During the intersession between the publication of the first and the final version of the report, the HELCOM Secretariat organized a regional consultation as agreed by HELCOM Heads of Delegation.
The first version of the ’State of the Baltic Sea’ report was made publicly available in June 2017. The launch of the first version of the report marked the culmination of a 2.5 year working process by the HELCOM HOLAS II project, involving more than three hundred topical experts and national representatives from marine management authorities around the Baltic Sea.
During the intersession between the publication of the first and the final version of the report, which was published in June 2018, the report was subject to public consultations: national consultations were organized by a number of Contracting Parties, while the HELCOM Secretariat organized a regional consultation as agreed by HELCOM Heads of Delegation.
The regional consultation was directed towards HELCOM Observers and a number of additional international stakeholders working with a Baltic Sea perspective.
The regional consultation took place from October to December 2017. The response form included a set of specific questions as well as the opportunity to provide open-ended comments to each chapter of the report. The specific questions were formulated to gain information on the overall perception of the report and on the communication of results.
Eighteen organizations responded to the consultation including;
- non-governmental organizations with both environmental (5) and sector orientation (4)
- networks of local and regional authorities (2)
- intergovernmental organizations with environmental (3) and science orientation (1)
- a specialized environmental agency (1)
- other partnership and cooperation frameworks both regional and with a wider geographical scope (2).
The comments received include proposals on clarifying the results, expanding or adding new topics to the ‘State of the Baltic Sea’ report, but also reflections that could be of interest to consider for future HELCOM work.
In addition to the general comments on the content of the report, many valuable comments were provided on how illustrations and communication of results could be improved, as well as concrete proposals on the revision of the report. These comments were considered by the HOLAS II project and HELCOM Gear when updating the report in 2018. A notification on how comments were treated has been made available to the respondents. Those that could not be accommodated in the finalization of the ‘State of the Baltic Sea’ report were noted for the future.
The possibility for stakeholders to comment on the report draft was mentioned as a positive aspect by several respondents. Furthermore, several organizations indicated specific willingness to continue the cooperation with HELCOM.
The main reflections made by the respondents on the regional consultation are summarized below. During the analysis of the responses, the comments received were sorted as
- generic views and proposals,
- concrete proposals to revise the text of the report, or
- proposals to add information.
This summary focuses on the generic views and proposals by the respondents.
Summary of responses with open-ended responses options
The questions provided with open-ended response options were where as follows:
- What are the main strengths of the Second Holistic Assessment of the Baltic Sea?
- What are its main weaknesses of the Second Holistic Assessment of the Baltic Sea?
- If a new, Third Holistic Assessment were to be carried out in a few years, what should that assessment do differently?
“What are the main strengths of the Second Holistic Assessment of the Baltic Sea?”
In general, the assessment report was well received, with several respondents highlighting the usefulness of such a comprehensive report as a reference document to the state of the Baltic Sea.
Respondents were in agreement that the main strength of the report is its holistic approach, the broad scope of topics, and the large amount of data and information that is used to support the assessments. Many respondents also recognized and appreciated that the assessments are based on up-to-date knowledge and research. The vast number of experts that have been involved in and consulted in the production of the report was also recognized as a strength.
Individual elements that were highlighted as strengths include the expansion of social and economic analyses compared to the initial HELCOM holistic assessment, the focus on additional pressures such as marine litter and underwater sound, and that an evaluation of confidence is included for the status assessments.
Quotes on main strengths:
- “Comprehensive overview of the knowledge available at this stage”
- “The shear scope of the report and amount of data sources, expert consulted and work put is its biggest strength”
- “The state-of-the-art integrative tools and use assessment indicators and indexes”
- “We welcome the extensive report about the status of the Baltic Sea, which will give us useful base facts for our future activities and priorities”
- “It is actually very impressive to read a document that encompasses such a wide range of issues, with many different sources of scientific information/ methods and different countries, and still provide a clear overview of the State of the Baltic”
“What are the main weaknesses of the Second Holistic Assessment of the Baltic Sea?”
The majority of responses on weaknesses of the report were related to limited coverage of data. These weaknesses are also demonstrated in the respondents’ views on how well the report covers information on pressures and their impact.
The information on decrease in pressures on the Baltic Sea and signs of improvement in some sub-basins were highlighted as important for motivation by sector organizations. However, several respondents would like the report to include a clearer explanation for why the effects of reduced pressures are not yet seen in the results of the integrated status assessments. Efforts have been made to improve this information in the final version of the report.
The respondents also highlighted a number of elements that they would have liked to see more of, for example:
- further information on sectors and activities for which information presented in the report was limited e.g. transport, tourism, recreational fisheries, fisheries,
- measures still needed to achieve the goals of the BSAP and the way forward,
- a more comprehensive comparison with the initial HELCOM holistic assessment,
- more explanation on internal nutrient cycling.
The lack of indicators for some topics was also noted and the importance of finalizing them as soon as possible was stressed, e.g. indicators on the number of drowned mammals and birds in fishing gear, cumulative impacts on benthic biotopes, and marine litter.
Quotes on main weaknesses:
- “There are significant data gaps and a lack of time series data which makes it difficult to assess the effectiveness of the management measures applied since the last assessment”
- “In parts it not comprehensive enough, data for many species or sub basins are missing and it is not always explained why the data is missing, some important indicators are not operational yet”
- “Lack of analysis of regional environmental policy impact on progress towards good environmental status”
- “Missed opportunity to outline what actions should be done in the future to achieve the original goals of the BSAP”
“If a new, Third Holistic Assessment were to be carried out in a few years, what should that assessment do differently?”
To this question, numerous proposals on what to include in the next assessment were provided. Considering the main weaknesses expressed, improving the availability of data was highlighted as an obvious task for the future. Other proposals for a future assessment include:
- ensuring comparability of results between assessment periods so that improvements can be assessed,
- putting more emphasis on implementation of necessary measures,
- relating results to the delivery of SDG objectives and describing the extent to which the region contributes to SDG14 and other relevant goals,
- providing linkages to EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region,
- ranking pressures and impacts clearly,
- focusing on pressures and impacts of climate change on biodiversity and the marine environment that could prevent achieving a good environmental status of the Baltic Sea,
- focusing more on the results, leaving out some of the background/enrichment information and highlighting even more the key findings,
- regional reporting of relevant indicators from the Contracting Parties to UN custodian agencies and facilitating joint implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.
To remedy the fact that data becomes outdated quickly, it was proposed to set up a supplementary website, where indicator evaluations and associated information are provided in “living” tables, updated frequently during the years between Holistic Assessments.
Summary of responses with given response options
The given response options to the questions outlined in this section were as follows:
To what extent do you agree with the following?
1 = Disagree entirely, 3 = Neither agree nor disagree, 5 = Agree entirely
In addition, respondents could choose to answer the following three questions:
- It is easy to find what I am looking for in the PDF report.
- The State of the Baltic Sea website is a good complement to the PDF report.
- It is easy to find what I am looking for on the website.