Baltic Marine Environment
Protection Commission


Baltic Marine Environment
Protection Commission

Germany takes over HELCOM chairmanship, prioritizes marine biodiversity and pressures on the Baltic Sea

The German Chairmanship team:
HELCOM Chair Lilian Busse (centre) with Vice-Chairs Andreas Röpke (left) and Johannes Oelerich (right). Photo: BMU

As of 1 July 2020, Germany has taken over the chairmanship of HELCOM from Finland for a period of two years, setting goals and priorities for combating the threats and pressures impacting the Baltic Sea.

“The overarching goal remains the best possible protection of the Baltic Sea,” said Svenja Schulze, Minister of the Environment of Germany, in her video address introducing the German chairmanship of HELCOM, further adding that all efforts should also consider aspects of “sustainability, relevance for the climate and biological diversity, and suitability.”

As is customary for the chairing Party, Germany has identified several strategic directions for its chairmanship of HELCOM, focussing on strengthening marine biodiversity and addressing pressing challenges such as climate change, munitions on the seafloor and underwater noise.

Germany will also lead the finalization of the update of the Baltic Seas Action Plan (BSAP) and its implementation, as well as devote attention to strengthening regional cooperation and ocean governance. Germany also intends to “make HELCOM fit for the future”, notably by introducing more resource-saving and efficient working methods.

Lilian Busse from the German Environment Agency (UBA) has been designated by Germany as its Chair for HELCOM. Before joining UBA as Head of the Division on Environmental Health and Protection of Ecosystems, Busse worked at the California Environmental Protection Agency. Overall, she has close to 20 years of experience working on marine environmental protection and related matters.

“Beside the technical and political goals Germany has planned for its [chairmanship], I will focus on the Baltic Sea Action Plan,” said Busse in her joint video address with the HELCOM Vice-Chairs chosen by Germany to second her.

A particularity of its chairmanship, Germany will, in addition to the Chairperson, also have two Vice-Chairs hailing from the two German federal states bordering the Baltic Sea, Schleswig-Holstein and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. The Vice-Chairs are Johannes Oelerich (Schleswig-Holstein) for the first year, and Andreas Röpke (Mecklenburg-Vorpommern) for the second year. 

“Germany is taking over the chairmanship as a team,” said Busse.

The chairing Party usually sets the strategic directions for HELCOM under its tenure, and convenes and chairs the meetings of the Helsinki Commission and the Heads of Delegation, the highest decision-taking bodies in HELCOM. Germany will furthermore host the next Ministerial Meeting in October 2021.

The German priorities for its chairmanship of HELCOM are:

  1. Working together for our sea – the Baltic Sea;
  2. Strengthening ocean governance;
  3. Updating and implementing the BSAP – making progress on specific requirements;
  4. Trying new solutions for well-known, pressing challenges;
  5. Strengthening marine biodiversity; and
  6. Understanding and responding to climate change and the Baltic Sea.

Prior to Germany, Finland chaired HELCOM from 2018 to 2020 and had set its own priorities on advancing the BSAP update process, the reduction of nutrient inputs, the effects of climate change, and the links between HELCOM and the UN Agenda 2030, especially the integration of SDG 14 in HELCOM processes. 

“On the Finnish priorities, we committed to leading the updating the Baltic Sea Action Plan and to finding common solutions to formulate an ambitious and realistic updated plan,” said Saara Bäck, the outgoing Chair of HELCOM, adding that “[we] achieved just that, with the update process well on track despite the crisis having hit hard across the entire Baltic Sea region – a feat that I cannot be prouder of and which I would personally like to thank the entire HELCOM community for.”

Under the Finnish chairmanship, HELCOM notably agreed on the vision and objectives of its Regional Nutrient Recycling Strategy, crucial for closing nutrient loops, reducing nutrient surpluses and avoiding nutrient runoff to the sea – the main cause of eutrophication.  

Together with Baltic Earth, HELCOM also launched the EN CLIME network to gain a better understanding of how climate change affects the Baltic, with a view to develop policy responses meant to strengthen the sea’s resilience.


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.

