Seven hours of high-level content input,
the unanimous adoption of a far-reaching resolution with great political weight based on productive negotiations in a trustful and familiar atmosphere,
the involvement of the young generation in its negotiations:
That is what the BSPC is all about.
In the second part of its 30th conference, the BSPC explored measures against climate change but also celebrated its 30-year history.
The afternoon half of the digital conference of the BSPC brought together a number of high-ranking experts to look at the current situation in the Baltic Sea region and call for reinforced joint measures to reach a healthy state of the sea. Moreover, the BSPC looked back at its decades-long history of cooperation around the Baltic Sea with the aid of former BSPC presidents who themselves represented the depth of this cooperation. At the end of the conference, the BSPC unanimously agreed on a resolution with far-reaching political calls for action.
Third Session: Climate Change and Biodiversity
Valentina Pivnenko took the chair for the third session. Conservation and climate change was dominating the agenda of the conference, she underlined, and that was absolutely necessary. Much had been done to reduce phosphate and nutrient inflows promoting algal blooms as well as banning wastewater dumping from ships and HELCOM’s efforts in that regard. Fishing methods had been upgraded to sustainable procedures. In the present session, many more approaches would be explored. Still lacking was systemic research across borders as international cooperation was necessary in scientific efforts as well. Ms Pivnenko mentioned the development of environmentally friendly packaging materials.
Considering the interconnections between climate change and biodiversity, Minister Svenja Schulze, Federal Minister for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety of Germany, noted that marine ecosystems were affected by climate change but could at the same time act against it. The potential and role of such blue carbon was to be explored at a HELCOM workshop in November. Nevertheless, addressing climate change had to go beyond these measures and had to rely on sharply reducing carbon emissions, both globally and around the Baltic Sea. Furthermore, the minister emphasised an extension of the network of marine protected areas which, in German waters, also were to become no-take zones. Not only were the protected areas calling for transboundary support but the entire endeavour, as evidenced by the ambitious HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan which would require cross-party political support from the Baltic Sea area to succeed.
Ms Cecilie Tenfjord-Toftby, MP, Chair of the BSPC Working Group on Climate Change and Biodiversity, outlined the background and goals of the working group. There had been countless examples of extreme weather all around the world in the past summer, showing that climate change was an ongoing process people had to adapt to. Cross-party support in mitigation measures was necessary from all countries around the Baltic Sea. By acquiring expert knowledge and studying each other, the working group would contribute significantly to these efforts as well as preserving biodiversity. Closer cooperation in the field and parliamentary support was one of the goals. In digital-only meetings, they had learned instructive information about the extent of climate change’s impact but also projects to roll back damages. For the success of such projects, local support was required as much as ample financial support to ensure the project’s long-term sustainability. Ms Tenfjord-Toftby highlighted ElectriVillage, a small Swedish community’s successful effort to create an interconnected, sustainable society, but also Living Coast, a project that had cleaned up a Swedish bay to an impressive degree. With the working group’s tenure extended to three years, not least due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, even more extensive explorations of the topic at hand were likely. The chairwoman further underlined the importance of involving young people in the work not only of the working group but also the BSPC in general. She pointed out that the group’s first interim report was currently available on the BSPC website, providing an in-depth overview of the working group’s efforts as well as the instructive expert presentations.
Mr Anders Mankler, State Secretary to the Minister for Environment and Climate, Sweden, noted the IPCC’s recent report about the impact of climate change, such as the ocean. Combating this was a major priority for Sweden since the climate of the future depended on the decisions of today, as Mr Mankler quoted from the IPCC report. Efforts for a healthy climate went hand-in-hand with efforts for a healthy ocean. Cooperation around the Baltic Sea was necessary because that was not only their shared sea but also their shared responsibility. He highlighted the necessity of an extended network of marine protected areas that had to be secured. Mr Mankler insisted that an ecosystems-based approach had to be established for fishing, taking into account the various interactions surrounding it. The inflows of phosphorus and nitrogen into the sea had to be further reduced. The State Secretary underlined their cooperation with HELCOM as well as the EU. But science was a crucial basis for these efforts, and he emphasised the UN Decade for Ocean Sciences. All relevant stakeholders – including businesses, science and youth – had to be brought together in these efforts to fulfil their ambitions for mitigation and adaptations. Action had to take place now.
