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.

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