Baltic ministers renew environmental pledge

Ministers to combat oil discharges, eutrophication; renew commitment to 50% pollution cut

Environment ministers from nine countries bordering the Baltic Sea together with the EU's environment commissioner have renewed a ten-year-old commitment to halve the pollution load going into the region. Acknowledging their failure to achieve the goal by an original deadline of 1995, ministers are to set sector-specific targets and detailed action plans to achieve it by 2005.

Meeting yesterday under the auspices of the Helsinki Commission, ministers adopted a wide range of recommendations as well as legally binding measures to tackle point and non-point sources of pollution. They also took stock of progress since they adopted a ministerial declaration in 1988 setting the 50% pollution load reduction target.

According to Swedish environment minister Anna Lindh, ministers accepted that they had failed to achieve the 50% target. Interviewed by ENDS Daily, she said that the lesson was "that you cannot take political decisions if you are not at the same time adopting action plans in order to fulfil those political decisions." Today's renewal of the declaration's aims is accompanied by the adoption of several action plans.

For instance, ministers adopted a programme to eliminate discharges and emissions of hazardous substances into the Baltic environment by 2020. They also approved a list of some 70 hazardous substances regarded as a priority for elimination.

While a 50% overall reduction in pollution load has not been achieved, inputs of some specific pollutants have been cut by more than 50%, for example organochlorine discharges from the pulp and paper industry and lead from petrol (gasoline).

But Ms Lindh points to agriculture as a continuing source of worry: "Algal blooms and eutrophication is one of the biggest problems for the Baltic Sea." Ministers today adopted legally binding standards on the rates and patterns of fertiliser use in Baltic countries.

Binding measures to stop ships discharging wastes and cargo residues at sea were also adopted, together with a harmonised system of penalties for non-compliance. However, ship operators are thought likely to be more influenced by ministers' agreement today to waive special fees for using waste facilities in ports by 2000 in a bid to encourage their use.

Ministers also turned their attention to the working of the Helsinki Commission itself. A commission press statement notes that: "Today, the political [and] economic alignments of the Helcom contracting parties are very different from what they were in the mid-1970s." Eight of the commission's nine contracting parties are preparing for membership of the EU it points out. Ministers have established a steering group to review the commission's structure and activities. It will be chaired by the EU's Tom Garvey and include representatives from Germany, Sweden, Russia and Latvia.

Follow Up:
Helsinki Commission, tel: +358 9 6220 220.

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