HELCOM actions with regard to nutrients
Baltic Sea Action Plan
With the adoption of the HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP) in November 2007, HELCOM has adopted an ecosystem based approach to the management of human activities with the main objective of reaching Baltic Sea with good ecological status. As regards eutrophication, the overall goal is to have a Baltic Sea unaffected by eutrophication with the more specific ecological objectives:
- Concentrations of nutrients close to natural levels
- Clear water
- Natural level of algal blooms
- Natural distribution and occurrence of plants and animals
- Natural oxygen levels
In order to achieve the desired ecological objectives, several concrete actions and measures have been identified. HELCOM modelling activities have estimated that for good environmental status to be achieved, the maximum allowable annual nutrient pollution inputs into the Baltic Sea would be 21,000 tonnes of phosphorus and about 600,000 tonnes of nitrogen. Considering recent nutrient loads, the action plan proposes provisional country-wise annual nutrient input reduction targets for both nitrogen and phosphorus as listed in the table below. These should result in total reductions of 15,250 tonnes of phosphorus and 135,000 tonnes of nitrogen inputs to the Baltic Sea.
Table 1: Proposes provisional country-wise annual nutrient input reduction targets for nitrogen and phosphorus
|Country||Phosphorus (tonnes)||Nitrogen (tonnes)|
|Transboundary Common pool||1,660||3,780|
In order to achieve the agreed nutrient reduction targets, the HELCOM Contracting Parties will develop national programmes, by 2010, choosing the most cost-effective measures. Some measures, however, have already been identified on a Baltic-wide scale to be cost-efficient, namely the additional reduction of phosphorus from waste water treatment plants and the proper handling of manure at big animal farms.
More work needed to limit nutrient loads
Agriculture is a major source of nutrient input to the Baltic Sea. Since the enlargement of the EU in the Baltic region, agricultural production and fertilizer use in the catchment are have increased. Mild winters, which have predominated in recent years, also contribute to increased nutrient input, as fields which have previously been frozen for numerous months a year now have increased runoff. Climate change scenarios for the future predict increased winter rains in the northern parts of Baltic Sea basin, thus further exacerbating the problem.
Reducing nutrient loads from agriculture is more complicated than cutting loads from point sources. Although the implementation of agri-environmental measures is expected to promote reductions in nutrient loads from agriculture, there is evidently a considerable time lag between the implementation of agricultural water protection measures and any visible effects in water bodies, partly due to retention of nutrients in the catchment area. HELCOM has stressed the need to accelerate the process of integration of environmental and sustainable development aspects in agriculture, for instance through reforming the EU Common Agricultural Policy.
The use of environmentally responsible agricultural practices has also been promoted in the region, e.g. by the World Bank/GEF funded Baltic Sea Regional Project which ended in 2007. Activities under the project included the increase of environmental awareness and the use of environmentally sound practices by the farming community; development of tools and mechanisms for financing and evaluating environmental investments at farm level; and demonstration of cost-effective interventions for improving recycling and retention of nutrients.
Intensified development of industrial production of cattle, pigs and poultry in the Baltic Sea catchment area has led to the creation of a new segment of pollution point sources, adding significantly to nutrient loads. These installations will be addressed in the same manner as industrial point sources, e.g. through establishment of a list of agricultural hot spots, which generate excessive amounts of nutrients and do not comply with revised HELCOM regulations on prevention of pollution from agriculture.
Shipping is also a significant source of nutrients to the Baltic Sea as shipping (in both Baltic and North Seas) is responsible for the largest contribution of NOx deposition to the Baltic Sea. Due to the international character of shipping the measures adopted at HELCOM scale will only have limited impact on the emissions from shipping in the Baltic. Therefore, HELCOM is first of all taking active part in the global actions within the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to reduce air pollution from ships.
HELCOM is currently working on developing measures to reduce the nutrient load to the Baltic Sea from sewage discharges from ships. Click here to read about shipping related HELCOM activities.
HELCOM recently found that transboundary pollution to the Baltic Sea originating in non-HELCOM countries is significant. In an effort to address this issue, the HELCOM BSAP encourages the elaboration of bilateral and multilateral projects and programmes to reduce nutrient inputs using the most cost-efficient measures.
See the following HELCOM publications:
Last updated: 10 March 2009