The Baltic Sea and the European Marine Strategy

Speech Published 21 Nov 2006 Last modified 16 Oct 2014, 12:56 PM
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Prof. Jacqueline McGlade's address at the Finnish EU Presidency Conference, Helsinki 15 November 2006
Finnish EU Presidency Conference
The Baltic Sea and the European Marine Strategy

Professor Jacqueline McGlade
European Environment Agency

How Science Provokes Management Action and How Can the Process be Facilitated?

Helsinki, 15 November 2006


Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure for me to be here in Helsinki at this Presidency Conference on the EU Marine Strategy in the Baltic Sea.

I have been invited to speak about how science provokes management actions and how such processes can be facilitated. I would like to use as a case study the activities of the European Environment Agency and Eionet within the Working Group on European Marine Monitoring and Assessment (EMMA), to show how scientific and technical expertise is being used to support the future implementation of the Marine Strategy and hence help create a bridge between science and effective policy.

But before turning specifically to EMMA and the Marine Strategy, I would like to draw your attention to three different but highly relevant publications. The first is the conclusions of this year’s June Council, in which it was stated that the European Union’s sustainable development strategy was to become once again the overarching policy framework, balancing the needs of the economy and society with protection of the environment. The renewed strategy commits policy makers to using up-to-date and robust science in shaping long-term policy actions, not only within the region but also beyond Europe’s borders. Good news then for the aims of the marine strategy.

The second is the Stern report on climate change adaptation, released this month in the UK. This report gives specific answers to the policy questions about the costs of inaction, specifically in relation to the second period of the Kyoto process. Crucially the report provides an analytical perspective regarding discounting of the future, and is highly relevant to this week’s discussions on climate change at the UNFCCC Conference of the Parties in Nairobi. Its currency, conclusions and earlier evaluation in the economic literature ensured its rapid take-up by policy-makers.

The third is the report on scientific advice and policy making published last week by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee in the UK.

Whilst the Council conclusions and the Stern report realise a positive role for science and evidence in policy making, the perspective of the third makes grim reading. What it says is that policy-makers at best do not distinguish between anecdote and science and at worse manipulate data so as to produce more favourable findings in a kind of playground rhetoric. As one scientist said “ it was with sadness and regret that I saw our work ill-used and our faith in government’s use of evidence traduced”.

The role of scientific and more specifically environmental information in support of policy objectives is said to be increasing in importance. But this partly reflects the fact that more questions are being asked in Brussels and across the capitals, about the benefits of existing and new measures in the context of the better regulation.

In truth it may be fairer to say that environmental policy is under sustained pressure to prove itself. For without doubt there is a heightened need to have the right information on the table at the right time, and for any scientific evidence to be as robust and unassailable as possible.

I believe it is here that the European Environment Agency can play a critical role in helping to ensure that the factual underpinning for environmental priorities is explicitly recognised, that the environment is accounted for and that the integrated perspectives envisaged in the sustainable development strategy are pursued as objectively as possible.

The EEA is an independent EU agency based in Copenhagen, required to Support sustainable development and help achieve significant and measurable improvement in Europe’s environment, through the provision of timely, targeted, relevant and reliable information. To provide support to policy-makers in its 32 member countries the Agency relies on a network of more than 350 organisations – Eionet - to provide data and information and work with us to produce assessments, policy evaluations, technical analyses, models and scenarios for the European Commission, the European Parliament, the member countries themselves, international organisations and civil society.


The primary objective of the Agency is to report on the state of Europe’s environment and to do so in such a way which improves our understanding of the socio-economic pressures on the natural environment. The original European Commission proposal for the EU SDS contained the following text:

“To bridge the gap between this ambitious vision and practical political action … the strategy should focus on a small number of problems which pose severe or irreversible threats to the future well-being of European society …”

This is key to today’s discussion, because scientists in Europe and around the world are beginning to document signs of change in a range of ecosystems that suggest the loss of resilience – the ability of an ecosystem to withstand any shocks or changes in the drivers and pressures acting on it.

In a number of instances it has been observed that some of the natural functions within these unique elements of planet are being lost at a rapid rate with the result that we may be creating conditions that will make life very unpleasant for generations to come, and even impossible for some flora and fauna, including a number of human communities, already at the margins of survival.

How these changes are documented depends upon the discipline from which the research derives. For example, Worm and colleagues in a recent paper in Science, looked at the impacts of biodiversity loss on marine ecosystems and concluded that “all commercial fish and seafood species would collapse by 2048”. You may not agree with final conclusion, but the trends in the data are clearly evident.

Others have derived the ecological footprint of Europe and shown how Europe has moved from a situation where it was in equilibrium with its biological capacity forty years ago to one today, where more than twice its biological capacity is needed to maintain current production and consumption patterns. A manifestation of this is the huge global dependency that Europe has on energy resources from elsewhere in the world.

