In order to discuss the creation of a new regional business platform for clean water solutions for the Baltic Sea, Baltic Development Forum invited Swedish Minister for the Environment, Andreas Carlgren and companies in the water sector to an informal round table meeting on 16 April at BDF’s office in Copenhagen.
Director Hans Brask introduced the topic by making reference to the Baltic Development Forum Summit 2008 in Copenhagen-Malmö, where Chairman of BDF, Uffe Ellemann Jensen concluded the meeting by underlining: “The polluted Baltic Sea is bad branding for the region! If the Baltic Sea Region wants to become a Green Valley of Europe and a hub for clean tech then this alarming problem has to be tackled more broadly”.
The present situation is that governments of the Region have identified all the problems, the hot spots and necessary measures to be implemented are defined. The HELCOM Action Plan was adopted in Krakow 2007, which gives the important prerequisites to make the innovative changes that are needed. Now time has come for action! The problem has to be turned into opportunities that can mobilise the business community’s expertise, knowledge and innovative thinking in order to help the governments solve the problem.
Minister Carlgren appreciated the opportunity to discuss these issues and agreed that it was a paradox that one of the richest regions in the world was surrounded by one of the most polluted seas on the planet. Rightly, action had to be taken, using in particular the upcoming EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region and the HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan for addressing the problem.
The Minister presented the ambitious political agenda of the Swedish EU Presidency in the second half of 2009 related to the EU strategy for the Baltic Sea Region, environmental questions, including the polluted Baltic Sea, and climate change. The present difficult economic context of the Baltic Sea Region would hopefully also be taken up in the context of the EU strategy, the Minister mentioned.
Although no additional funds would be available with the adoption of the EU strategy, the Minister was confident that it would be possible to use existing funds and financial instruments, including the structural funds and regional schemes, in a better and more coordinated way that allowed for new initiatives and projects to be taken in order to improve the alarming environmental situation of the Baltic Sea. The Minister also hoped that more national funds would be allocated and was optimistic that the governments in the region were increasingly committed to addressing the problem, although the question was not equally high on the political agenda in the different littoral countries. It was also important to involve Russia and to build a strong bridge to non EU Member states.
Many initiatives could be taken that were not costly and had a quick impact on the ecological balance of the sea, not least measures related to the reduction of nutrients substances into the sea. A more ambitious implementation of the EU’s existing targets and levels would have few additional costs but high environmental effects on the sensitive Baltic Sea. The Minister gave many examples on how new policy initiatives were within reach, underlying at the same time that the effects had to be seen and evaluated over a longer time span. It would take a generation before serious improvements were achieved.
The Minister hoped that the debate on environment problems and opportunities related to the Baltic Sea would be broadened to include more groups outside the traditional ecologist and environmental networks. Not least the business sector, including the maritime industry and shipping, had an important role to play in demonstrating that environmental friendly solutions were not contradictory to economic growth and progress and that many clean tech solution already existed and were ready for implementation. The Ministers saw new business opportunities in the water sector that generally had a high economic potential for the economies of the region.
Minister Carlgren appreciated the idea presented by BDF of creating a regional platform for clean water solutions for the Baltic Sea. He also saw the need to a multi-stakeholder process that could combine government, business, regional and local administration and environmental groups. There was indeed a need for improving best practices in the region and to display innovative solutions. The Minister would positively bring back this proposal to Stockholm. The Swedish EU presidency was a good opportunity to develop stakeholder meetings in the region and public-private partnerships.
The business representatives at the meeting presented their different competences and interests related to the Baltic Sea and appreciated the Ministers openness for a closer dialogue. They stressed the importance of political action to set binding regulations, since the technology most often is already here waiting to be used. It was also underlined that there is a strong link between the environment’s needs, clean tech technology and job creation. They also highlighted the need for long term political decisions to facilitate the adoption of long-range planning at company level.
BDF director Hans Brask hoped to continue this discussion and the proposal on a stronger business platform and a multi-stakeholder process at the next BDF Summit in Stockholm 5-6 October. The Minister was at the same time invited to participate as a key-note speaker.