Thursday, June 20, 2013

Summer feelings from UBC EnvCom

Last days of rush and running before summer holidays at the UBC Commission on Environment, one of the busiest times during the year. Projects need to be reported and most of the autumn plans need to be set. Furthermore, budgets, activities and plans for the next year need to have clear frameworks. At the private level, we need to have clear goals and plans for our valuable holiday days. There are perhaps some tensions and stress in the air.

I usually say that we live in an interesting period and can´t stop repeating myself. Looking at the last few months we have behind us, and the months to come there are a lot of both demanding but also interesting issues going on.

The EU strategy for the Baltic Sea Region has been evaluated and updated. Gaps and shortcomings in it have been identified and clear development tasks are about to be identified. The EU budget will be set for the next 5-6 years and communicated further to EU funding instruments and programmes. Both the strategy and the funding instruments will have a fundamental effect on how the cooperation and what kind of activities will take place in our Baltic Sea Region.

Our own organization is also approaching the bi-annual UBC General Conference in City of Mariehamn with a lot of important political and organisatorial issues on the agenda. The UBC has been operative for more than 20 years, during a time of lots of success and development. Important for UBC, as it is for any organization, is to further develop the organization and the activities in order to meet the needs of our member cities. There is a clear mandate for a strong city network and a momentum for cities to take a strong role in further development of the Baltic Sea Region.
As we now are living in a period when a lot of projects and activities are being finalized, and at the same time a lot of new activities under some uncertainty are being starting up, there can be a moment chaos. Nevertheless, looking back on earlier similar “chaotic” periods, these moments have most often been really creative despite the stress and uncertainty - so let us look forward with confidence and enthusiasm!

The summer is the time for rest and relaxation. The summer is the time when we meet up with families and relatives and perhaps travel to new places. The summer is the time when we read, think, listen, feel and discuss in another, perhaps more relaxed, way. The summer is the time when we should charge our batteries and also collect new ideas, get inspiration and motivation for upcoming work.
Finally I would like to wish all colleagues, partners and friends a really relaxing summer time with a lot of positive feelings, experiences and inspiration.

Björn Grönholm
Head of Secretariat, UBC Commission on Environment

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

The state of the Baltic Sea –Common concern of Russia and Finland

Picture: Hannamaria Yliruusi, UBC
Baltic Sea Forum 2013, organized in our secretariats home city Turku, gathered water experts and other stakeholders together to share experiences about water issues in Russia. The round table discussion included interesting presentations focusing mainly on co-operation between Russia and Finland. These two countries have a long history of joint activities in the water sector and active discussion showed that there is a great interest among Finnish professionals to co-operate with Russia also in the future. However, participants shared a concern about lack of interest of young professionals in Russia – Finland co-operation.

Water issues are high on the agenda in the Baltic Sea region and especially the state of the Sea is a hot topic. For example the Gulf of Finland suffers from mass algae blooms during summer time decreasing the attractiveness of the region and the poor water quality concerns greatly both Russia and Finland. Common worry has resulted in successful co-operation that started already during the 60s and 70s. In those days the co-operation was, according to the representative of the Finnish Ministry of Finland, Laura Saijonmaa, mainly research collaboration. One current example of joint actions, presented by Esa Ovaskainen from Ecovod Oy, was realization of advanced wastewater treatment in the city of St Petersburg. Objective of the city is that 98 % of the wastewaters are treated in accordance with Baltic Marine Environment Protection Committees (HELCOM) recommendations by 2015. During the debate, it was brought up that this target is already achieved.

When the audience asked from the speakers what has been the key to successful co-operation and to the decades long continuation of the fruitful work, almost all speakers highlighted the importance of trust. It appears that the starting of joint actions has been depended on the joint interests of specific individuals working in the water sector in both countries. Especially the co-operation between water utilities of Helsinki, Finland and St. Petersburg was brought up. The other success factor has been the will to build long term co-operation. It was mutual understanding that to be able to work together, it will take time to build up trust and to find common ground for implementation.