The Helsinki Convention

The Helsinki Convention was signed in 1974 by the Baltic Sea coastal countries to address the increasing environmental challenges from industrialisation and other human activities, and that were having a severe impact on the marine environment. The Helsinki Convention includes the protection of the Baltic Sea from all sources of pollution from land, air and sea. It also commits the signatories to take measures to conserve habitats and biological diversity and to ensure the sustainable use of marine resources. The Helsinki Convention was updated in 1992 to take into account the geopolitical changes and emerging environmental challenges in the region. The current version was ratified in 2000.

The Baltic Sea Action Plan

To help reach its environmental objectives, HELCOM has established the Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP) in 2007. The BSAP is HELCOM’s strategic programme of measure and actions for good status of the Baltic Sea’s environment. The BSAP’s current focus areas are eutrophication, hazardous substances, biodiversity and maritime activities. The BSAP will be updated in 2021, to adjust the current actions and to widen its scope on issues such as climate change, marine litter, loss of seabed and underwater noise.

HELCOM Heads of Delegation decide on BSAP target year at key meeting

HOD 58-2020 took place online from 9 to 10 June 2020. © HELCOM

Yet another milestone was reached on the update of the Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP), with the HELCOM Contracting Parties agreeing on 2030 as the new target year for the plan. The decision was taken at the 58th Meeting of the HELCOM Heads of Delegation (HOD 58-2020) that was held online from 9 to 10 June 2020.

During the meeting, the HELCOM Contracting Parties also approved the work plan and preliminary timetable of the BSAP, currently set to be launched during the next HELCOM Ministerial Meeting planned for October 2021.

Further on the BSAP, HOD 58-2020 also supported the inclusion of actions related to monitoring of the marine environment, climate change, awareness raising, financing, and economic and social analysis.

The prolongation of the Expert Working Group on Oiled Wildlife Response (EWG OWR) until 2021 was also agreed on, along with its new terms of reference. The EWG OWR seeks to increase capacities to oiled wildlife response through joint regional standards, cooperation and training.

On HOLAS III, the third holistic assessment of the state of the Baltic Sea, a provisional timeline and preliminary plan were also agreed on during HOD 58-2020. HOLAS III will cover an assessment period from 2016 to 2021, with the final results to be presented in 2023. The last holistic assessment was instrumental for the update of the BSAP, presenting a comprehensive overview of the state of the Baltic Sea and the pressures affecting it. 

The Heads of Delegation expressed their appreciation for the accomplishments achieved by HELCOM under the Finnish chairmanship, set to end in June 2020, notably on advancing the BSAP update process, as well as work on the reduction of nutrient inputs, the effects of climate change, and the links between HELCOM and the UN Agenda 2030, especially the integration of SDG 14 in HELCOM processes. 

“Finland is handing over the HELCOM chairmanship to Germany, where I am sure it will be in the best of hands – after all, HELCOM is one big family of likeminded siblings all working very hard towards achieving the same goal, namely a Baltic Sea showing good ecological status,” said Saara Bäck, the outgoing Chair of HELCOM.

Germany will take over the chairmanship from HELCOM in July 2020, for a period of two years. A particularity of its chairmanship, Germany will, in addition to the Chairperson, also have two Vice-Chairs hailing from the two German federal states bordering the Baltic Sea, Schleswig-Holstein and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.

“The overarching goal remains the best possible protection of the Baltic Sea,” said Svenja Schulze, Minister of the Environment of Germany, in her video address introducing the German chairmanship and shown during HOD 25-2020, further indicating that the update of the BSAP will play a central role during the German tenure. Other priorities include issues such as marine protected areas, ammunitions on the seabed, and increasing the visibility of HELCOM.

Lilian Busse from the German Environment Agency (UBA) has been designated by Germany as its Chair for HELCOM, seconded by Vice-Chair Johannes Oelerich (Schleswig-Holstein) for the first year, and Vice-Chair Andreas Röpke (Mecklenburg-Vorpommern) for the second year. 

“Germany is taking over the chairmanship as a team,” said Busse in her joint video address with Vice-Chairs Oelerich and Röpke.

HELCOM is recruiting its new Administrative Assistant

We are currently in search of an enthusiastic expert to strengthen our team at the international HELCOM Secretariat as Administrative Assistant. The position is to support the Administrative Officer in the administration of the Secretariat. While the tasks are mainly focused on finances, they also include tasks related to HR and general administration of the office. 


