Germany assumes chairmanship of Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission (HELCOM)

German Environment Agency’s Lilian Busse appointed as chairwoman

The Baltic Sea is a highly sensitive natural environmentClick to enlarge
The Baltic Sea is a highly sensitive natural environment
Source: jarmoluk / Pixabay

On 1 July 2020, Germany assumed chairmanship of the Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission – Helsinki Commission (HELCOM) for a period of two years. Oversupply of nutrients, unexploded ordnance, marine litter, underwater noise pollution and climate change are the stresses on the marine ecosystems of the Baltic Sea on which Germany wants to focus during its tenure. A further aim is advancing the protection of marine species and habitats and developing the network of marine protected areas and their effective management. The aim is to utilise the economic recovery from the coronavirus crisis to make progress on marine protection and climate issues.

The German Environment Agency will take over HELCOM chairmanship, headed by Dr Lilian Busse of Division II “Environmental Health and Protection of Ecosystems”. Dr Busse says, “The Baltic Sea is not in good condition. Algal bloom and oxygen depletion due to over-fertilisation, marine litter on beaches and in the water, and species extinction are just some of the challenges. That is why we want to use the Baltic Sea Action Plan, due to be updated next year, to solve these problems and work towards rapid implementation.”

The 2007 revision of the Baltic Sea Action Plan is to be adopted in autumn 2021 by a conference of HELCOM environment ministers on the German Baltic Sea coast. The new Baltic Sea Action Plan will comprise the programme of the HELCOM Parties for the next decade and will contain measures to restore the Baltic Sea to a good status.

Dr Busse said, "We want to strengthen the role of HELCOM in global marine protection, address new solutions to known challenges such as munitions dumps and underwater noise, enhance marine biodiversity and understand and respond to the relationship between climate change and the Baltic Sea. The noticeable effects of climate change on the Baltic Sea ecosystems require rapid action. Only resilient ecosystems can withstand the pressures of climate change and human activities. Future HELCOM decisions should therefore be reviewed for their relevance to climate and biodiversity.”

Germany also wants to better understand the potential and relevance of ecosystems as natural carbon sinks ("blue carbon") in the Baltic Sea and further explore possible options for action. The time of the current coronavirus pandemic offers a unique opportunity to rethink current business models and to firmly anchor marine and climate protection in relaunching the economy.

Germany is committed to closely interlinking the work of the Helsinki Commission with global goals such as those of the United Nations' Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development. After all, strong intergovernmental cooperation such as HELCOM is unthinkable without global marine protection. Dr. Lilian Busse: "The foundations of HELCOM in science, the dialogue with stakeholders and the integration of the economic and social value of healthy marine ecosystems in HELCOM decision-making processes are decisive strengths of this body and are exemplary for responsible management of the world's oceans".

Germany is assuming HELCOM chairmanship jointly in a team including the states of Schleswig-Holstein and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. The deputy chairmen for Schleswig-Holstein are Dr. Johannes Oelerich, Head of the Department of Water Management, Marine and Coastal Protection at the Schleswig-Holstein Ministry for Energy Change, Agriculture, Environment, Nature and Digitisation; Dr. Andreas Röpke, Head of the Department of Water and Marine Protection in the Ministry of Agriculture and Environment for Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania.

Dr. Busse said: "I am pleased that we are taking over the chairmanship as a team. Together we bring a wide range of experience and knowledge with us. The federal states will play a key role in implementing the measures developed at HELCOM. Their insights into local environmental problems, the need for action, tailor-made approaches and practical aspects to implementation are an important contribution to the German HELCOM chairmanship.

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