However participants shared a common concern about the continuation of joint efforts for better Baltic Sea. Individuals, who has been pushing co-operation for common goals are retiring in the near future and according to the experts, it seems that young professionals are not as interested in Finnish-Russian co-operation as the older generation has been. The lack of interest is unfortunate since it might be that the good relations and trust in water co-operation will stop when the individual contacts tied during the last 30 years cease to be.

Nevertheless we are now in a good position to make co-operation between Russia and Finland stronger and hopefully, at the same time, we are able to attract new organizations and young professionals to get involved. Currently the city of Turku and the city of St Petersburg are celebrating 60 years as twin cities and among other things future projects in the water field are planned and discussed. One of the events contributing to the celebrations is a seminar in Turku on Thursday 6.6.2013 called “Environmental and climate change strategies and policies in Baltic Region cities - From planning to implementation” held. In this seminar many policy areas, important equally to both cities, are discussed and one of those will definitely be water policies.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

CH4LLENGE project tackles the key challenges of Sustainable Urban Mobility Planning

The challenges that cities and communities face in the search for sustainability and better quality of life are increasingly significant. Cities of different sizes have a crucial role in contributing to EU 2020 targets aiming to improve the efficiency of energy use and to cut down CO2 emissions.  Urban transport is a major source of energy consumption and green house gas emissions and can thus make a big contribution to meet these goals, but also to ensure the attractiveness of our cities. Cities, with a well-functioning and sustainable transport system, are not only environmentally friendly places, but are also attractive and good places to live and work. 

European Commission has underlined in many of its policy documents that strategic and integrated approach to transport infrastructure planning is needed but also to policy making in order to link transport better with environmental protection, healthy environments, land use planning, housing, social aspects of accessibility and mobility as well as industrial policy.  There is a wide consensus that Sustainable Urban Mobility planning contributes to a better quality of life in an urban area and is a good way of tackling transport-related problems in urban areas more efficiently. 

CH4LLENGE supports cities with Sustainable Urban Mobility Planning

Recently launched CH4LLENGE project, funded by the IEE-programme,  is one of the initiatives supporting cities in the preparation and implementation of SUMPs. 

By building on previous experiences and lessons learned from past and current national and European SUMP initiatives, CH4LLENGE has identified common challenges which pose significant barriers in the wider take-up of SUMPs in Europe. 

During the 3-years project CH4LLENGE will develop innovative and transferable solutions to:

1.    Overcome challenges related to the participation of stakeholders.
2.    Provide transferable strategies for institutional cooperation.
3.    Elaborate a solid approach to identify SUMP´s effective measures and measure packages.
4.    Present methodologies for the monitoring and evaluation of SUMP processes and measures.

The nine participating cities represent the diverse cultures in sustainable urban mobility planning in Europe. Those cities spearheading the new planning paradigm are; Amiens (FR), Dresden (DE), Gent (BE) and West Yorkshire (UK), followed by Brno (CZ), Budapest (HU), Krakow (PL), Timisoara (RO) and Zagreb (HR), who all have strong commitments towards the advancement of their own SUMP processes.

In addition the project will support 30 European cities at different stages of working with SUMP and offer them guidance and training possibilities to develop or further improve their SUMPs. From UBC network Turku and Kotka from Finland, Gdynia from Poland, Kaunas from Lithuania and Tartu from Estonia and Kalmar from Sweden will be closely involved with the CH4LLENGE project.


Based on the results and experiences of CH4LLENGE cities, the project will develop practical SUMP challenge kits consisting of ‘quick facts’ for decision-makers, a measure option generator, manuals and e-learning courses covering the four defined SUMP challenges. The kits are aimed at local practitioners working with mobility and transport in European cities and regions.

UCB EnvCom coordinates the dissemination and communication activities in the project. 

For more information, please contact:

The CH4LLENGE website will be launched in autumn 2013. For the moment, more information can be found at UBC EnvCom website

Follow CH4LLENGE in Twitter

Text by: Maija Rusanen, Project Coordinator at UBC EnvCom