Baltic Marine Environment
Protection Commission


Baltic Marine Environment
Protection Commission

Jubile outcome


Photo: Tuukka Troberg

The 40th anniversary of the signing of the 1974 Helsinki Convention was celebrated on 5 March 2014 at the Marina Congress Centre in Helsinki, Finland, from 10:00 to 13:00.

Mrs. Helle Pilsgaard, the Chair of the Helsinki Commission, opened the Jubilee Session by welcoming President Tarja Halonen, Minister Ville Niinistö, ambassadors and distinguished guests, HELCOM Heads of Delegations, Delegates from the Contracting Parties and representatives of the HELCOM observer organizations to the celebrate the Jubilee Session of the Helsinki Commission.

The session was commenced with a song performance by Huima Laulu, a.k.a. Wild Song, improvisational ensemble which uses voice in an unconventional way for making music in the moment. The performance was based on a slide show featuring pictures of the Baltic Sea.


The Jubilee Session was welcomed by former President of Finland, Ms. Tarja Halonen, who welcomed the participants on behalf of the host country of the Helsinki Convention. President Halonen congratulated HELCOM for the good achievements over the past four decades but reminded that despite many years of cooperation and many accomplishments, the Baltic Sea has not yet been restored to the status of a healthy sea.

She acknowledged that each of the world’s oceans and seas has its own challenges to tackle and that many seas in the world struggle due to political and economic situations. She pointed out, however, that in our region we enjoy economic prosperity and stability, which puts more expectations on us. Despite economic downturns from time to time, the Baltic Sea coastal countries have what it takes to be persistent, ambitious and forward-looking in their efforts to save the sea.

Although appreciating the legal basis, established procedures, transparency and professionalism of HELCOM, President Halonen recognized from her personal experience that in order to achieve effective measures to clean our Baltic Sea, we need all actors of society onboard. She underlined the role of the civil society as guardians of protection efforts and that with consumer choices people can create better markets for sustainable development.

She mentioned the Baltic Sea Summit, started by her together with the Finnish Prime Minister of the time, Mr. Vanhanen, where Heads of States and Governments were invited to Helsinki to work together to speed up the implementation of HELCOM decisions, with the result that 150 commitments were made by the public and private sectors.

She also encouraged municipalities to strengthen their national and international cooperation through exchange of practical knowhow.

Finally she thanked the HELCOM community for the work done so far and urged for continued efforts so that the objectives of HELCOM can be achieved.

Speech of Tarja Halonen

Minister of the Environment of Finland, Mr. Ville Niinistö, gave a key note speech, highlighting the history of HELCOM referring to the signing of the 1974 Helsinki Convention as a historic milestone, where for the first time ever, a single Convention covered all the pollution sources around an entire sea. He stated that this legally binding instrument has been and should continue to be an effective channel for introducing local and regional aspects into global and European commitments.

Minister Niinistö recognized the achievements accomplished during the past four decades of HELCOM work, including progress in the fields of wastewater treatment, air pollution control, waste management, biodiversity conservation and improvements in maritime safety, to mention only a few and that as a result, several positive signals have been reported regarding the state of the Baltic Sea. He nevertheless pointed to the need to take further measures to address eutrophication, hazardous substances and maritime activities, while giving importance to green investments in cleaner technologies, developing environmental know-how, and applying best environmental practices in order to implement the Baltic Sea Action Plan and to strengthen the economy in the Baltic Sea region.

Minister Niinistö emphasized the need to continue to intensify efforts to improve data and information quality and availability to serve as a basis for evaluating whether progress is being made towards reaching a good environmental status of the sea. He pointed to the importance of maritime spatial planning and the use of an ecosystem-based approach to the management of human activities, including consideration of possible cumulative effects. At the same time while enabling a sustainable use of marine goods and services, priority should be given to achieving or maintaining good environmental status in the marine environment, to continuing its protection and preservation and to preventing subsequent deterioration.

He acknowledged the limitation of available resources and suggested that HELCOM should concentrate on activities that bring added value to the on-going work within the Contracting Parties, focusing on agreeing on and implementing effective measures that support the recovery of the Baltic Sea. HELCOM should maintain and strengthen interlinkages with other international frameworks, and ensure a forward-looking and focused agenda that reflects well the priorities of the Contracting Parties. He also called to all Contracting Parties to actively contribute to the HELCOM co-operation.

