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.

About HELCOM

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.