Mr Erwin Sellering, Chairman of the Executive Board of the Foundation for Climate and Environmental Protection and former Prime Minister of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, also placed climate change and biodiversity at the heart of this conference. The foundation he represented was intended to have the measures implemented on the governmental level be reflected by a private, independent institution to appeal to and inform civil society. The foundation further assisted small-scale initiatives in climate change and the environment in meeting their goals as well as cooperating with larger organisations. This had to happen under strict rules to fill gaps where there was no state funding available. Regarding the foundation’s own projects, Mr Sellering mentioned climate change information in day-care centres. As an example, they wished to fund day-care centres to be able to climb trees to learn. He also addressed a recent meeting on sea-dumped ammunitions – a particular topic of interest to the BSPC -, noting how vital it was to remove these from the Baltic Sea. Serious technological progress was still necessary for these efforts, as well as support from all around the Baltic Sea.
Representing the Baltic Sea Parliamentary Youth Forum 2021, Mr Liviu Pintilie, a Romanian resident in Estonia, began talking about the interesting discussions on the forum’s recommendations. Their conclusions had been to go for practical and strong phrasing. He hoped for similar events to be organised in the future. The first recommendation concerned innovation in the regard of which the Youth Forum 2021 called for nature-friendly farming and less hazardous alternatives to synthetic pesticides and fertilisers; sustainable innovation in green energy and transportation, all in relation to scientific research. For the circular economy, fishing had to be improved while they also called for re-used materials to be used in building undertakings. Ms Kamila Ciok of Poland took over in the presentation, asking each to picture their own relationship to nature to understand which efforts were needed. New multinational organisations had to be reinforced across all economic systems around the Baltic Sea in their efforts to mitigate climate change. She insisted it was about moving forward rather than pointing fingers.
Ms Liz Mattsson, MP, Åland Islands, Vice-Chair of the BSPC Working Group on Climate Change and Biodiversity, noted that her home was located in the middle of the Baltic Sea, surrounded by waters. Temperatures had been unusually high in recent years, registering two marine heatwaves. One of those had been the highest since the registry had started. Fish stocks had been deeply affected. She pointed out that food production was a primary industry of Åland, thus immediately reflecting the effects of climate change. Implementing circular efforts, reducing emissions and influx of nutrients into the Baltic Sea were some good examples of joint efforts. Although anecdotal, local observations reported visibly improved waters. Yet the recent IPCC report as well as the information gathered by the BSPC Working Group on Climate Change and Biodiversity were alarming, underlining that efforts had to be made by every single one to support mitigation efforts.
Dr Vadim V. Sivkov, Director of the Atlantic Branch of the Shirshov Institute of Oceanology of the Russian Academy of Science and the Federal State Budgetary Institution of Science, Kaliningrad region, spoke about the problem of greenhouse gas emissions and the local carbon sequestration test site. In that respect, a problem was how to quantify the anthropogenic greenhouse gases as well as their sequestration. He mentioned that there were two carbon test sites in the Kaliningrad region, one on land, one in the sea. The former was located within a peat bog the natural ecosystem of which was to be re-established. The offshore lay just before Kaliningrad, with a high anthropogenic load as well as, resultingly, unprecedentedly high levels of eutrophication. A primary reason were bottom sediments saturated with greenhouse hydrocarbon gases, mainly methane, one of the largest distributions in the Baltic Sea area. The work done at both sites would feed into the national Russian strategy for sequestration of carbon emissions. Once again, Dr Sivkov emphasised the need for precise numbers in quantifying the amounts of carbon absorbed. Various fields of science, like meteorology, oceanography, machine learning and so on, had to be combined in these efforts.
Mr Sergey Perminov thanked Mr Sellering and his foundation for their efforts, noting that his side had been working together with Mecklenburg-Vorpommern in approaches such as re-establishing fish stocks. He added that the Russian energy industry was among the top five among carbon mitigation measures. The Russian Federation’s goal, though, was to improve their ranking in this regard.
Ms Ulrike Sparr of Hamburg wondered how bog or moor structures could be maintained in hot summers but also whether fossil fuels should be abandoned entirely.
