Maritime spatial planning for improved environment in the Baltic Sea

Liene Gaujeniete,
Spatial Planning Expert,
EUSBSR PA Spatial Planning Coordinator,
VASAB Secretariat,
Riga, Latvia

The recently published EU Strategy on Offshore Renewable Energy has put Maritime Spatial Planning (MSP) in the spotlight as one of the focus areas in order to achieve the set targets for renewable energy production. MSP is a tool and an instrument to balance various interests in the Baltic Sea. Furthermore, the MSP process is an enabler for blue growth, increasing competitiveness and achieving European climate targets, while still ensuring environmental protection of the marine areas. MSP is supported by European and pan-Baltic frameworks that serve to improve environmental status of the Baltic Sea.

2021 marks a year when the EU member states shall transit from the initial planning process to implementation of maritime spatial plans as defined by the EU Directive for establishing a framework for MSP. The directive clearly emphasizes the application of ecosystem-based approach and considering the environmental interests. The Baltic Sea Broad-scale MSP Principles are outlining the same values for the Baltic Sea – ecosystem approach shall be an overarching principle, ensuring sustainable and cross-sectoral management of human activities. The MSP Principles were adopted in 2010, the MSP Directive was issued in 2014. Last year, the EU Green Deal and the EU Strategy on Offshore Renewable Energy have been added to overarching framework and are delivering the same message – development in the sea are to contribute to climate neutrality of the EU and help recover from the pandemics while protecting the environment and biodiversity.

In the Baltic Sea Region (BSR), there are well-established traditions in cooperating across the borders in spatial planning. Since the early nineties VASAB (Vision and Strategies around the Baltic Sea) has served as a platform for know-how exchange and networking also being among the front-runners on expanding spatial planning offshore. Since 2010 the HELCOM-VASAB MSP Working Group is working towards implementing the EU MSP Directive, ensuring coherent MSP across the national borders in Baltic Sea and applying the ecosystem-based approach. In addition, the EU Strategy for the BSR, the oldest macro-regional strategy in the EU has the objective “Save the Sea” and a Policy Area Spatial Planning that contributes to the achievement of this objective. The cross-border cooperation and jointly agreed pan-Baltic frameworks have allowed countries around the Baltic Sea a mutual learning and growing their capacities to elaborate MSP that contributes to the environmental protection. Finland has recently approved its maritime spatial plan that was elaborated based on three scenarios that would clearly show the various interests and interdependencies in the sea and allowed stakeholders to seek for compromises in balancing environmental and business interests.

MSP undoubtedly is among the most influential tools to manage the various marine activities while ensuring that the economic interests are balanced with environmental protection measures crucial to maintain and wishfully to improve the environmental quality of the Baltic Sea. Still a narrow interpretation and application of MSP might be insufficient. Therefore, integrated approach to maritime and terrestrial planning has to be implemented in order to reach towards more sustainable solutions in the future. At this point, Lithuania is elaborating a new comprehensive plan for land and sea territories utilizing integrated approach. The concept of land-sea interactions has to be more broadly addressed to emphasize the impacts of terrestrial activities on the marine environments. In addition, thorough analysis of land-sea interactions allows enhancing the coastal communities and economies, which contribute to sustainable and balanced use of marine resources, improves climate change resilience as well as supports maintenance of coastal employment, cultural and social values. In addition, the concept of blue growth allows developing comprehensive approach for sustainable use of marine resources and MSP is a crucial component for the management of various activities.

The competition for the sea space is increasing, especially by the pressures made by the climate neutrality targets set on global and pan-European scale. As a negative side effect, the climate policies aiming for reduction of greenhouse emissions are set on contrary to environmental protection. Unwittingly, choices like deciding whether to build an appealing and climate neutral railway line or keeping the nature reserve for endangered birds, or increasing the offshore wind capacity to align with targets versus maintaining the precious fish habitats are set in the public scene, giving the impression for compromises to be impossible. Spatial planning both on land and in the sea, can serve successfully to facilitate the dialogue among all the involved parties and mitigate the conflicts in order to achieve the most favourable resolutions on both sides and the current policy framework is supportive to enhancing these benefits.


Expert article 2864

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