Once again we can argue about the robustness of the footprint’s underlying analysis but there can be little doubt about the trend. Europe’s use of its natural capital has outgrown its own resource base and is now increasingly absorbing the environmental space of the rest of the world, including the marine environment, and potentially taking some ecosystems beyond the limits of their resilience.

In today’s industrialized economies, many of the goods and services provided by ecosystems in the conventional market economy are currently valueless. But if the resilience of our ecosystems is continually undermined, these goods and services will become eventually unattainable and hence priceless. No future economy can stand this. Moreover there will be huge consequences for jobs, health and standards of living.

An obvious example of this phenomenon can be seen today in the Arctic region. The melting of the ice cap and the reduction of summer sea-ice cover is leading to a change in ecosystem structure and with it, a partial loss of biological resilience, witness the plight of the polar bear in certain areas. At the same time, an entirely new planetary-scale ecosystem is being ‘built’ as the lid of sea ice is being gradually removed at key times of solar insolation. To enable the resilience of this new Arctic marine ecosystem to become established, sovereign states will need to show restraint in how they intend to exploit it.

The type of natural capital we are over-using in Europe is also increasing our vulnerability. At the beginning of the last century about 50 % of our natural capital came from renewable resources and about 50 % from non renewables. At the beginning of this century, the contribution of renewables had dropped to 25 %, with 75 % coming from the finite stocks of non-renewable resources.

So, we seriously need to consider how to shift our economy to ‘go with the flow of renewables rather than sticking with the stocks of ‘non-renewables’. This would help improve our economic as well as our ecological security. If we do not achieve this shift, the ‘from empty to full world’ trend for the world economy that we have seen for the period 1900-2001 will lead to increasingly negative consequences.

III. Policy and science working together

From our recent work at the Agency, it is clear that much can be learnt from our collective experience over 35 years in implementing environmental policies. For example, in comparing the effectiveness of implementation of the Urban Waste Water Directive in several MS — the directive responsible for about 50 % of environmental expenditures — we found that those countries which used realistic waste water charges and recycled their revenues to support clean production measures in the polluting firms, achieved twice the pollution reduction per euro than those countries which dealt with the problem through technical solutions such as just building sewage treatment plants.
What can we learn from this and other policy effectiveness analyses when it comes to the European Marine Strategy and the Maritime Policy, for which the former will become the “environmental pillar”.

First of all, it is essential that we have a better understanding of the current state of the marine environment, of the pressures and impacts upon it, as well as their drivers, at a pan-European level. Such an understanding is needed to determine the magnitude of existing problems and establish any imminent threats, such as the sudden loss of ecological resilience. We also need to ascertain which measures are most urgently needed in order to prevent a deterioration of the situation and promote ecosystem recovery where needed.

A better translation of our understanding of the common impacts of human activities, such as depletion of fish stocks, eutrophication, oil exploration and shipping, into action plans and implementation strategies is still urgently needed, especially given the additional impacts arising from climate change.

At the moment, we have a lot of information thanks to the efforts of international agreements as implemented at the regional level. But the information we have is fragmented and restricted, especially in relation to the drivers of change and the concomitant pressures on the environment.

We do not have as yet a knowledge base that is systematic and comprehensive enough to adequately assess the status of Europe’s seas, and as a result, we are limited in terms of designing management regimes to enhance or restore their health. This is where science and research have a key role to play.

The European Marine Strategy should be seen as providing the impetus needed to close such gaps in our knowledge, thereby improving the management measures adopted so far by regional sea Conventions. These are not based on an ecosystem approach and, as we know from the ongoing decline in many marine fish stocks, have been difficult to put into effect or enforce. As a result, Europe’s seas cannot be considered as being in a particularly healthy state, a fact which the Agency has reported in its 2005 State of the Environment Report as well as in the current draft of the 2007 Report for the Ministers meeting in Belgrade in the Environment for Europe process.

The proposed Marine Strategy Directive has an ambitious objective of achieving “good environmental status” in all European marine waters by 2021. Whether we are in a position today to articulate in concrete terms what “good environmental status” means, it is clear that we know enough about what we DO NOT WANT.

We should therefore be able to develop a Marine Strategy Directive that includes a general definition of “good environmental status”, aimed at capturing what should be the desired health of marine ecosystems in general terms, so that an operational definition can later be found at regional and national levels.


Let me turn finally to the specific activities of the Agency as co-chair of the EU’s informal Working Group EMMA to demonstrate the ways in which science and technology can be used to provoke management and policy actions. They can be summarised within three areas:

  1. Increasing the efficiency of monitoring by simplifying, streamlining and making comparable existing marine monitoring data available at a pan-European level.
  2. Convergence of assessments: developing, in the context of EMMA, a common set of pan-European indicators to be complemented regionally.
  3. Promotion of the use of operational oceanography products, in particular from earth observation. These have an important role in supporting current and future information gathering and marine assessments and, hence, marine policy development and management.