  • assisting in closing of accounts and preparing the financial statement; 
  • tasks related to accounting, invoicing, reporting and follow-up;
  • support in budgeting;
  • tasks related to HR and general administration (e.g. preparing contracts, reports and applications);
  • support in developing the administrative tools of the Secretariat; 
  • other administrative tasks as assigned.

Qualifications and experience

  • Bachelor’s degree in a relevant field (e.g. business administration, public administration, economics) or corresponding education; 
  • minimum of two years of relevant professional experience from financial and administrative tasks; 
  • knowledge of accounting practices and systems; 
  • ability to work independently, take responsibility and initiatives;
  • excellent organizational and administrative skills and proven ability to deliver to tight timelines; 
  • excellent social and team skills;
  • A thorough knowledge of the English and Finnish languages as well as high competence in IT skills are essential. 

Apply by end of 22 June 2020.

More details about the job offer and on how to apply can be found on our vacancy page.

HELCOM is recruiting an Associate Professional Secretary (biodiversity, pressures, conservation)

Application period has closed. Please do not apply.

HELCOM is currently in search of an enthusiastic and experienced expert to strengthen our team at the international HELCOM Secretariat as fixed-term Associate Professional Secretary. The position of Associate Professional Secretary involves both administrative/assisting tasks and content/substance tasks related to the fields of activities of HELCOM. 

The administrative tasks consist mainly of supporting the relevant Professional Secretaries in preparing multilateral meetings and communication within HELCOM and its different working groups and networks. 

The substantive tasks are mainly related to biodiversity (covering habitats to species, ranging from plankton to marine mammals), pressures on the marine environment stemming from human activities (e.g. eutrophication and benthic habitats), conservation, monitoring and assessment. However, changes in the substance areas are possible.

The Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission (Helsinki Commission – HELCOM) is an intergovernmental organization (Denmark, Estonia, the European Union, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia and Sweden) with its headquarters (Secretariat) in Helsinki, Finland, working to protect the marine environment of the Baltic Sea. 

At present, we are around 30 staff members at the HELCOM Secretariat, and our working language is English. We offer an open, friendly, dynamic and energetic, often fast-paced, international working environment that challenges everyone to contribute their best to our common goals.

Apply by 24 May 2020.

HELCOM Expert Interview: Ottilia Thoreson on the Baltic Sea, HELCOM stakeholders and the BSAP update

Ottilia Thoreson is a Programme Director at WWF Baltic (WWF Baltic Ecoregion Programme)

From WWF’s and your perspective, what will be the biggest challenge(s) for the Baltic Sea’s environment in the future? 

Despite expressed ambitions, countries are still not delivering on the political leadership necessary to achieve the original commitments of the BSAP. Decisions are still taken sector-by-sector, ministry-by-ministry, without applying a holistic, integrated approach, resulting in uncoordinated, conflicting and inefficient policy objectives and implementation. Regional and national work to restore the health of the Baltic Sea still mainly involves the environmental ministries, although necessary actions fall under the responsibility of a number of sector ministries, as for example maritime infrastructure, fisheries and agriculture, who are driven by other ambitions than improving the health of the Baltic Sea.

One of the biggest challenges for the Baltic Sea is and will continue to be for countries to apply an ecosystem-based approach to managing human activities and pressures to ensure they stay within the carrying capacity of the marine ecosystem. This means that policies driven in the region need to be cohesive as to not undermine the objective to reach good environmental status of the catchment and marine environments. As long as countries keep managing the resources and environment in silos by the different sectors undermining progress, there will be little change to the current state of the Baltic Sea. 

What’s, in your opinion, the best way to go about these challenges?

NGOs from across the Baltic Sea region have presented a Shadow Plan to the Contracting Parties at the recent HELCOM High Level and Commission meeting. The Shadow plan lists our recommendations for how to secure and revive the health of the Baltic Sea and increase resilience to climate change. As the 2021 deadline passes, countries must strive to address the present challenges still not achieved and make sufficient progress to meet the legal requirements set by the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, along with global requirements on the Sustainable Development Goals and revised  Convention of Biological Diversity.

