Behind the scenes

Member states have become more cooperative and
goal-oriented, says Jaakko Henttonen​

What is – and has been – the role of financing institutions in the protection of the Baltic Sea? Jaakko Henttonen of the Northern Dimension Environmental Partnership (NDEP), retiring this month,  shares some of his legacy.​

Jaakko Henttonen has a long career behind him managing the Northern Dimension Environmental Partnership (NDEP), as well as at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the Finnish Ministry of the Environment. Before heading to well-deserved retirement, Mr. Henttonen shares his views from the last quarter of a century.

In your opinion, what has changed most substantially in marine environment protection in the Baltic region?

During the past 25 years, the period with my direct involvement, the member states have become more cooperative and goal-oriented for sorting out concrete tasks for protecting the environment.  Sharing information between various players has intensified and become more and more transparent.

Naturally the coordinating role of HELCOM has to be highlighted. The more holistic information has positively increased the political motivation up to the Head-of-State level, instead of experts separately dealing with their own specific subjects.

More specifically, would you tell us about cooperating with HELCOM, from the perspective of international financing. What could be picked up as key success stories and also challenges?

EBRD, Nordic investment Bank (NIB) and Nordic Environment Finance Corporation (NEFCO) were all established at the time of great political changes, at the end of 1980s and early 1990s, with a clear common aim at enhancing environmental investments. HELCOM set up a 'work plan' by developing the Joint Comprehensive Action Plan (JCP) in early 1990s and at the start, I was lucky enough to contribute to implementation of the JCP while leading the respective unit at the Finnish Ministry of the Environment.

In short, the greatest success was to find coordinated lines of action with the international financing institutions (IFI), bilateral donor contributors and local financing sources to tackle the most immediate environmental challenges as outlined by the JCP.  With Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, remarkable results were achieved for water protection already by 2000, whereas in Russia developments were slower while the challenges were enormous. At that time, another joint effort by IFI and donors, notably following the Northern Dimension (NDEP) concept approval by the EU, was formed as the Northern Dimension Environmental Partnership – most remarkably including Russia as a major contributor.

The NDEP set lines for the investments required for the wastewater treatment in St Petersburg, where presently 98% treatment level has been reached. Remaining challenges include other waste water plants in Russian regions, waste from agriculture, solid waste management, as well as hazardous wastes. Further cooperation is required to find both technically affordable and financial solutions for these sectors.

What would you select as your most important, or memorable, personal achievements in Baltic marine environment protection? Is there anything you would now do differently?

Probably the most positive personal achievement has been the creation of active cooperation links amongst Finland, Sweden and Denmark with Vodokanal of St. Petersburg which is responsible for water supply and wastewater treatment for the City. It was a personal challenge, but also most rewarding result which we initiated in the 1990s and is still going strong. Here the strong personal commitment of Felix Karmazinov, the Director General of Vodokanal was elementary for the impressive results.

Concrete results include early investments for energy efficiency by replacing ineffective pumps; improvement of sewage systems; and comprehensive joint training programs where experts where 'talking to each other'. Costs and responsibilities were shared by frequent meetings and, indeed, now practically all waste waters are treated according to HELCOM requirements in St Petersburg.

We took several risks – both institutional and personal, which led to good understanding amongst all parties. – This exercise cannot be repeated – but it also could not have been done differently! Luckily we had many likeminded colleagues at all relevant institutions – including most notably Mr Timo Mäkelä at the EU.

Another one could probably be enhancing NDEP as a reliable cooperating partner to guarantee solid flow of contributions from the governments as well as to ensure IFI commitment. A single sign of success was when Belarus joined in the Baltic environment cooperation and was brought into the Northern Dimension.

JHenttonen-3.pngFarewell at HELCOM Secretariat to Jaakko Henttonen (right)​, receiving a gift from Monika Stankiewicz, Executive Secretary of HELCOM. 


What is your advice for the ones continuing your work – what are the key points to consider in successful regional environment protection?

As shown above, there are a lot of challenges in all HELCOM states remaining for future generations, in particular in Russia. Moreover, in Belarus the cooperation only has started, but in a most positive and responding atmosphere. The most relevant advice might be never to give up and keep the main targets at your focus! Networks at all levels are crucially important, but all successful projects start by establishing trust with the ultimate client – any municipal or private company. Desk studies or plain consultancies will not create enough commitment – there has to be a personal devotion or even passion to aim at high goals with timely targets – 25 years is a reasonable timeframe to make a positive change for the environment!