North and Baltic Sea nations Thursday agreed at a summit in Bremen to designate parts of both bodies of water as environmentally sensitive areas. The compromise avoided Russia’s initial veto of wider protection measures.
German Environment Minister Jürgen Trittin forged a compromise with other Baltic Sea nations.
Environment ministers from nations bordering the North and Baltic seas were able to forge a last-minute compromise to give both partial status as a Particularly Sensitive Sea Area (PSSA). Though the deal will extend greater environmental protection to a few key regions, it falls far short of what some countries had wanted.
Some nations such as Germany and Sweden had hoped to give the entire Baltic Sea PSSA status, but Russia on Wednesday vetoed the proposal. German Environment Minister Jürgen Trittin conceded the two-day summit in the northern German town of Bremen had fallen somewhat short of its original goals.
“Naturally we didn’t quite manage as much as we would have liked,” Trittin said, according to the Associated Press. He said, however, it was an important step that Russia had been convinced not to completely reject greater conservation measures.
Many environmental experts had hoped for greater protection for the Baltic Sea, since – as the world’s largest brackish body of water – it has many rare and unique ecosystems. They also say the Baltic is at particular risk should an oil spill occur, since it takes around 30 years for a complete exchange of the sea’s water.
Many European governments have been keen to push through tighter environmental regulations in the wake of the Prestige oil tanker spill in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Spain last year. The spill sent thousands of tons of oil onto Spanish beaches and killed unknown numbers of fish, birds and other wildlife.
Environmental groups were disappointed by the results of the summit. “This agreement will lead to an accelerated death for the Baltic Sea. Shipping has doubled since 1997 and it will triple in the coming years.” said Stephan Lutter, a spokesman for the German branch of the World Wildlife Fund. “A tanker accident like the Prestige near Spain would in a matter of days destroy life in the Baltic Sea for decades.”
Russia, which ships vast quantities of oil via the Baltic, is also a notorious polluter of the sea, leading to its reluctance to pursue greater conservation measures. The nine nations bordering the Baltic Sea did, however, agree to increase the areas where pilot and tug boats are required for shipping.
“As you know, in a family there’s often the problem where you’re agreed on the goal with your wife, but not in the method to reach it. It’s the same thing with these countries. There are different interests, different approaches and priorities,” said Mieczyslaw Ostojski, the Polish General Secretary of the Helsinki Commission.
The summit in Bremen marked the first time the commissions for both the North (Oslo/Paris Commission) and Baltic (Helsinki Commission) seas met together. Aside from the issue of PSSA status, the ministers agreed to set up a network of protected sea areas outside of nations’ 12-mile economic zone by 2010. The countries also approved a German suggestion on measuring and reducing the level of radioactive water pumped into the North Sea. Although it had already been agreed to end the practice by 2020, Britain and France unsuccessfully pushed for a higher initial level of radioactivity.