Mr Perminov replied that the environmental laws concerning swamplands in Russia were among the strictest in the world, to ensure their continued existence. As for sustainable or fossil fuels, he noted that alternative fuels still harboured their own dangers, e.g., in recycling. Furthermore, the power grids still had to be upgraded sufficiently. That was the future, he insisted, but they were not in a situation where they could replace fossil fuels entirely in the present month.
Mr Jonas Faergeman insisted that it was only lack of will preventing a changeover from fossil to sustainable fuels.
Mr Anders Mankler underlined that conservation efforts had to be strengthened. Natural methods were in the focus of such efforts. He added that climate change mitigation needed to the backbone of the ongoing recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ceremonial Session in Honour of the 30th BSPC
Chairpersons Carola Veit of Hamburg and Jörgen Pettersson of Åland – both former presidents of the BSPC – looked back at the history, pointing out that the organisation had never missed an appointed meeting. Both Ms Veit and Mr Pettersson highlighted the familiar and familial atmosphere of the BSPC. The latter added that while digital means might not offer the same personal contact but they did allow him to attend the conference despite being literally on the move. Mr Pettersson noted that the BSPC derived their recommendations for governments from discussions with experts from science, business and civil society – forming what could be called a think tank for the Baltic Sea. Their similar background from the parliaments around the Baltic Sea fuelled the BSPC’s efforts, standing for democracy and parliamentary representation.
Prof Jānis Vucāns had not only been president of the BSPC but also twice of the Baltic Assembly. There had been many political changes in 1991 so that there were several 30-year anniversaries in the current year, including the Baltic Assembly. The BSPC had originally been a forum for parliamentarians, to raise the awareness of issues affecting the Baltic Sea region but also enhancing the visibility of the Baltic Sea region and its issues in a wider European context. As much as every parliamentarian represented their home country, joining together in the BSPC crucially represented seeking mutual progress through cooperation. With regard to the issue of climate change, Prof Vucāns called for more research because science provided the foundation for any actions.
Former president Ms Valentina Pivnenko of Karelia, Russian Federation, voiced her gratitude over having been able to work together for such a long time in a friendly atmosphere. There had been so many changes since 1991, not least in her home country changing from the Soviet Union into the Russian Federation of today. The EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea and the Russian Strategy for the Northwestern Region were complementary approaches, she explained, and they had collaborated in protecting not only their environment but also the prosperity of the people. Despite having misunderstandings of one sort or another, she marvelled that they had been able to keep listening to each other throughout such situations. Ms Pivnenko conceded that relations between the EU countries and the Russian Federation had deteriorated since 2014 over the issue of Crimea, further explaining her view of the interaction and the application of democracy. Nevertheless, Ms Pivnenko underlined that they were all tied together and thus doomed to peace and working together. When confronting similar problems, cooperation was the logical avenue, as evidenced by the BSPC establishing ties to the PABSEC and the PAM. She hoped for their friendly work to continue, even when they differed in their opinions.
Another previous BSPC president, Mr Franz Thönnes of Germany had been instrumental in implementing the Baltic Sea Labour Forum and was still active in that capacity. Mr Thönnes noted that the just-mentioned Labour Forum was celebrating its ten-year anniversary, aside from the 30 years of the BSPC. After 30 years of political agreement and disagreement, they were still together, working towards a good and prosperous future of the Baltic Sea region. Mutual conversation was what had kept the BSPC together. Belarus was an example of this process as the BSPC had discussed the sustainability of progress with Belarusian parliamentarians regarding the nation joining the BSPC. As a result of those conversations, the BSPC had decided against accepting Belarus as part of their number. Mr Thönnes further pointed out that the BSPC had been among the first to mention the topic of environmental protection and pursuing measures to relieve the burdens suffered by the Baltic Sea. Labour market issues discussed in the BSPC led to the creation of the Baltic Sea Labour Forum as well as many other endeavours improving the situation of e.g., young people crossing borders to work. All of those positive examples proved to Mr Thönnes that parliamentarians were able to effect real and positive change. That could give them strength for the future. That could give them the strength to take the resolution of the conference back home to their parliaments and working to fill it with life.
Ms Christina Gestrin had been president of the BSPC on three different occasions until the end of her parliamentary term in 2015. She pointed out the working groups established to resolve issues of common concern for the Baltic Sea countries, many of which remained topical until today. Patience and long-term visions were crucial for the work of the BSPC. Ms Gestrin believed that it was vital to get to know and understand each other. Citing the crises and divided opinions of recent times, she underlined the importance of the BSPC as a forum to discuss sensitive issues and would continue to serve the benefit of the Baltic Sea citizens for many years to come.
