The Clean Baltic Sea Club 2012: Call for competitive co-operation and grassroots action

The Photo - From the left: Ambassador Bruce J. Oreck, Juha Nurminen, the President of the Republic of Finland Sauli Niinistö and Ari Kaperi. Photo by Max Edin.
The Photo – From the left: Ambassador Bruce J. Oreck, Juha Nurminen, the President of the Republic of Finland Sauli Niinistö and Ari Kaperi. Photo by Max Edin.

On August 30 a full house gathered to The Clean Baltic Sea Club, now held for the third consecutive year, in Nordea’s “Vanha Pankkisali” (Old Banking Hall) in the center of Helsinki. The Clean Baltic Sea Club is John Nurminen Foundation’s annual event for its sponsors, partners and other key stakeholders. This year the honorary speaker at the event was the President of the Republic of Finland Sauli Niinistö.

The host of the event, Ari Kaperi, Nordea’s Executive Vice President and Country Senior Executive in Finland, gave concrete examples on how Nordea takes the environmental performance of their customers into account when making lending and investment decisions. “Nordea’s home markets have close ties with the Baltic Sea, either because they are located on its shores or, in the case of Norway, they use its shipping routes. The businesses and households we finance have a direct effect on the future of the Baltic Sea. They range from pulp and paper mills to summer cottages, and from farms to energy companies. The behaviour of our customers does matter.”

From shock to relief

Juha Nurminen, Chairman of the Board of the Foundation, raised the events at the Phopshorit fertilizer plant as the dramatic high point of the year 2012. He described how EuroChem with fast and resolute actions has been able to take under control the phosphorus discharges in Kingisepp in North-West Russia. The co-operation between EuroChem and the Foundation has been good. The Foundation’s role in the process has been that of a catalyst and a partner.
Nurminen commented on the scale of events, “Together, the Foundation’s project in St. Petersburg, completed in 2011, and EuroChem’s actions in Kingisepp have reduced close to 60% of phosphorus in the Gulf of Finland. The amount is so large that we can actually expect to see positive effects on the state of the sea in just few years.”
Juha Nurminen also told about the new type of pro bono donation to the Foundation. The artistic director of the Mariinsky Theatre, maestro Valery Gergiev, will conduct a Clean Baltic Sea concert with Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra in Helsinki Music Centre in February 2013.

Every milligram counts

The afternoon’s first panel session was about perspectives on co-operation across the Baltic Sea. The session was moderated by Veli Sundbäck, board member and Chairman of the Foundation’s Clean Sea advisory group. Lea Kauppi, Director General of the Finnish Environment Institute SYKE said that overall trend in terms of the condition of the Baltic Sea is positive. However, she warned against too much optimism, “Even if blue-green algae blooms have not been as strong as they used to, improvement is not that straightforward. We are still close to the average of 10 years. Particularly the Southern part of Gulf of Finland has demonstrated higher concentrations.”

Leszek Drogosz, Director of Infrastructure Department of the City of Warsaw, gave credit to the John Nurminen Foundation for the constructive co-operation over the years. Drogosz does not think it’s feasible to expect further breakthroughs in the protection of the Baltic Sea without a thorough understanding of its issues. Now also in Warsaw it is understood why the EU wastewater directive of 1.0 mg/litre of phosphorus in outgoing wastewater is too loose – and why the Czajka wastewater treatment plant in Warsaw should aim for the HELCOM recommendation of 0.5 mg/litre.

Maris Zviedris, Head of Daugavgriva Wastewater Treatment Plant of Riga, told that since 1995, Latvia has invested one billion Euros into the Baltic Sea. Riga, the biggest city in the Baltic states, has worked hard for the modernization of its wastewater treatment. “Every milligram counts,” said Zviedris.

The miracles in the municipal sector should be repeated in agriculture

All panelists agreed that the biggest challenge of the Baltic Sea now is related to agriculture. Kauppi followed up on Drogosz’ point about knowledge and understanding. “Farmers are willing to do better. The challenge is how all the knowledge there is translated into focused measures and actions.”
The panelists were asked what they would propose for focused action on improving the state of the Baltic Sea, if they would have free hands. Lea Kauppi said, “All HELCOM recommendations should be implemented”. Zviedris mentioned tax incentive for companies: if you voluntarily do more than required, no tax. Drogosz would create a special fund for the Baltic Sea where polluters pay – the funds would then be used as investments for the protection of the Baltic Sea.

