Baltic Marine Environment
Protection Commission

Interview with Rüdiger Strempel, Executive Secretary of HELCOM, on the updated Baltic Sea Action Plan

Q: What is the BSAP?

A: The Baltic Sea Action plan, or BSAP, is HELCOM’s strategic programme for a healthy Baltic Sea. It contains about 200 actions addressing the various pressures on the Baltic Sea and its biodiversity. Originally adopted in 2007, the BSAP was updated in 2021 during the HELCOM Ministerial Meeting in Lübeck, Germany.

Why the update?

The original BSAP envisioned the achievement of good ecological status by 2021. Unfortunately, that goal was not achieved. But the BSAP has nonetheless delivered, and it remains one of the most effective tools at our disposal for achieving our environmental objectives. It has contributed to reducing inputs of nutrients and hazardous substances, to the protection of biodiversity, and cleaner and safer shipping practices. That is why the HELCOM Contracting Parties decided to update the Plan. The update has also allowed us to include emerging and previously insufficiently addressed pressures.

What’s in the updated BSAP?

The new BSAP is an evolution rather than a revolution. It is based on the original plan and maintains the same level of ambition. It also retains all actions previously agreed on insofar as they still need to be implemented. In addition, it includes new actions to strengthen the existing efforts and tackle emerging concerns. The updated BSAP now contains about 200 actions and measures, divided into four segments, namely 1) biodiversity, 2) eutrophication, 3) hazardous substances and litter 4) sea-based activities.

In addition, a new section on horizontal topics addresses cross-cutting issues including climate change, monitoring, maritime spatial planning, economic and social analysis, knowledge exchange and awareness raising, hot spots, and financing. The ecosystem approach is a fundamental element of the updated BSAP.

The updated BSAP is also closely aligned with international and regional ecological objectives such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the targets of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), or the European Union’s Marine Strategy Framework Directive, for those of our Contracting Parties who are also EU members. The BSAP therefore also drives the implementation of those targets and objectives.

How was it done?

The update of the BSAP is based on a science-based participatory process that took about four years to complete. The official go-ahead was given in 2018 during the HELCOM Ministerial Meeting 2018 in Brussels, but work on the update had already started in 2017.

The updated BSAP is based on a thorough analysis of the sufficiency of the existing actions and measures, to understand what worked and what did not, and what would be the state of the Baltic Sea under a “business as usual” scenario without any modifications. This analysis helped to adjust some of the existing actions and measures and to develop new ones.

In general, updating the BSAP was an inclusive and stakeholder-driven process, with the majority of HELCOM groups and bodies involved in the work. Our stakeholders also participated in the development of new actions. The BSAP is therefore not just an environmental success, but also a political one, demonstrating once again our  capability for regional and cross-sectoral cooperation in the Baltic Sea area.

The updated BSAP is based on the strongest possible political mandate. It was adopted during the HELCOM Ministerial Meeting 2021 in Lübeck, Germany on 20 October 2021.  

What are the expectations for the updated BSAP?

All actions and measures contained in the Baltic Sea Action Plan are to be implemented by 2030 at the latest. Successful implementation of the BSAP and attaining its goals on biodiversity, eutrophication, hazardous substances and litter, and sea-based activities is a prerequisite for attaining our overall objective of a healthy Baltic Sea.