Turning from a view towards the past over to the future, Mr Jonas Færgeman of Denmark spoke as representative of the Baltic Sea Parliamentary Youth Forum 2021. In addition to what the other representatives had already explained, Mr Færgeman stated that social media had been a topic discussed at the forum. He disagreed with the way social media had been presented as he saw it as interpreted solely in regard to politicians talking to each other or as a tool. He next addressed the compartmentalisation of social media communities, harkening back to the “tribalism” mentioned earlier, which he saw as a problem for politicians who might misunderstand their audience. Mr Færgeman went on to criticise the general way in which politicians were permitting young people to speak in a limited framework. As for the main concern of young people, he said that it dealt with the environment and that politicians should fulfil the promises that had been made to young people since before Mr Færgeman had been born.
Fourth Session: Addresses and Reports
Session chair Jarosław Wałęsa, MP from Poland, introduced each guest talking to the conference.
Mr Pedro Roque of the Parliamentarian Assembly of the Mediterranean (PAM) had enjoyed the good cooperation in recent years with the BSPC. He was looking forward to signing a memorandum of understanding in the near future. Finally, the latest figures of the OECD showed trade reaching a new high after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nevertheless, sectors such as tourism were still lagging. The PAM had implemented measures to aid the economy. Moreover, they had established relations with the PABSEC and the parliamentary association of Turkish-speaking nations. Mr Roque noted the recent images of floods and wildfires, therefore resolute action against climate change could no longer be delayed. Green recovery strategies had to be part of any post-COVID-19 approach. He was delighted that the BSPC was also keen on tackling climate change. He believed that their interparliamentary work could contribute significantly to these efforts.
Mr Asaf Hajiyev, PABSEC Secretary General, noted that his organisation was also heading for a celebration of its 30th anniversary in the near future, hoping that the BSPC would also attend that event. He spoke about the refugee flows, underlining that they were victims of political wars or the like. While it was possible to simply build a wall to keep them out, Mr Hajiyev argued for each democratic country finding ways to harbour more refugees, to allow them a way to live their lives.
Ambassador Grzegorz Marek Poznański, Director General of the Council of the Baltic Sea States Secretariat, spoke of the need for science-based policies in order to have a functional democracy. The CBSS was working with academic institutions as well as partners like the BSPC on localising strategies. They were also making the youth voice being heard, through the CBSS youth platform, mobilising them towards taking action. The current decade had to be the decade of action so as to make this a better place for the future.
Mr Mieczysław Struk, Chairman of the Baltic Sea States Subregional, Cooperation, BSSSC, Marshal of the Pomorskie Voivodeship, was planning to serve as an important and active part of the future of Europe. Even stronger engagement and togetherness was necessary among all parts of the Baltic family. Much had been done but even more was yet to be achieved. The issues of the day had grown even more urgent than had been foreseeable only a few years earlier, as had the concerns like sea-dumped ammunitions, ageing societies, digital difficulties as well as growing distrust in democratic institutions. Civil society had to be further developed. Together, the loss of trust in science and logic had to be reversed. Solidarity with those in need and with future generations was very much required.
Mr Jari Nahkanen, President of the Baltic Sea Commission of the Conference of Peripheral and Maritime Regions (CPMR), agreed that close cooperation of the organisations and peoples around the Baltic Sea was needed to resolve the urgent issues of the day. The Baltic Sea was under a lot of pressure, and a blue economy would help alleviate its stressors. Connectivity was also important in the Baltic Sea region, as transport throughout the area was important. In addition, he emphasised the necessity of cross-border cooperation, even in times of tension. Mr Nakhanen pointed out his concern about the development of the Arctic region, noting that he was paying close attention to the EU strategy for the Arctic. In general, the CPMR was looking for deeper cooperation with the BSPC.