Overall, HELCOM has had much focus on setting recommendations. With the limited time we have to improve the environment and meet the climate targets, the Helsinki Convention needs to develop new implementation mechanisms, including a monitoring and evaluation system to give countries clear targets to fill and to be held accountable to. 

Ecosystem Based Management must be set as the fundamental approach that requires transboundary integration across ecosystem boundaries – countries must plan across the land-sea interface. This will require stronger political will and countries to work across ministries and agencies to coordinate ocean use within planetary boundaries. Countries need to recognise that the use of the marine environment and its resources must restore, protect and maintain the diversity, productivity and resilience of the core functions of the marine ecosystems and be based on clean technologies, renewable energy and circular material flows.  

Along with policy, business must become a stronger engine in the transition to sustainability through financial incentives. By ensuring principles are extended to producer responsibility applied across the entire life cycles of materials, and with schemes to hold industries accountable for the downstream impacts of their products. 

Update of the Baltic Sea Action Plan: how big of an opportunity?

This year has many deadlines of legal frameworks to be met on national, regional and global level, with far too many countries missing their mark to attain the objective of a good environmental status for both the terrestrial and marine environment. World leaders are set to take critical decisions on the climate and the environment, under the revision of the UN global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the revised UN Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD), to move global societies to a more sustainable path. 2020 is the year which offers the opportunity to effectively join the dots between climate, biodiversity, and financial sector to help improve the contribution of oceans and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. 

It is timely and much needed to update the BSAP to take stock and acknowledge new pressures to the Baltic that can be addressed in a regional manner, update the regional objectives to be synergistic with EU and global commitments, and to meet the new challenges that have come to light in the nexus between ocean and climate. The BSAP can give regional guidance and momentum for  countries to fulfil their climate targets under the Paris Agreement, and include marine conservation measures to their Nationally Determined Contributions that provide significant benefits for both climate mitigation and adaption and improvement to the Baltic Sea environment. To achieve this  HELCOM needs to break the silos present within countries’ environmental and resource management, to better link the sea-climate interlinkages within governmental departments, academia and other entities for assisting in systematic and effective inclusion of marine and climate practitioners. 

What should particularly be considered in the BSAP update, with a view on achieving GES? 

The MSFD is a ‘framework directive’ allowing EU Member States the flexibility to interpret GES, meaning they define targets and measures for its descriptor indicators in their own way. Therefore, the achievement of GES relies heavily on the interpretation, harmonization and implementation of the MSFD by the Baltic Sea countries. Not to mention Russia is not obliged to meet the same requirement for its national waters, as a non-EU Member. The ambiguity in the Directive’s text has led to different interpretations by the countries in defining GES. This has created  uncertainty, discrepancies and different levels of conformity and governance difficulties. 

We know that no country will achieve their GES within the agreed time frame. Governments must shift their priorities and see the investment gains resulting from their actions to improve the GES rather than the cost of addressing the marine impacts faced today. The maritime spatial plans that are being developed by the respective countries is a fundamental tool to meet the legal frameworks of GES by identifying the most suitable way of managing sectors considering ecological, economic and social objectives. Applying effective maritime spatial plans, which safeguard the capacity of marine ecosystems to mitigate human-induced changes to marine ecosystems and processes, can be key to improving the state of the sea and establishing resilience to the impacts of climate change. There also needs more ambitious targets for marine protected areas, and not only acknowledging MPAs in the maritime spatial plans but actively reserving space for the development of a coherent network of MPAs.

HELCOM has been progressive in the region by setting guidelines for maritime spatial planning, with countries preparing to complete their plans for 2021. Similarly, HELCOM should set GES to also be compatible across the region making it a stronger tool for achieving the overall MSFD, with policy coordination and integration.

WWF is an observer in HELCOM: how has this worked out for WWF so far, or even for HELCOM?

As an observer in HELCOM, WWF gets a good overview and insight to the latest science, policy approaches and recommendations in the region, along with understanding countries’ political position on a wide array of issues that are to be tackled by the Contracting Parties addressed in the BSAP.

