Baltic Sea Region Forum
Ladies and Gentlemen, dear friends of the Baltic Sea,
It is a great pleasure to be here in Turku at the Baltic Sea Region Forum. I thank the organizers for having invited me to share a few thoughts on the importance of cooperation and dedication to the health and prosperity of the sea and the region we share.
The Baltic Sea is one of the most intensely operated marine areas in the world. Every given moment approximately 2000 ships sail at the sea. The Baltic Sea is also one of the most fragile sea areas in the world, and therefore possible accidents and longer term harmful practices that cause environmental degradation need to be prevented through continued care and collaboration.
The political landscape around the Baltic Sea has changed especially since the recent political crisis. It has had its effects also on regional and environmental cooperation. A healthy and secure Baltic Sea needs the joint work and partnerships of states, regional organizations and non-governmental actors as well as the private sector. It is important that this is understood also by the wider public. Cooperation has a long history and many merits throughout the past decades. Research and expert level collaboration has been good despite political tensions that have at times overshadowed relations.
I actually just visited the St. Petersburg Legal Forum, where I gave a speech about the legacy of Mihail Speransky and the importance of good governance and the rule of law. There, I also heard of the great interest to collaborate to improve Russian environmental law expertise and academic studies. Year 2017 has also been designated as a national year of the environment in Russia. Many possibilities for cooperation thus exist.
The Baltic Sea Summit that was held in Helsinki in 2010 was a particularly successful moment that showed the power of us coming together. Its purpose was to strengthen the practical work of HELCOM. The Finlandia Hall was full of high level delegations and many other key organizations and actors. Concrete commitments to enhance the condition of the Baltic Sea were made by states, private businesses and NGOs. The mechanisms we have created have received broad international appraisal including from the United Nations.
Much valuable preventive and protective work is being done. A few recent examples of success include the assessment by HELCOM published in a report on 26 April, that “The number of oil spills in the Baltic Sea detected through daily aerial surveillance reached an all-time low again in 2015. … Also the size of spills spotted in the region continue to decline following long-term trends.”
Another positive development took place when the International Maritime Organization IMO decided on 22 April to ban the discharge of raw sewage from passenger ships and ferries directly into the Baltic Sea. All the Baltic Sea states unanimously support the decision. Raw sewage has been a major problem as about 4 million tourists sail on the Sea yearly. Studies show that only about 30% of international cruise ships emptied their sewage in harbors.
The Baltic Sea is polluted also in other ways. Although many countries already have functioning waste water systems that prevent pollution from industries and communities, a challenge is to lower the waste from agriculture. However, for example the quality of water in the eastern part of the Gulf of Finland has improved because of investments made jointly in St. Petersburg.
We also still have much to learn about the fragile ecosystems of the Baltic Sea. We need to invest more in studying the underwater nature to be able to focus our protection efforts right. New unfortunate surprises emerge as knowledge improves, an example being plastic micro particles.
Transnational cooperation and multilevel governance in the framework of the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region have resulted in positive change. The three objectives of the strategy are to save the sea, connect the region and to increase prosperity. The policy area ‘Shipping’, under the first objective for example, aims at making the Baltic Sea region the model region for clean shipping. I am sure we can succeed in this and it will be good also for our broader economies – including employment – as we need to invest in new technologies.
Already the marine industry is growing in Finland and in the region in general. In Finland almost 30 000 people are employed in the industry and the turnover is almost eight billion euros. Environmental issues are in the core when we talk about the Baltic Sea region marine cluster. Finland has the opportunity to act as the forerunner of cleantech and environmental friendly shipping. Finland has high knowledge on ICT matters which are linked to the security and safety factors of shipping.
Marine industry is also growing in the Arctic. The know-how gained in the Baltic Sea region marine clusters is also valuable to the sustainable development of the Arctic as a shipping route. New innovations are needed and we have a lot to offer in this context.
This said, the marine industry is one good example of how sustainable economic growth can be pursued in the context of blue economy and how it all links to the broader concept of Sustainable Development. The Sustainable Development Goals adopted at the UN last September provide a wonderful new framework for us within which to pursue our efforts also here in the north. Goal 14 of the Sustainable Development Goals deals with conservation and sustainable use of the oceans, seas and marine resources. Effective implementation of the goals requires a multi-stakeholder approach, the efforts of governments, the private sector and the civil society. All of us present here.
The Baltic Sea has been here long before us, and it will be here long after us. So let’s join our forces for the protection of the Sea and strengthening cooperation.