Baltic nations optimistic on cleanup pledges

10th February 2011, Comments 0 comments

The governments of Baltic Sea nations reported progress Thursday in their pledges to clean up the body of water, but environmentalists said real change was still far off.

"We hope to get rid of the muddy waters in the Baltic Sea, to get back a clear blue sea, and no later than the year 2020," Finnish Minister for Migration and European Affairs Astrid Thors told a summit of the Baltic Sea Action Group here.

The aim of the meeting was to present a one-year progress report after the first summit, where eleven Baltic nations, as well as various institutes and organisations vowed in various ways to improve sewage treatment, to monitor or reduce nitrate and phosphate pollution from agriculture, and to improve cross-border co-operation in water management and protection.

Participants announced that 74 percent of these goals were "progressing", while 12 percent were completed and 14 percent had gone nowhere.

Environmentalists meanwhile said they felt the pledges themselves would not make much of a difference, nor could any significant change be expected in just one year.

"Many of these commitments were things that the countries were already doing or required to do anyway," Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE) researcher Seppo Knuutila told AFP.

For example, he said, the biggest polluter, Poland, pledged to improve waste water treatment and phase out phosphates in dish soaps, two things already required by European Union directives when the country joined the bloc.

Scientists largely agree that the single biggest problem in the Baltic Sea is nitrates and phosphates from industrial agriculture, which cause the eutrophication of the sea bed, depleting the shallow waters of oxygen and asphyxiating plant and animal life.

"Even if all the goals were reached now, it would not seriously reduce agricultural waste... If agriculture stays the same or grows, it's very hard to decrease the pollution by a third, which is the goal," Knuutila said.

Finnish President Tarja Halonen meanwhile announced at the summit that Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin had promised his country would host next year's summit.

© 2011 AFP

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