There are numerous working groups, position documents and reports produced within HELCOM. It is challenging as observers to engage in all areas of the BSAP due to limited WWF capacity and resources. Over the course of the current BSAP, lack of transparency has been an issue we have often flagged, along with monitoring of countries progress. Countries must be held accountable in their efforts or lack thereof to implement the actions of the BSAP. Current national reporting formats and database entries have not been coherent nor always given relevant progress on the measures. Thus Article 16 of the convention regarding reporting and exchange of information is not enough and should be updated. The secretariat must ensure transparency and accountability with clear standards for comparability and tracking of achievements. Not to mention user friendly for public access – as the public should have the right to know how countries are progressing to meet their commitments to achieving a healthy Baltic Sea. 

It is positive to see that HELCOM has established a database to start following the progress in a more systematic manner and have recently produced a more thorough analysis of the implementation by showing clearly that countries national targets are still lagging behind, with merely 26% of the national actions fully implemented by all countries. The big question is what mechanism will be put in place in the updated BSAP to get countries to stop lagging and implement the commitments they have agreed to?

Do you feel HELCOM is receptive to its observers and stakeholders?

We have often felt HELCOM is positive to the contributions given by observers in the working groups, as we can often bring to light matters from the ‘ground’ which the intergovernmental bodies are not aware of in the respective countries. By being part of a wide network of civil society, NGOs work closely on environmental challenges and can help raise the awareness of these to HELCOM. As observers it is also important that we encourage transparency. We voice our concerns of the HELCOM work to the public and inform when the governments are not taking their responsibility to meet the commitments and policy objectives in the respective countries and out at sea, or more importantly when they let other interests take precedence to conserving nature and the ecosystem services humanity require in order to live and thrive in.

In terms of stakeholders, HELCOM is heavily focused on intergovernmental and science institutions for the progress and development of scientific knowledge and links to the policy work. Of the regional seas conventions, HELCOM has been progressive in engaging with some stakeholders, for example the transport authority and maritime shipping which has proven  beneficial in driving policy change in the shipping arena when it comes to tackling air emissions and sewage waste from cruise and passenger ships. However, at the latest stakeholder meeting March 3rd, there was very low representation of the main marine sectors who are responsible for the cumulative effects to the Baltic; fisheries, renewable energies, tourism, agriculture, infrastructure, maritime shipping and defence. These are all important sectors in the regional economy and advancement towards  sustainable management of the space and resources. In the future, the these sectors need to be included in an integrated manner. This is one of the fundamental elements to apply Ecosystem Based Management, for the contracting parties to encourage inclusive, multi-stakeholder participation for the long-term and adaptive management of marine resources. 

HELCOM joins new project on shipping emissions, EU EMERGE

HELCOM has recently joined the EMERGE project on shipping emissions in EU marine waters and was one of the 18 project partner organizations that attended its kick-off meeting in Laxenburg near Vienna, Austria from 24 to 26 February 2020. 

Coordinated by the Finnish Meteorological Institute, EMERGE will quantify and evaluate the effects of potential emission reduction solutions for shipping in Europe, and develop effective strategies and measures to reduce the environmental impacts of shipping.

“Beyond producing data, the project will also develop several scenarios to help identify management options on how to best deal with all sorts of shipping emissions,” said Joni Kaitaranta, the HELCOM data coordinator handling the project at HELCOM. The outcomes of the project are expected to be further considered by the relevant HELCOM working groups.

As a project partner, HELCOM will mainly be involved in the work packages on hosting and publicizing spatial data outputs such as emission maps stemming from developed modelling framework and based on different management scenarios. HELCOM will furthermore participate in developing online tools for disseminating the outcomes and associated data to stakeholders, decision-makers and to the general public.

HELCOM has extensive experience in gathering and processing data on the marine environment and maritime activities, notably through its indicator work and its map and data service. 

The 4-year EMERGE project, funded by the European Commission, was formed in response to the Horizon 2020 call on Ship emission control scenarios, marine environmental impact and mitigation

EMERGE will systematically analyze the complex interactions between technological options, pollutant emissions and dispersion, and environment. It will carry out measurements and modelling on actual vessels, along main shipping routes and in sensitive European marine regions. 

Measurements will focus on abatement techniques and will include emissions to, and concentrations in water, air and marine biota. EMERGE will especially investigate how effectively available scrubbers reduce the effects of key pollutants.

