On 24 August 2020, with the unanimous adoption of the 29th resolution, the BSPC has established a Working Group on Climate Change and Biodiversity (CCB) for the next two years. The CCB Working Group held its first meeting on 16 November 2020. More than 50 participants – mainly delegations from the Åland Islands, the Baltic Assembly, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, the German Bundestag, Hamburg, Iceland, Kaliningrad, Latvia, Lithuania, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, the Nordic Council, Norway, Poland, the Russian Federation, Schleswig-Holstein and Sweden – participated. The meeting was chaired by Cecilie Tenfjord-Toftby, MP Sweden, Chairwoman of the WG.
WG Chairwoman Cecilie Tenfjord-Toftby pointed out that the task of the WG, based on the resolution of the BSPC, was to submit the first report at the 30th BSPC Conference – with a particular focus on the need for joint and cross-border cooperation. She expressed her regret that, due to a pandemic, the meeting – originally planned in Stockholm with visits in appropriate facilities – had had to be moved to digital space.
Ms Tenfjord-Toftby also noted that the report would concentrate on enhanced solutions to preserve the biodiversity inherent to the entire Baltic Sea region and to mitigate the effects of climate change with particular emphasis on the state of policies and strategies concerning climate change and biodiversity in the Baltic Sea region. Ms Tenfjord-Toftby listed as further areas of particular interest for the WG: best practices in addressing the interlinked challenges of biodiversity and climate change with a specific focus on the Baltic Sea; innovations and measures to tackle climate change and preserve biodiversity; climate change adaptation and challenges for science, technology and the economy as well as, last but not least, ensuring efficient and environment-friendly transport and energy supply solutions.
The Chairwoman emphasised that the working group would concentrate its attention on the environmental side of climate change and biodiversity as well as on innovation, technology and further economic aspects.
Jan Terstad, the Deputy Director General in the Swedish Ministry of the Environment, responsible for the Division for Natural Environment, informed the WG members about the outcome of two recent conferences of particular importance: the “Our Baltic” Conference on 28 September 2020 and the UN Biodiversity Summit on 30 September 2020. Mr Terstad noted that the “Our Baltic” conference had been initiated by the European Commission and Lithuania, gathering ministers, decision makers, scientists and stakeholders from NGOs and industry in the region and across the EU to discuss the challenges faced by the Baltic Sea. In line with the EU Biodiversity Strategy and the Zero Pollution ambition announced in the European Green Deal, the Conference had focused on how to reduce the pressure from fisheries and the input of pollutants, litter and contaminants, including pharmaceuticals. It aimed to improve intersectoral management, e.g. fisheries, agriculture and environment, to boost commitment to the existing goals for the area in EU legislation. The speaker emphasised that the event had combined a high-level ministerial session with stakeholder discussions. Ministers for Environment, Agriculture and Fisheries from eight EU Member States in the region (Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Sweden) had signed a Ministerial Declaration at the Conference.
With regard to the United Nations Summit on Biodiversity, which had taken placeon the margins of the opening of the 75th session of the UN General Assembly in New York, Mr Terstad underlined the presence of numerous heads of state and government which he saw as a positive sign of a strong commitment to start urgent action at the highest levels. Said action would support a post-2020 global biodiversity framework contributing to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The speaker reported that the summit had consisted of an opening segment, a plenary segment for general discussion, two leaders’ dialogues on “Addressing biodiversity loss and mainstreaming biodiversity for sustainable development” and “Harnessing science, technology and innovation, capacity building, access and benefit-sharing, financing and partnerships for biodiversity”, and a brief closing segment. As an initiative of H.E. Mr Volkan Bozkir, President of the General Assembly, the summit had provided an online platform “Voices for Nature”, featuring statements, messages and commitments from a wider range of stakeholders. Mr Terstad shared his hope that the initiatives and commitments heard at the summit would help to lay the foundation for COP-15 in Kunming and that the preparations would not be delayed.
Professor Christoph Humborg, Scientific Director of the Stockholm University Baltic Sea Centre, gave a speech on the theme: Is the Baltic Sea ecosystem just a victim to climate change or can it be part of the solution?
Professor Humborg referred to the report by the IPCC – the intergovernmental panel on climate change – “The Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate”, accepted by the IPCC in September 2019, according to which climate change would lead to oceans becoming higher, warmer, more acidic, seeing heat waves, holding less oxygen and being less productive, less predictable. Another report he recommended the delegates to read was the IPBES publication ”The global assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystems services”. Both reports featured a summary targeted specifically at policy makers.
Regarding the situation in the Baltic Sea, the speaker explained that the Baltic was unique. The water exchange took 30 years compared to only 3 months in the North Sea. Therefore, nutrients and contaminants had a huge effect on the ecosystem of the Baltic Sea. Another factor mentioned by the expert was the low salinity of the Baltic compared with the open ocean. That meant that species in the Baltic Sea found it tough to survive those difficult conditions and, consequently, were sensitive and susceptible to nutrification and climate change.