The Minister encouraged all to see the joint challenge to achieve our common vision of a healthy and clean Baltic Sea as an opportunity and reminded that a clean and healthy Baltic Sea is a source of inspiration and prosperity to all of us.

Speech of Ville Niinistö

Ms. Jacqueline Alder, Head of the Freshwater and Marine Ecosystems Branch, Division of Environmental Policy Implementation of United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), represented the Executive Director of UNEP at the HELCOM Jubilee Session.

She congratulated HELCOM on its achievements during the past four decades and stated that HELCOM has demonstrated true leadership in building a strong transboundary cooperation framework that allows its member states to protect and manage in a sustainable manner the various resources and services provided by the Baltic Sea.

Also the UNEP Regional Seas Programme is celebrating its 40th this year. She reminded that the programme was established in March of 1974 – just 2 years after the foundational United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, held Stockholm in 1972. After 40 years of action many achievements of the regional seas around the world can be celebrated – from political, environmental, legal and economic perspectives. In some regions the regional sea convention can be the only platform where countries in conflict or dispute can meet. Regional seas convention and action plans in many areas have developed to often be the only legally recognized intergovernmental platforms for taking regional action on marine issues, especially outside of the fisheries sector. The regional seas also make economic sense – cost of effectiveness of economy of scale in taking a similar approach and leveraging resources.

Ms. Alder noted that the regional seas have been responsive to trends in development of the environment agenda and the changing needs of its member countries, and that often HELCOM has been in the lead – mostly recently in it Green Economy/Ocean Valuation work.

UNEP thanked the HELCOM Contracting Parties for their continued support to the Helsinki Convention and for making HELCOM one of the most visibly successful Regional Seas Programmes.

Speech of Jacqueline Alder

Ms. Helle Pilsgaard, Chair of HELCOM, shared some thoughts about the accomplishments of HELCOM during the past 40 years and raised issues that should be focused on in future work.

She pointed out that one should be proud and happy of the accomplishments of HELCOM and that HELCOM has been both a pioneer and world leader in a wide range of fields. According to the best available figures, we have reduced nutrient pollution to the Baltic Sea quite dramatically, by half, from the times of the signature of the Convention. The status of a number of Baltic Sea species, previously in decline, has been restored and the area coverage of the Baltic Sea marine protected areas has reached globally set goals.

The professional standard of HELCOM work is very high and is recognized both within and outside the region and the same goes for the efficiency of the HELCOM Secretariat. The co-operation within the Helsinki Commission is constructive and solution-orientated in relation to both Delegations and Observers, and is based on equality and consensus. Also the host country of the Commission, the Republic of Finland, has always been very helpful and generous to the Commission and its Secretariat.

Ms. Pilsgaard acknowledged, however, that there are also shortcomings in the work of HELCOM. There is a need to intensify our efforts to implement the 2007 Baltic Sea Action Plan.

We have agreed on concrete figures on the needed nutrient reductions to reach a Baltic Sea without excessive eutrophication and we know where the pollution is coming from. Although we have a joint frame for tackling our major transboundary pollution problem, it will only work if each country maintains its commitment and integrates the efforts on national level. HELCOM has good information at hand about the status of biodiversity to help us speed up the progress towards the goal of favourable conservation status of biodiversity. And while we are on the right path with regard to addressing maritime activities, hazardous substances require both more research and intensified actions.

Ms. Pilsgaard informed that one of the main goals of the Danish Chairmanship of HELCOM has been to renew our cooperation and to make a more dynamic and effective HELCOM. The 35th meeting of HELCOM will discuss a proposal for a streamlined HELCOM, including a new working structure as well as other changes in the concrete working practices. The changes will enable us to better answer the current needs of the Contracting Parties, including creating synergies in implementing other obligations of the Contracting States.

Intensifying our cooperation in the field of agriculture and fisheries in implementing ecosystem approach is another matter of utmost importance. HELCOM should continue to engage in finding viable solutions for these challenges, alongside the efforts to reduce NOx (oxides of nitrogen) emissions from the greatly increased shipping in our region.