For those who wonder why Laxenburg was chosen as the kick-off venue: besides hosting the premises of project partner IIASA where the event took place, the city is also (almost) the geographical centre of the project, effectively reducing CO2 travel emissions by the participants that were coming from all parts of Europe – ranging from the Baltic Sea to the Mediterranean.

Twitter: @EUEMERGE  #EuEmerge

The update of the Baltic Sea Action Plan and UN Voluntary Commitments are addressed at HELCOM’s annual meeting

The high-level representatives attending HELCOM 41-2020. © HELCOM
Back row, from left to right: Nuritdin Inamov (Russia), Jochen Flasbarth (Germany), Katarzyna Krzywda (Poland), Katrine Nissen (Denmark), Silvija Nora Kalnins (Latvia), Vitalijus Auglys (Lithuania) and Harry Liiv (Estonia).
Front row, from left to right: Veronica Manfredi (EU), Gunvor G. Eriksson (Sweden), Saara Bäck (Chair of HELCOM), Terhi Lehtonen (Finland), Rüdiger Strempel (Executive Secretary of HELCOM).

Actions for a healthier Baltic Sea and HELCOM’s Voluntary Commitments to the UN Ocean Conference 2020 were addressed in Helsinki during the Annual Meeting of the Helsinki Commission – the 41st Meeting of the Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission (HELCOM 41-2020) – that took place from 4 to 5 March 2020.

The Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP) and its update were one of the central themes of the event that also featured a high-level segment attended by high-level representatives such as state secretaries and other high-ranking ministerial representatives of the Baltic Sea countries and the EU. Only Ministerial Meetings rank higher on the HELCOM meeting scale.

“Building on the political will expressed by the ministers in 2018, we are now progressing from words to action, as 2019 marked the beginning of more concrete work on the new BSAP,” said Rüdiger Strempel, the Executive Secretary of HELCOM, in his statement.

Initially set to achieve its objectives by 2021, the BSAP is due to be updated in 2021 as mandated by the HELCOM Contracting Parties during the Ministerial Meeting held in Brussels in 2018. The past months were characterized by translating the political will expressed in 2018 into a concrete roadmap and actions towards the update, such as the analysis of sufficiency of existing measures

In Helsinki, the high-level representatives recognized that clear progress has been made under the current BSAP during the past 13 years. However, they also acknowledged that the level of implementation has not been fully satisfactory and stressed the need to ensure and accelerate the implementation of the actions under both the current and updated BSAP.

Nevertheless, the BSAP remains one of the most effective instruments for a healthy Baltic, offering a long-term vision and strategic orientation, as well as a wide array of science-based actions and measures. The updated BSAP is expected to include considerations on climate change, marine litter, pharmaceuticals, underwater noise, and loss of and disturbance to the seabed, among other pressures.

At HELCOM 41-2020, the representatives particularly highlighted the importance of recognizing climate change as a cross-cutting topic and the need for more knowledge on the impacts and consequence of climate change, therefore regarding the BSAP as an “instrument to strengthen the resilience of the Baltic Sea ecosystem and minimize negative effects of climate change on society,” as stated in the meeting outcome.

Based on the existing plan, the update will maintain at least the same level of ambition as the current plan and include all actions and measures from that plan that have not been implemented yet.

The outcome of the HELCOM Stakeholder Conference 2020, held the day before HELCOM 41 and aimed at gathering input from stakeholders on the BSAP update and that was, was also presented during the session of the high-level representatives who particularly lauded the quality of the engagement of the stakeholders. A total of 49 potentially new BSAP actions were proposed during the event. 

Furthermore, at HELCOM 41-2020, the representatives agreed on submitting five Voluntary Commitments by HELCOM to the 2020 UN Ocean Conference, concurring on: 

  1. updating of the Baltic Sea Action Plan by 2021, 
  2. the development of a HELCOM Science Agenda to contribute to the UN Decade of Ocean Science, 
  3. strengthening cooperation with other Regional Seas Organisations, 
  4. offering strong support for global efforts to address the marine litter problem on a global level, and 
  5. organizing a workshop on ecosystem-based management in support of the UN Decade of Ocean Science. 

