BALTIC SEA: Greater commitment needed to meet environmental goals

The Baltic Sea Region says it is making progress towards becoming the first alliance of independent nations to achieve sustainable development, but there is still a substantial risk of a return to unsustainable production and consumption patterns.

An analysis of the Baltic 21 Action programme’s performance since its 11 participating countries adopted common environmental goals shows several positive trends. However, for many parameters no improvement is visible. The authors of the progress report therefore urge sector ministries to maintain a strong commitment to the programme.

The report shows that progress is being made on attempts to reduce acid rain, to stem the flow of pollution to the Baltic Sea from point-sources and to phase out ozone depleting substances.

However, CO2 emissions have not fallen across the region, biodiversity is threatened and the gap between the countries with established free market economies and the former members of the Soviet Union — or ‘Countries in Transition’ (CITs) – is widening.

Progress towards Baltic 21 goals

  • considerable reductions in NOx and SO2 emissions have decreased the area of land in the Baltic Sea Region damaged by acid rain to levels approaching Baltic 21’s long term target
  • the reduction of the load of nutrients and toxic substances from point sources to the Baltic Sea has been relatively successful (see related story), but it has proved more difficult to reduce the emissions from diffuse sources like agriculture and transport
  • there has been significant progress in the phasing out of ozone layer depleting substances, particularly for the most damaging substances, such as CFCs and Halons
  • the use of renewable energy is slowly increasing. A slight decrease in energy intensity is also noted

Negative trends

  • CO2 emissions remain at the same levels, with the possibility that these emissions might increase with economic growth. The fact that forest growing stock is increasing in the region partly counteracts this negative trend
  • emissions of CO2, NO2 and SO2 from industry and traffic follow the same trends as total emissions
  • biological diversity is threatened by pollution and intensive land use. The share of threatened forest species ranges from 40% to 60%. There is no corresponding figure regarding threatened species available for the agriculture sector, but another indicator of biodiversity is the amount of permanent pasture, which is usually larger in the CITs than in the old market economies
  • for several indicators, such as life expectancy and GDP per capita, there are considerable differences between the old market economies and the CITs. The economic gap between the richest and poorest countries in the region is still increasing

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