Friday, August 19, 2011

Could the Baltic Sea become a model region for clean shipping?

When we think of the northern part of the Baltic Sea countries, it is easy to state that the easiest and also environmentally friendliest way of transporting goods there is by sea. This can also be seen in the statistics; the amount of ships operating in the area has been constantly growing. In Finland 75% of import and 89% of export is transported by sea.

The international requirements for reducing harmful air emissions are getting more stringent, while the traffic increases. The Baltic Sea is a sulphur emission control area (SECA), which means that the amount of sulphur dioxide in the exhaust gases must be reduced heavily by the year 2015. Suggestions about a nitrogen emission control area (NECA) are still under consideration, but most likely it will eventually become a reality.

Sounds easy and convenient, right? Simply follow the regulations and cut down the emissions! Obviously a suitable solution for fighting against eutrophication and negative health effects, no more breathing in the harmful particles. At this stage a normal citizen says yes, but the industry and shipping companies cry for help.

There are some innovative solutions available for reconstructing old ship engines for reducing the emissions. New low-sulphure fuels and natural gases are under development and available to some extent, but will cost a lot of money and time for ship-owners. If the new IMO regulations are applied in restricted areas only, shipping costs on the Baltic Sea will rise, increasing the demand for road transport and even forcing the land-based industry to move or its production away from the Baltic Sea Region. Naturally, the environmental impact from shipping will drop, but the same effects will be multiplied on the roads, and the competitiveness of the industry may become permanently damaged.

There is a strong possibility, that these regulations are not applied for Europe as a whole. In that case we need to think carefully, how to convert this challenge into our competitive advantage. Our Baltic Sea is already one of the most polluted sea areas in the world – people working among the shipping business don’t want to be famous for making the situation even worse. Instead they could be proud pioneers for making the sea transport chain greener and – most importantly – respond quickly to a new kind of demand, when the friendliness to the environment becomes part of the customer value.

In Finland we already see the attitudes changing – a passenger ship company has gained a lot of positive publicity by ordering a new vessel, which runs on liquefied natural gas. There has been discussion about a financial support from the government for this kind of environmental solutions. This is a good example of the public opinion having a huge role in the decision-making process.

Mia Hytti

Writer works for the BSR InnoShip project, which addresses the common challenge of the Baltic Sea countries and the key maritime stakeholders to co-operate in minimizing ship-based air pollution, while aiming at optimizing competitiveness of the maritime industry.

Picture by: Mia Hytti

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Simply – The Baltic Sea, yours and mine

Finally, my summer holidays have started! The whole four weeks! One of them with my family we will spend at the beaches of the Curonian Bay in my motherland Lithuania.

- “Mum, why sea water is salt? Why it is raising in waives? Look, what we have found!” These questions wake me up and I lift my head with the sandy cheeks and forehead. My little girls, which enjoy being at the beach, playing with the sand and built castles of it, to jump over the waves, have found round and very smooth stones. Do you know how big adventure for them and my husband is going to look for the amber, so called gold of the sea?

As far as I am able to recall or then the pictures from my childhood remind me, that I have used to do exact the same things by the sea as my girls now. Each summer me, my brother and my parents spent summer vacations at the beaches of the Baltic Sea. Oh, how far away all worries were about the condition of the Baltic Sea at this time. All the matters were just golden sand, blue water and sunshine.

Even then, when I started my studies of applied ecology in my university, students didn’t get concrete enough information about how poor state of the Baltic Sea is. I have to make a confection to you, even if it is shame on me, but just after moving to Finland and starting to work according to my education in the project called PURE, I have realized or find out, how bad the situation is with our sea. I am sure that nowadays young people from Lithuania are better educated on this case. Alright, I could blame the time of collapsed Soviet Union (a few years after that I have started my studies), as at that time educational system was still messy. Or I could blame the fact that environmental protection was too week at that time in Lithuania and just started arise, that teachers did not have expertise in ecology, because it was so fresh trend, which came from Europe Union. But what does blaming help, definitely not making the sea water cleaner.

Anyway, I have never regretted the choice of my profession. I have always cared about the nature; I am more than glad for opportunity to learn about the state of the Baltic Sea through my work at the Union of the Baltic Cities. As there is saying: Better later then never.

However, if you would like to hear my opinion - I am missing more real actions towards cleaner Baltic Sea. Many good organizations are established all around the Baltic Sea Region, which care concern about the sea and its well being. Enormous amount of good projects are going for the better condition of the sea, no doubts. I won’t argue that after huge effort, which the states around the Baltic Sea have put, trying to reduce already made damage to the sea, the situation is better now.

By saying real actions, I mean not too political, not too complicated, just some rubber boots and some buckets and some nets to collect alga from the sea. Of course, it may sound naive and I have no better remedies for our ill sea, not yet. Or then, I could suggest for all people, living around the Baltic Sea, to stop for at least one day this crazy materialism, this endless consumption of everything and everywhere, stop marine traffic for a day and fishing. Just give for the sea the day off, the rest day…

- “Mum, let’s go to swim!” – I hear again and I am running after my kids to swim. And I am going to enjoy swimming in the sea, laying at the beach and searching for the amber as long as it possible. And put efforts that it would be possible.

Zivile Karvonen