The voluntary commitments are part of HELCOM’s concrete efforts on global outreach and on advancing the global ocean agenda. 

During the meeting, a number of HELCOM Recommendations were also adopted or revised by the Contracting Parties, such as the Recommendation on Deep-Sea Pilotage in the Baltic Sea (Recommendation 41/1) and the HELCOM Recommendation on the use of national manure standards (adopted in principle). 

A roadmap on the collection of fisheries data to assess incidental bycatches and fisheries impact on benthic biotopes in the Baltic Sea was also agreed on during the meeting, as was the project proposal on the monitoring of pollution loads to the Baltic Sea (PLC-8).

Jochen Flasbarth, State Secretary at the German Federal Ministry for Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, with Rüdiger Strempel, HELCOM’s Executive Secretary. Germany will assume the chair of HELCOM from 1 July 2020 until 30 June 2022, taking over from Finland.

HELCOM 41-2020 also saw the nomination by Germany of Lilian Busse, Head of the Division of Environmental Health and Protection of Ecosystems of the German Environment Agency, as Chair of the upcoming German chairmanship. Germany will take over from Finland on 1 July 2020, for a period of two years.

The representatives further took note of Germany’s will to increase the political visibility of HELCOM work during its chairmanship, with the BSAP being at the centre of the work, further supporting the Parties in its implementation, and extending invitations to civil society and stakeholders to participate in HELCOM processes.

The high-level segment of HELCOM 41-2020 was attended by Katrine Nissen (Denmark), Harry Liiv (Estonia), Veronica Manfredi (EU), Terhi Lehtonen (Finland), Jochen Flasbarth (Germany), Silvija Nora Kalnins (Latvia), Vitalijus Auglys (Lithuania), Katarzyna Krzywda (Poland), Nuritdin Inamov (Russia) and Gunvor G. Eriksson (Sweden).

Baltic Sea Action Plan: New actions are proposed during HELCOM stakeholder event

Over 120 participants attended the HELCOM Stakeholder Conference 2020 © HELCOM

Concrete actions for a healthier Baltic Sea were proposed in Helsinki this week during the HELCOM Stakeholder Conference 2020 that aimed at gathering feedback from stakeholders on the Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP), HELCOM’s strategic programme of actions, which is due to be updated by 2021.

A total of 49 new actions to be considered for inclusion in the updated BSAP were voiced during the conference, touching upon a variety of topics such as hazardous substances, marine litter, shipping and other sea-based activities, as well as eutrophication and biodiversity.

Climate change was also heavily emphasized during the conference, as was the issue of implementation of BSAP actions at the national level, where stakeholders felt more progress should be made. Better collaboration between ministries and authorities also featured highly on the participants’ wish list, along breaking “thinking in silos” in favour of a more holistic view of protection of the marine environment of the Baltic Sea.

The conference, titled “For a sustainable Baltic Sea: The Baltic Sea Action Plan beyond 2021”, and that attracted over 120 participants from different organisations such as governments, NGOs, academia and industry, was a direct result of the decision recorded in the HELCOM Ministerial Declaration 2018 to include stakeholders in the BSAP update process.

According to the declaration, the BSAP update should “be strongly communicated with stakeholders, enable knowledge sharing between science and policy across all levels, be developed in a participatory and transparent way at the regional and local levels, including all appropriate stakeholders.”

Although its environmental objective to each good environmental status by 2021 is unlikely to be achieved, the BSAP remains one of the most effective instruments for a healthy Baltic. 

“No other plan or programme offers the same long-term vision and strategic orientation, the same agreement on a holistic set of science-based actions and measures for a healthy Baltic Sea, the same regional and cross-sectoral acceptance,” said Rüdiger Strempel, the Executive Secretary of HELCOM, during the conference.

It is expected that the update of the BSAP will include considerations on climate change, marine litter, pharmaceuticals, underwater noise, and loss and disturbance of seabed, among other pressures. Based on the existing plan, the update will maintain at least the same level of ambition and include all actions and measures from that plan that have not been implemented yet.

The proposed actions gathered from the Stakeholder Conference will now be forwarded to the relevant HELCOM working groups for further consideration and possible additional development within HELCOM and the BSAP update processes.

