EU strategy aspires to combat eutrophication

Wednesday, 23. September 2009     0 comment(s)
Mia Pihlajamäki
Researcher – PROBALT project
International Politics of Natural Resources and the Environment research programme

European Commission took a major step towards saving the Baltic Sea when it published its Communication on the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region and the related Action Plan in June this year. Only few weeks later, Sweden took over the EU Presidency. It was no surprise that the development of this strategy was given a high priority on the Swedish agenda, which is now to be adopted in October 2009.

The strategy includes four key objectives that aim to make the Baltic Sea region (i) an environmentally sustainable, (ii) prosperous, (iii) accessible and attractive, and (iv) safe and secure place.

Under these four thematic objectives, the action plan highlights 15 priority areas, one of which is to “reduce nutrient inputs to the sea to acceptable levels”. The two strategy actions identified to achieve this target include implementing actions, such as removing phosphates in the detergents, to reduce nutrients and promoting measures and practices that reduce nutrient losses from farming and address eutrophication.

One could say that these actions are relatively disappointing since more drastic measures are without a doubt needed to combat eutrophication more effectively. According to the Helsinki Commission the removal of phosphorus from detergents can decrease the total phosphorus input to the sea by up to 24%. However, 30% of the nitrogen input still originates from point sources, mainly wastewater treatment plants and industry. The effect of the rather vague promise in the strategy to promote measures that reduce nutrient input from agriculture remains to be seen.

Nutrient input to the sea might not be reduced drastically as a result of the new strategy. However, it will contribute to the Baltic Sea marine environment by introducing an integrated framework for combating eutrophication in the eight EU member states bordering the Baltic Sea. The region lacks a common management approach, which results in varying protection efforts around the area. The problem of eutrophication is not perceived in the same way in all riparian countries, simply because the magnitude and severity of the problems varies significantly around the sea. However, the Baltic Sea is a common property resource and we should manage it accordingly.

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