Anders Bergström, representing the Baltic Sea NGO Network, said that cooperation was even more needed today than ever before. Here, he referred to more than climate change but also to social issues. Any opportunities were better tackled jointly than by creating rivalries within their region or within countries. Together, they could develop targeted solutions to problems and make better use of their resources. The macroregional strategies provided a framework for such collaboration among stakeholders, both from the EU and neighbouring countries. Further work was needed to stabilise and sustain these strategies and also continued investment. The NGOs were not always included in this scheme, as funding was often reserved for public institutions. It was high time to reform the Baltic Sea NGO Network, Mr Bergström underlined which he expected to occur by the end of the year. He added that political support was needed at all levels, increasing awareness of needing each other across borders. Transnational collaboration had to be an integral part of development in every respect.
Ms Ulla Karin Nurm, NDPHS Secretariat, said that intense cooperation was the only way to make progress. She dealt with the impact of climate change on human health which was yet underexplored. Natural disasters were damaging livelihoods and killing people on the one hand, on the other disease patterns were changing, with e.g. lime disease entering areas previously safe from it. Ticks were another threat moving into areas where it had been thought they could not survive. Beyond these rather obvious developments, the loss of sustainable food supplies made it increasingly difficult to consume a balanced diet. To fight climate change, people had to step out of their silos and work together. More to the point, GDP should not be the measure of success but rather the health and prosperity of the people.
Ms Anna Mannfalk, Vice Chair of Region Skåne Health Care Committee, noted that the NGOs were contributing by informing communities, especially in those that might not trust government institutions. Secondly, NGOs provided services, such as health care. Thirdly, they had proven adept at innovation, such as when they had welcomed migrants during the 2015 crisis. The region was working together with NGOs to establish sustained operations, attracting scientific knowledge and more funding.
Mr Peter Stein, BSPC Rapporteur on Sea-Dumped Munitions, emphasised that there was not very much time left to resolve this issue. The task was not just to remove the munitions from the sea floor but also to remove the traces of a world war that Germany was still regretting starting. He hoped there would never be war in the Baltic Sea region again. Going back to the issue at hand, he underlined that this was only the beginning of the process of clearing out the munitions.
Ms Carola Veit, BSPC Rapporteur on Migration and Integration, stated that the nations were revising their migration and integration strategies. She highlighted the issue of unaccompanied minors which had received further attention from Baltic organisations. The actions of Belarus to use migrants as instruments in hybrid, asymmetric conflicts had to be noted. Ms Veit conceded that the COVID-19 pandemic had also led to negative effects for migrants’ likelihood of being integrated into society, in various respects. She called for the nations to continue sharing best practices as well as sharing the task of migration.
Mr Jochen Schulte, BSPC Rapporteur on Integrated Maritime Policy, said that the pandemic had shown that the maritime economy remained a vital part of the global economy. Contrary to what had been effected, COVID-19 and the lockdown had led to a huge growth, particularly in online retail, increasing freight rates in major shipping routes. Some have tripled or quadrupled since the turn of the year 2020. Maritime stakeholders were achieving transitions to more sustainable replacement fuels to fossil fuels, leading to higher prices for customers but a better solution for the environment. Harbours in the Baltic Sea area could become models for green growth and sustainable development. What was crucial was facing challenges together. He noted that they could expect temperatures to rise until the end of the century such that the water level of the Baltic would rise by one metre. There would be more natural disasters, losses of biodiversity. Therefore, maritime policy had to develop solutions, despite their divergent views.
The 30th Conference decided to extend the tenure of the Working Group on Climate Change and Biodiversity by another year, so it would deliver its Final Report to the 32nd Conference of the BSPC.
BSPC President Pyry Niemi noted that the work to deliver the current resolution had, as often, been difficult. Yet reaching a consensus also proved the ability of the BSPC to overcome such odds, even despite the added obstacle of the online-only discussions.
The 30th BSPC unanimously agreed on the resolution, calling on the governments of the Baltic Sea region.
Traditionally, the baton of the presidency of the BSPC was handed over at this point. Since President Niemi would remain in office for another term until a hopefully in-person 31st Conference of the BSPC, he retained said baton.
He was delighted by the results of the work of the BSPC over the past year but also throughout the present conference, having deepened the fundamental and significant issues of the future. They had intensively involved the youth in their decision-making processes, seeking to gear their recommendations to the needs of future generations as well. President Niemi offered his gratitude to everyone involved in the conference.
BSPC President Pyry Niemi declared the 30th Baltic Sea Parliamentary Conference closed.