Another challenge listed by Prof Humborg was the eutrophication leading to algal blooms and dead organic material gathering at the bottom of the sea. That material had been converted to methane, a powerful greenhouse gas with a 100-year global warming potential 25 times that of CO2. Measured over a 20-year period, methane was 84 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2.
In the second part of his presentation, Prof Humborg spoke about possible ways to improve the situation. First, the efforts to protect coastal area must continue. At this point, he mentioned a success story: the reduction of nitrogen and phosphorus contaminates in the Baltic Sea due to common action in the framework of the HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan. Another possible remedy against existing threats may be keeping the nutrification low and restoring carbon rich ecosystems, such as see weeds and other organisms, to build resilience. The final message of Prof Humborg was that a healthy coastal sea was critical to achieving global targets to limit climate change.
Susanné Wallner, Development Strategist from the Mariestad Municipality, talked about ElectriVillage – a test and demonstration platform for sustainable development in a biosphere reserve.
Ms Wallner stated that ElectriVillage was unique not only because it had been designated a model area of sustainability by the UNESCO but also because there was currently no other model area in the world exhibiting a combination of sustainable transport solutions and energy systems such as ElectriVillage. She added that, through ElectriVillage, Mariestad’s municipality was working to meet climate goals such as the Paris Agreement and the Agenda 2030 with a fossil-independent vehicle fleet. Different types of tests had been carried out in Mariestad’s open street environment and in the daily operations of the municipal operations rather than in fenced-off areas or in laboratories. All test activities in ElectriVillage were based on the needs and conditions of a small or medium-sized city, but they could be scaled up and fitted into a larger municipality. The speaker described briefly test operations performed in several different areas, e.g. renewable energy systems, sustainable transport, logistics and purchasing as well as business development of the area of sustainability. She emphasised that commitment by all parts of society was needed to reach such ambitious goals and expressed her personal satisfaction with living in a region of continuous development.
Professor Michael Tjernström, representing the Department of Meteorology at the Bolin Centre for Climate Research at Stockholm University, briefed the Standing Committee on the core question: “What does global climate change mean for the Baltic Sea area, and is there anything that can be done?”
The expert cited data showing that the climate was warming up. He stated that between 1960 and 1990, the global temperature had increased by 1 degree centigrade. He admitted that in individual years, the temperatures might even be well below or above the multi-annual average. However, this proved the unpredictability and chaos of change, while the trend was clearly pointing upwards. The expert conceded that one degree of increased temperature might seem small, but looking at climate change over thousands of years, the current rise in temperature was something completely unprecedented. Scientists were now able to investigate climate change over a period of 5 million years based on sediment cores.
Professor Tjernström continued by saying that global warming was not evenly distributed across the globe – the further north or south one went, the faster the temperatures would rise. The Arctic was the fastest-heating region, and that was also the situation with the north and south areas of the Baltic Sea region. What had been observed was a temperature rise of 2 °C since 1860 and 1.5 °C since the early 1960s. The expert mentioned another variable considered by scientists, namely the extent of sea ice. Here, too, there had been a decrease in the area covered by sea ice since 1979. This phenomenon was proceeding faster in the Arctic than in the Baltic Sea Region, and it would have a significant impact on the latter. The ice mass in Greenland and the Antarctic was also decreasing: The professor explained that 300 giga tons were being lost every year. This would clearly have an impact on rising sea levels and oceans. While a rise by 3.3 mm seemed to be a small number, during extreme conditions, such as powerful storms, a local sea level rise would be extremely dangerous.
Professor Tjernströmpointed out that the climate change models being developed on the ground were showing that there was no scientific explanation for the changes observed, without recognising the impact of increased emissions of greenhouse gases. The expert’s view of the future was not overly optimistic. If the temperature rise was not stabilised at between three and six degrees centigrade, the Arctic ice would disappear around 2050 or earlier, and the sea level could rise by one metre. The rise in temperature would reduce snowfall during the winter and increase evaporation during the summer, thus causing water supply problems. The speaker stressed that only global action could succeed in halting global warming, and at present, this was really the last call to prevent a disaster.
After the experts’ presentations, the CCB Working Group discussed the aims and ways of their work, reconfirmed their Mandate, adopted the Draft Scope of Work and approved Ms Liz Mattsson, MP, Åland Islands, as well as Mr Kolbeinn Óttarsson Proppé, MP Iceland, as Vice-Chairs of the BSPC WG CCB.
WG Chairwoman CecilieTenfjord-Toftby emphasised at the closingof the meeting that her goal as the Chair of the Working Group was not just to prepare a report, even though it would contain very interesting content but also to ensure that, through the parliaments, progress would be achieved on this issue, further action would be taken by the governments and political recommendations would be pushed forward to be implemented.
The next meeting of the BSPC Working Group CCB will take place in digital form on 15 March 2021.