Speech of Helle Pilsgaard


Professor Erik Bonsdorff, Åbo Akademi, in his capacity as a “doctor of marine science”, carried out a “health check” of the Baltic Sea and made a general diagnosis of her health status. His conclusion was that she is overweight (excess inputs of nutrients), has breathing problems (anoxic bottoms), and has a toxic allergy (caused by excess inputs of hazardous substances).

He discussed the importance of joint cooperation between science, politicians and civil society to identify and implement an ecosystem approach to clean up the Baltic Sea. He also highlighted the importance to continue to improve the knowledge basis which we have already developed about the Baltic Sea in order to be able to make even more informed decisions.

He further identified seven tenets for a achieving a sustainable management of the Baltic Sea: that actions should be ecologically sustainable, economically viable, technologically feasible, socially desirable/tolerable, administratively permissible, legally permissible and politically expedient. Professor Bonsdorff was of the view that HELCOM is a valuable arena where these seven tenets can be considered together.

Bonsdorff’s presentation

Mr. Bo Gustafsson, Baltic Nest Institute, presented the process behind revising the Baltic Sea Action Plan nutrient reduction targets which were adopted at the 2013 HELCOM Copenhagen Ministerial Meeting. He shared some lessons learned and introduced some issues and challenges that should be addressed in future work related to the HELCOM nutrient reduction scheme.

He also presented information about trends in inputs of nutrients that show that Baltic Sea countries have made significant nutrient input reductions in the past 40 years. Nevertheless, signs of large-scale improvements in the marine environment are still lacking in the major basins, which can be seen in the development of hypoxia (oxygen depletion) in the Baltic Sea from 1900 – 2012. Modelling results suggest, however, that continued decisive action to reduce nutrient inputs will give results. Although it will take a long time before agreed targets are reached, significant improvements will be visible within decades, perhaps even sooner.

Mr. Gustafsson concluded by highlighting the uniqueness of the BSAP nutrient reduction scheme, pointing out that although critical load calculations have being calculated in other regions of the world, the Baltic region is the only one where these have been taken on board at the policy level.

Gustafsson’s presentation

Ms. Marianne Kettunen, Institute of European Environmental Policy, presented recent key developments in valuation of ecosystem services. She stressed the importance of considering the entire web of ecosystem services, rather than looking at individual benefits as separate components, as many of these are interdependent. There is a great diversity of ecosystem services and values and many of these services have not always been considered valuable on their own.

The Baltic Stern review found that people living in the Baltic Sea region appreciate a clean, well-functioning Baltic Sea and the ecosystem services it provides and are willing to pay up to 3,800 million euros a year. She used fish(ing) as an example to demonstrate how ecosystem evaluation is carried out, showing that the benefits of ecosystem services are not only monetary, but also quantitative and qualitative.

She emphasized the need to improve the understanding and systematic assessment of ecosystem services, especially when values are not market-based or economic, and to remember that healthy Baltic Sea biodiversity is insurance for well-functioning ecosystem services.

Ms. Kettunen presented examples of cost-effective win-win solutions as examples of putting theory into practice, such as construction or restoration of wetlands, well-managed marine protected areas or fisheries closures. She also presented some ideas for finding nature-based solutions and marine spatial planning, highlighting the need to integrate values systematically into the foundations of decision-making at all levels (developing and adopting indicators, marine spatial planning and impact assessments). The also emphasized the need to provide the right economic signals (removing harmful subsidies and creating incentives for sustainable use) and investment in green / blue – green / blue infrastructure and creating green / blue jobs.

Kettunen’s presentation


As the final part of the Jubilee Session, a future oriented panel discussion was held on cooperation between regional actors. The discussion was moderated by Ms. Pauli Merriman, WWF Baltic Programme, and members of the discussion panel were: Ms. Monika Stankiewicz, Executive Secretary of HELCOM; Mr. Darius Campbell, Executive Secretary of OSPAR: Ms. Anne Christine Brusendorff, General Secretary of ICES; Ms. Kaisa Kononen, Executive Director of BONUS; Ms. Astrid Schomaker, Head of Unit, Environment DG, European Commission; and Mr. Nuritdin Inamov, Director of Department of International Cooperation, Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment of the Russian Federation.

The discussion was kicked-off by presenting some stereotypes, myths and misconceptions about regional cooperation such as that progress is slow, different actors are pulling in different directions, some prefer sticks to carrots, many questions are answered by an even bigger question, etc.

