Heini Ahtiainen is a project researcher on Economic and Social Analyses at the HELCOM Secretariat and project coordinator of the ACTION project

Question: What has economic and social analysis (ESA) to do with the flounder? Or: why has ESA become prevalent in HELCOM work?
Heini Ahtiainen: In order to better comprehend the pressures on the Baltic, and how we can achieve good environmental status for our sea, we also need to understand the behaviour and actions of people. We get a lot out of the sea, but our activities can have damaging impacts on the marine environment. Often, the economic and social cost of this damage is not assessed. This is where ESA comes in: it reveals the cost of the environmental degradation. It also quantifies the benefits us humans could gain from a sea in a healthy state.

Why should environmental benefits be quantified?
When expressed in monetary terms, the environmental benefits of a healthy sea become comparable to any other economic activity. This helps to put things into perspective, especially when developing policies that also concern the marine environment, for instance in maritime spatial planning, where previous priorities were sometimes detrimental to the marine environment.

How can ESA guide environmental policy-making?
When developing measures to improve the marine environment, ESA can provide a good indication on the least cost way of achieving good environmental status. These cost-effectiveness analyses can greatly help to prioritize measures, to see what actions yield the highest results at low or reasonable financial effort. These are the measures most likely to succeed because they are the most implementable.

What about the ecosystem-based approach?
ESA is an integral part of the ecosystem-based approach. It shows the linkages between human activities, the environmental status of the sea, and human wellbeing. ESA also helps to highlight the ecosystem services provided by the sea that have a value – both economic, social and cultural – for us humans. Fish stocks for fisheries, or an attractive seascape for recreational activities are good examples.

How is HELCOM involved in ESA work?
HELCOM recently concluded a major assessment of the Baltic Sea, with the results published in the State of the Baltic Sea report. For the first time, the economic and social contribution of the Baltic Sea to our economies and well-being was analysed comprehensively. The report also contains an analysis of the cost of degradation: benefits lost if GES not attained. HELCOM is also involved in an EU-funded project on maritime spatial planning in the region, Pan Baltic Scope. There, among other activities, we are collecting information on the impacts of marine spatial planning on economic, social and ecosystem services. HELCOM also runs an expert network on economic and social analyses (EN ESA) comprised of members from all Contracting Parties. Last but not least, the recently launched EU-funded ACTION project that is led by HELCOM will develop ESA approaches for the update of the Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP).

Speaking of… What has ESA to do with the BSAP update?
ESA contributes directly to the analysis of sufficiency of measures (SOM). It helps to see if good status is achievable with existing measures. For the update of the BSAP, it will be crucial to know what previous and current measures yielded what results, and at what cost. For potential new measures, cost-effectiveness analyses will help us to identify those which make most sense. The cheaper and more effective the measure, the better for attaining the ecological objectives of the BSAP.