Protection demands sacrifice: Why the conservation of the Baltic Sea is so difficult

The Baltic Sea is severely ill. Agriculture-induced eutrophication is considered its worst problem, and the Baltic’s limited exchange of water is making it worse. Baltic Rim states have been developing methods to improve the situation, but international cooperation is proving to be difficult.

If the Baltic is at stake, human life around it will be affected, too. Fish populations have fallen dramatically, oil spills threaten the coasts and the recreational value has decreased.

Nine states are directly affected by the Baltic’s pollution, with the area east of Finland as well as the Danish and German coasts showing the strongest increase of toxic algae and lowest concentration of oxygenated water.

Because of this, ten contracting parties – the European Community and the nine Baltic Rim states Finland, Sweden, Germany, Russia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Denmark – have formed the Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission, HELCOM. The commission aims to protect the marine environment of the Baltic Sea from all sources of pollution.

Powerful technical devices have successfully been developed for this purpose, such as oil response vessels, satellites and oil draft forecasting tools. These will be tested off Helsinki’s shoreline on 29 August 2012, during the Balex Delta exercise, the largest oil response undertaking ever carried out in the Baltic Sea.

– However, all these operations are expensive. Since the Baltic Sea is the common property of all states, the best possible situation for an individual country would be to enjoy the benefits of Baltic Sea protection while others pay for it, explains Marko Lindroos, Professor of the economics of the Baltic Sea Protection at the University of Helsinki.

One example is fish stocks: while some countries feel immense pressure to conserve them, those not involved in conservation work benefit from the undefined property rights. As Lindroos says: even if it is unfair, often the ‘victim pays’-principle may help the Baltic.

Lindroos sees bilateral and trilateral agreements as a possible way of overcoming gridlocked situations:

– It is not always best to attempt to get an agreement between all parties. Also a bilateral agreement can be fruitful, even if it does not solve all of the problems.

With the help of game theory, Lindroos has studied mathematical models of conflict. Illustrating the strategic behaviour of conflicting countries can, for instance, lead to useful frameworks for managing fishery problems. On 24 August at Think Corner, Professor Lindroos will further discuss why international cooperation concerning the Baltic Sea is proving to be so challenging.

Research Database TUHAT: Marko Lindroos »»

Think Corner: Baltic Sea »»

Balex Delta 2012 exercise »»

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Text: Claudia Gorr
Photo: Mikko Pelttari
University of Helsinki, digital communications

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