HELCOM Expert Interview: Susanne Heitmüller on the management of wastewater from ships

Dr Susanne Heimüller works for the Federal Maritime and Hydrographic Agency (BSH) and is the Chair of HELCOM Maritime Working Group

Overall, what’s the current state of the management of wastewater from ships in the Baltic Sea, also compared to other seas?

The Baltic Sea is a highly sensitive sea area and eutrophication is one of its major problems. Therefore, following a lengthy preparation process within HELCOM, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) designated the Baltic Sea as “Special Area for sewage discharges from passenger ships under Annex IV of the MARPOL Convention.” Worldwide, it is the only region so far regulating these discharges

The more stringent Special Area regulations, which already applies to newly built vessels, require passenger ships to either discharge their sewage into port reception facilities (PRF) or to treat sewage with an advanced on-board sewage treatment plant capable of reducing nutrients to a safe level for discharging at sea. 

This is an important step forward towards a healthier Baltic Sea, while, at the same time, showing how a MARPOL Annex IV Special Area may be implemented.  

Why the Technical Guidance? What’s its objective, background?

Handling big volumes of sewage in ports requires new and innovative approaches. Initial experiences show that there is no “one size fits all” solution. Almost each port, with its own, specific infrastructure requirements, needs a tailored solution. 

To facilitate proper management of wastewater from ships, we therefore developed the “Technical Guidance for the Handling of Wastewater in Ports of the Baltic Sea Special Area under MARPOL Annex IV.”

The Technical Guidance sets out probable problems a port may encounter, and presents possible solutions on the different aspects of the management of wastewater from ships, be they of infrastructural or technological nature, or related to planning and communication.

Who is the Technical Guidance meant for?

The Technical Guidance offers recommendations to port operators and shipping companies. It can also be useful for administrations and municipal wastewater companies dealing with the issue.  

How do you expect the Technical Guidance to improve wastewater management in the Baltic Sea?

The Technical Guidance will hopefully aid all involved stakeholders to better understand the major and various challenges ports and ships face when it comes to managing wastewater. Awareness and good communication is a first step in working together on practical solutions, and ultimately, on improving the environment of the Baltic Sea.

Download the Technical Guidance:

Highlighting their role in achieving the global ocean targets, the world’s regional seas converge in Helsinki

Representatives and experts from the regional seas organisations met in Helsinki from 25 to 27 November 2019. © HELCOM

If not their waters, then at least the experts of the world’s regional seas converged in Helsinki in late November to share best practices on the Sustainable Development Goal related to oceans and seas, SDG 14, and to start preparations on its joint outlook report to be presented at the Ocean Conference 2020.

The HELCOM-hosted workshop that took place in Helsinki from 25 to 27 November was a follow up of the UN Regional Seas Programme‘s Annual Meeting held in Berlin earlier in October and also co-hosted by HELCOM. 

“Our organisations are truly the best place to translate the global visions into action at the regional level,” said the Executive Secretary of HELCOM, Rüdiger Strempel, during his opening remarks in Helsinki, referring to the driving role of the regional sea conventions and bodies on advancing the global environmental targets.

Two of the global frameworks, the SDGs and the Aichi targets, have long been important guidelines for HELCOM in working to conserve the global marine environment. 

“The SDGs and Aichi targets are, in fact omnipresent in our everyday work,” said Strempel, adding that “both have proven to be key to advancing the ocean agenda, and decisively influence the policies we develop, the strategies we devise, the actions we implement.”

“At HELCOM and in the Baltic Sea, we believe that the various regional seas mechanisms can learn a lot from each other,” said Strempel, further stressing that despite HELCOM not directly being linked to the UN system, it continually takes account of the relevant UN goals and processes.

Increasing collaboration with the UN Regional Seas Programme was one of the four HELCOM commitments made during the UN Ocean Conference 2017

The other commitments were to establish a NOx Emission Control Area (NECA) in the Baltic Sea, to strengthen the implementation of the HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan to support ocean-related SDGs, and to identify Ecologically or Biologically Significant Marine Areas (EBSAs) in the Baltic Sea.

Organised by the UN Regional Seas Programme, facilitated by the UN Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) and hosted by HELCOM, the workshop attracted 16 regional sea organisations from all over the world.