The panel members generally agreed that there are some truths to the many of the presented misconceptions, but that nevertheless there is good cooperation and progress between the regional partners.

It was acknowledged that there are many on-going activities happening in parallel and that each organization is evolving to adapt to regional, European and global demands. The panelists agreed that all organizations – HELCOM, OSPAR, ICES and BONUS, have the common goal to achieve a healthy Baltic Sea but each also has its specific mandates. Hence, it was recognized that the work of the organizations complements each other, and that at this time of limited resources, it is important to share experiences, join forces and intensify cooperation so that we can address the common challenges ahead in a cost-effective and efficient manner.

Ms. Stankiewicz acknowledged the important role of all the actors in the Baltic Sea region towards the mutual goal of a healthy Baltic Sea and reminded about the commitment of HELCOM to further improve cooperation and the other regional partners.

Mr. Campbell recalled that OSPAR and HELCOM have often been referred to as sister organizations that as such support each other but also look at each other with competitive eyes. OSPAR sees the cooperation with HELCOM as important, but pointed out that the OSPAR Convention covers four different marine regions and that there are therefore also some different priorities to take into account.

Ms. Schomaker stressed the important role of HELCOM in contributing the EU goals on protecting the European seas. Ms. Schomaker reminded that the EU provides the legislative underpinning for those HELCOM Contracting Parties being also EU member states to carry out what they need to do under the EU legislative framework (the stick). The EU is in a position to coordinate legislation under different sectors by addressing parallel legislation, such as the revision of EU waste legislation so that it also takes into account the problem of marine litter. Being involved in the work of other regional seas, including OSPAR, the EU also has an overview of activities on-going in other parts of Europe and can hence contribute to development of harmonized European approaches to protection of the marine environment.

Russia, which is involved in 13 different regional sea programmes, pointed out that HELCOM is the most active of them all. Mr. Inamov recalled that when the first Helsinki Convention was signed in 1974, environmental issues were put forward despite political differences and he hoped that this would continue to be the case also in future cooperation in the Baltic Sea region. He pointed to Russia’s commitment to the protection of the Baltic Sea by referring to the initiatives discussed at the Baltic Sea Summit in Saint Petersburg in 2013 and spoke of the involvement of wide range of sectors, including the private sector, in developing more green technology for tackling municipal waste waters and emissions from shipping.

Ms. Brusendorff informed on the recent adoption of the ICES 5 year Strategic Plan which will be prioritizing improved cooperation for the implementation of the ecosystem approach. She underlined the role of ICES in providing the science that is being used as input to the decision-making at HELCOM, OSPAR and EU levels and suggested to define specific and concrete actions of how ICES can contribute to the regional sea initiative such as HELCOM holistic assessments and OSPAR quality status reports.

Ms. Kononen underlined the good cooperation and synergies between BONUS and HELCOM, pointing out that BONUS uses HELCOM priorities to define its strategic research agenda and that HELCOM therefore benefits directly from the results of BONUS projects. Ms. Kononen noted how Baltic Sea monitoring programmes have developed tremendously over the past 40 years and was of the view that this is largely due to HELCOM’s commitment to increasing the knowledge base of the Baltic Sea marine environment. She also appreciated HELCOM’s willingness to adapt to applying new scientific approaches to decision-making and pointed out that HELCOM has also been an important forum for teaching scientists how science can be targeted towards answering questions raised at the policy level.

Ms. Merriman, as a member of the non-governmental organization (NGO) community, thanked the panellists and urged for a broadened discussion of Baltic Sea issues at higher political levels, to reach out to sectors and to better engage the private-public sectors as well as NGOs.

When asked which on-going HELCOM activities will be seen as pivotal at the next Jubilee session in ten years’ time, Ms. Stankiewicz pointed to the on-going streamlining of HELCOM, including focus on fewer priorities but securing resource for their successful implementation, renewed working structure of HELCOM and the updating of data and information systems as important contributors to achieving of our common objectives.


The morning jubilee session ended with the viewing of a jubilee movie about HELCOM, a group photo session as well as a glass of sparkling wine and lunch.

A reception was held at the premises of the HELCOM Secretariat (Katajanokanlaituri 6B, Helsinki) in the evening from 18:00 to 20:30, featuring special guest speeches and stories about memorable moments from the past.