Call for co-operative competition

The honorary speaker of the event, the President of the Republic of Finland Sauli Niinistö, commented on state of the Baltic Sea, “It is not only shameful for us but is opposite to the profile we want to reflect to the rest of the world. We claim to represent the prosperous, technologically advanced and environmentally conscious and responsible northern Europe. Yet at the same time we have failed in protecting Mare Nostrum. We cannot excuse ourselves by saying that we didn’t know. Scientific research results have been available long enough.”

The president urged newcomers join the effort and compete with each other in a co-operative spirit. He said, “Those of us who have been able to enjoy the Sea when it was clean or at least not dead yet, have a strong responsibility to make sure that also our children and grandchildren will be able to do the same.”

Grassroots power

Ambassador Bruce J. Oreck also talked about children. His highly inspirational keynote was all about democracy acting from bottom-up. The Ambassador draw a comparison between efforts to save the Baltic Sea and two examples from North America, the Alliance for the Great Lakes and the Riverkeeper organization. The latter was created to protect the Hudson River and “to give the Hudson back to its rightful owners”, children and people living by the Hudson. Both organizations are driven by citizens who have been frustrated by the inaction of the government. Said the Ambassador, “Never underestimate the power of the individual to change the world.”

ENSI implementation on schedule

The second panel was about the future of eNavigation. The case example was the ENSI service (Enhanced Navigation Support Information) that is being developed within the Tanker Safety project. The service will proceed to piloting phase in October – November. The moderator, Juhani Kaskeala, board member and Chairman of the Foundation’s Tanker Safety advisory group, introduced the next panelists as “the developer (Hannu Peiponen from Furuno Finland), the director (Tiina Tuurnala from Finnish Traffic Agency), and the practitioner (Stig Sundberg from Neste Oil).”

The idea behind the ENSI service is to prevent a major oil accident from happening in the Gulf of Finland. The system checks the route plan of the tanker and in return provides relevant information about the route for the bridge. Stig Sundberg, Master of MT Mastera at Neste Oil, considers the service as valuable addition to current offering as long as the information there is relevant. Putting eNavigation into practice has been no issue. “Electronic charts have been used since 2003, and there’s been no glitch so far.”He pointed out that technology is no means to an end; it should rather be considered as a tool to prevent human errors.

Tiina Tuurnala told that in 2011, there were 22 “close call” cases where there would have been an accident unless the operator would have intervened. All of these were groundings, which are always related to wrong positioning. And wrong positioning is caused by human errors, which may vary from navigation error to falling asleep.

As a conclusion from the panel, the panelists agreed the ENSI service will be an excellent addition to improve communications between shore and the vessel. They said that this type of successful projects are important for proving the concept. After that wider commercial implementation will be easier. The official approval through International Maritime Organization IMO needs to be followed but there’s no point in waiting for that. As an example, Tiina Tuurnala told that it took 15 years to take the ECDIS (Electronic Chart Display) to be approved for use in the command bridge.

Fundraising continues

Erik Båsk, Secretary General, closed the day with update on the Foundation’s fundraising status. The Foundation is still actively looking for projects to meet its target of reducing the annual phosphorus load of the Baltic Sea by 2 500 tonnes. Of this, 400 tonnes are still missing. Case Phosphorit is not included in the Foundation’s project base. Funds raised by the Foundation in 2005–7/2012 totalled 7.8 MEUR. In certain years, the value of services and work donated to the Foundation has exceeded the amount of financial support. 5.5 MEUR of the funds have been used. With these funds, the project in St. Petersburg has been completed and 16 other Clean Sea projects and the Tanker Safety project have been launched.

The Foundation has also initiated two EU projects, PURE and PRESTO, with budgets of 7.2 MEUR, of which ca. 3 MEUR are direct investments on wastewater treatment plants.

Current estimate for required funding to reach the Foundation’s targets by 2015 is around 3 million Euros. This is the “best estimate”, as there are always some uncertainties related to the schedules. The greatest risk is that meeting the targets could be delayed because of this.