistic assessments cover ‘moments’ in time over the dynamic life history of the Baltic Sea.

The third HELCOM holistic assessment (HOLAS 3) focuses on the years 2016-2021 and includes results at various levels of detail, including monitoring data, indicator reports and thematic assessments.


Contact

Johanna Laurila
Communications Advisor, HELCOM
johanna.laurila@helcom.fi
+358 40 647 3996

Communication division
Regional Development of the Republic of Latvia  
+371 20 200 305
prese@varam.gov.lv
www.varam.gov.lv

HELCOM’s 50th anniversary: stellar lineup of speakers unveiled

Joining the distinguished roster of speakers for the commencement of HELCOM’s 50th anniversary celebrations in Riga, Latvia on 25 April 2024 are:

  • Pekka Haavisto, Member of the Parliament of Finland.
  • Karen Ellemann, Secretary General of the Nordic Council of Ministers.
  • Leena Ylä-Mononen, Executive Director of the European Environment Agency.
  • Alan Haynie, General Secretary of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea.

Hosted by Latvia, which currently holds the Chairmanship of HELCOM, the event will be opened by the Ministers of the Environment of Latvia and Finland, Inga Bērziņa and Kai Mykkänen.

You can also participate in the festive event online by registering here (provided link). The event will take place on Thursday 25 April 2024, from 14:30 to 18:45 (EET).

The 2024 Ministerial Meeting on the Baltic Sea Marine Environment will convene in the morning of 25 April 2024, preceding the 50th anniversary celebrations. Additionally, a side event called “Waves of Change – Accelerating action and finance to save the Baltic Sea,” organized by Coalition Clean Baltic and WWF, is scheduled to take place in Riga the day before on 24 April 2024.

Invited guests onsite include representatives from the HELCOM Contracting Parties, observers, and other past and present associates of HELCOM. The programme highlights the achievements over the past 50 years, while also addressing future challenges. You can access the preliminary programme on the dedicated web page.

* * *

In 2024, it will be 50 years since the original Helsinki Convention was signed.

HELCOM, or the Helsinki Commission, was established at the same time, for the purposes of the Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Baltic Sea Area – in essence, to ensure that all the coastal states pursue the many commitments presented for a healthier Baltic Sea. It was a historical moment, as environmental concerns were only starting to shift closer to the mainstream thinking.

HELCOM is a true pioneer in international environmental protection. As the awareness of the massive challenges, particularly climate crisis and biodiversity loss, has since significantly risen, we have much to share about cooperation through changing geopolitical situations.

Join us for a full year of celebrations! We are proud to have come this far.

Save the Baltic Sea: A 6,000 km hike with a call to protect the Baltic


(Save the Baltic Sea campaign press release)
A team of environmental activists will begin their hike around the Baltic Sea, with a series of educational events, discussions and workshops organized in 8 countries, aiming to accelerate action in tackling critical Baltic Sea pollution issues.


March 11, 2024 will mark the date when a team of 13 environmental activists will depart from Klaipėda, Lithuania, to begin their 6,000 kilometer-long journey on foot along the coastline of the Baltic Sea, one of the five most polluted seas in the world. During their 9 month hike, the historic “Save the Baltic Sea” expedition will invite citizens, governments, organizations and businesses to take active measures in order to preserve the sea for future generations.


“The Baltic Sea is in a critical state, which puts the benefits it provides to our region in danger,” says the expedition’s science engagement coordinator Laura Stukonytė. “Unsustainable human activities have put our marine ecosystems under extreme pressure, from excessive nitrogen and phosphorus inflow, to marine litter and hazardous substances reaching the sea from land. At the same time, the Baltic is also being affected by climate change” she adds.


In 2007, the Baltic Sea countries and the European Union (that together form the Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission, or HELCOM) adopted the Baltic Sea Action Plan – a strategic programme of measures and actions that would lead to a healthy Baltic Sea state by 2030. While some environmental improvements have been seen since the adoption of the plan, HELCOM reports that more than 50% of the agreed-upon joint actions have yet to be implemented.


In support of the Baltic Sea Action Plan, the “Save the Baltic Sea” expedition seeks to accelerate these actions in order to tackle our region’s marine pollution issues. “Each of us living in the Baltic Sea basin contributes to the state of our marine environment, often without even knowing. But it means each of us also has the power to make a change,” says Giedrius Bučas, “Save the Baltic Sea” expedition leader who hiked 1200 kilometers around Lithuania in 2019, collecting litter with a team of volunteers.


Through its unique communication campaign, educational activities and workshops organized with partners in 8 Baltic Sea countries, the current expedition will highlight marine pollution issues, showcase existing innovations and best practices, and inform citizens about actions they can take to reduce their negative impact.


“While our hiker team will dedicate the next 9 months of their lives for this mission, we also welcome everyone to join our events and hike with us in sections of the route, which can be seen on our website at www.savebaltic.eu,” says Bučas.


On March 11, the team of hikers and the expedition’s supporters will officially begin the hike. This first leg will start from Smiltynė – the Northernmost point of the Lithuanian Curonian spit. More information about this and other public events can be found on the expedition’s website and social media channels.

Support the “Save the Baltic Sea” expedition by donating here: https://savebaltic.eu/support/

Contact

info@savebaltic.eu

Proud past, promising future – join the HELCOM 50th anniversary celebrations online on 25 April

Save the date! We are happy to invite the entire extended HELCOM family to join online the 50th anniversary celebrations of the Helsinki Convention and HELCOM. Latvia, currently holding the Chairmanship of HELCOM, will host the celebration event on 25 April 2024 in Riga, starting at 14:00 (CET), with many special guests.

Ministers of the Environment of Latvia and Finland, Inga Bērziņa and Kai Mykkänen, will open the event.

An impressive list of keynote speakers, representing major stakeholder organizations, will also honour the celebrations with their presence. The names of the representatives will be announced soon – stay tuned!

The 50th anniversary celebrations will be preceded by the Ministerial Meeting of the Contracting Parties in the morning of 25 April 2024, and a side event organized by Coalition Clean Baltic and WWF, Waves of Change – Accelerating action and finance to save the Baltic Sea, will take place in Riga the day before.

The guests invited en site include representatives of the HELCOM Contracting Parties, observers and other friends of HELCOM past and present. The special programme reflects the achievements of the first 50 years of HELCOM while looking forward to future challenges. Please find the preliminary programme on the dedicated web page.


In 2024, it will be 50 years since the original Helsinki Convention was signed.

HELCOM, or the Helsinki Commission, was established at the same time, for the purposes of the Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Baltic Sea Area – in essence, to ensure that all the coastal states pursue the many commitments presented for a healthier Baltic Sea. It was a historical moment, as environmental concerns were only starting to shift closer to the mainstream thinking.

HELCOM is a true pioneer in international environment protection. As the awareness of the massive challenges, particularly climate crisis and biodiversity loss, has since significantly risen, we have much to share about cooperation through changing geopolitical situations.

Join us for a full year of celebrations! We are proud to have come this far.