Finnish budget tackles algae pollution

Government allocates new funds following worst ever algal blooms in the Baltic

The Finnish government has allocated significant new funds to tackle toxic blooms of algae in freshwater and the Baltic Sea in its 1998 budget, details of which were released on Tuesday. The new spending follows algal blooms in the Baltic this summer, which the Finnish environment ministry describes as the "worst ever".

According to the ministry, this is the first time that specific funds for algal pollution have been provided in the national budget - FM100m (Ecu17m) as been allocated. "We have had some actions on algal blooms...but this is a big increase," an official told ENDS Daily. Policy preparations to deal with increasing algal pollution are already underway, the official said, but the budget does not specify how the extra money is to be spent.

The budget has also seen increased funding for nature conservation. Funds for state purchases of land have been raised from FM150m in 1997 to FM163m next year. The land purchase policy is part of a 10-year programme agreed by the government in 1996, which is expected to cost over FM3bn. About 20,000 hectares have already been bought since 1996 and another 250,000 hectares are being targeted.

Overall, funding for environmental protection is to remain stable at about FM1bn in 1998. Within this sum, another area due to be given priority by the environment ministry is climate change. The budget stresses the importance of actions to combat global warming, according to the ministry, but gives no specific spending figures.

In other areas, the budget has introduced a significant increase in funds allocated to the agriculture ministry for agri-environmental measures. The extra FM120m in spending is in line with European Commission policies for reforming agriculture, as set out in Agenda 2000 in July, an agriculture ministry official told ENDS Daily.

Changes have also been made to Finland's energy taxation system, according to the finance ministry. A tax subsidy for the use of wood and wood-derived fuels has been extended in an effort to encourage the use of wood as a fuel. In order to promote the use of natural gas, a formerly temporary 50% tax advantage for the use of gas for domestic and industrial heating has been made permanent.

Published alongside the budget, a new report by the environment ministry and the Finnish statistical agency gives an overview of policies for environmental protection and sustainable development in 1997. The report concludes that, while progress is being made in some areas, new pressures are emerging in Finland, such as urban development and the building of new industrial and transport facilities as well as holiday homes.

Follow Up:
Finnish environment ministry , tel: +358 9 19911. Related information: Statistics on algal pollution in Finnish surface waters to 1995 can be found on the web at: http://www.vyh.fi/fei/enviprob/eutrophi/algbloom.htm.

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