Regarding increasing the efficiency of monitoring, the EEA is organizing a series of 3 scientific and technical workshops in 2006-7. These focus on inter-comparisons of marine monitoring data and are organised with invited national experts and experts from European and regional Institutions and Conventions.

In the first workshop on Operational oceanography last month, we successfully brought together producers and users of operational oceanography products. We showed that:

  • substantial infrastructure already exists for operational oceanography
  • operational oceanography products can be clearly linked to the assessment needs of the Strategy, the conventions and the Agency under 3 themes:
    • physical characteristics of the European seas (e.g. temperature, salinity), including climate change related impacts (e.g. sea level)
    • oil pollution and
    • detection of eutrophication (e.g. nutrients, chlorophyll);
  • across all areas, many operational products are already available.

It was recognised that we are now in a transition from research to sustained operational monitoring and that here is a significant opportunity to build a highly effective system of data and information flows to support both science and policy making. This will develop through a continued dialogue, such as the one we have just had, between “users” (e.g. regional sea Conventions) and “producers”, and extended into agreements on continuous pan-European and regional products and services.

At the second workshop we will be looking at Marine ecological processes and biological elements. We will be focussing on data and assessment of these as they are increasingly relevant for a proper understanding of the impacts of human activities on the marine environment, and thus for developing relevant management measures. Once again it will be a nexus between scientific status and management needs.

Key to this area are the needs for streamlining coastal and marine monitoring data flows under many different policy processes - including the EU Water Framework and Habitats directives, and the European contribution to global processes such as SEBI2020 – and bringing these into the Marine Strategy Directive and the Agency’s assessments.

Finally, next year we will look at Chemical loads and burdens (17-18 April).

Regarding the convergence towards a common pan-European set of indicators in the context of EMMA, the first step has been a compilation, with support from countries and Conventions, of existing marine indicators. The results will be presented to the EMMA Plenary. It is our hope that the final set (ready by approximately 2008) will meet the Marine Strategy Directive’s needs and, in particular, allow the incorporation of regional specificities relevant to a particular sea.

Throughout its work for EMMA, the Agency is also ensuring a continued dialogue with the global earth and ocean observation system communities, so that Europe’s policy efforts will be properly connected and not developed in isolation.


Having a European Marine Strategy on the EU’s agenda should provide an impetus to policy, management, science and research actions for Europe’s regional seas. I would say that the Baltic Sea is already at an advanced position stage.

For example, HELCOM leads the development and implementation of a Baltic Sea Action Plan. From the Agency’s perspective we hope that many aspects of this Plan will be brought in line with the approaches proposed by the Marine Strategy Directive. The Plan as it stands:

  • requires implementation based on renewed efforts towards regional cooperation in order to combat both existing and emerging problems;
  • envisages action on four key priorities determining the status of central ecosystem functions of the Baltic Sea reflecting, to a certain extent, the ecosystem-based approach put forward by the Strategy;
  • its objectives not only have political but also stakeholder support so they can reflect a common vision of a healthy Baltic Sea; and
  • progress in achieving the Plan’s objectives will be measured by specific targets and indicators.

In addition, other activities in the Baltic Sea, such as research and science projects, can be seen as an inspiration for elsewhere. For example:

  • the approach to the assessment of eutrophication work carried out by the MARE research programme is one that could assist this type of assessment in similar seas and
  • the approach put forward by the Baltic Science Plan (BONUS 169), regarding:
    • involvement of all the riverine countries in developing a Baltic Sea regional research programme and
    • considering innovative actions such as integrating ecosystem and society; and strengthening collaboration and use of common resources.

Yet, despite all this, it should be stressed that the Baltic is an ecosystem in transition. Thus, the question we must ask is whether delivering HELCOM’s Baltic Action Plan is enough or simply a first step in improving the status of the Baltic Sea. Similarly, are MARE and BONUS sufficiently embedded to deliver the science-policy linkages that will, undoubtedly, be needed to manage any further loss of resilience in the Baltic?

As the Baltic community of policy-makers and researchers you are further along the line that many of your regional counterparts. Nevertheless, there will clearly be a need for you to revise and improve your action plan in line with the final text of the Marine Strategy Directive. The Finnish Presidency is currently steering the process for the adoption of this Directive in Council; it will need to be as ambitious as possible using - as a starting point - what has already been developed in the Baltic Sea but not allowing itself to become complacent.

In addition, the results of MARE and BONUS need to be used to steer future actions aimed at building resilience, such as:

  • developing motivation and values for ecosystem management
  • directing the local context through adaptive co-management and
  • navigating the larger environment


In summary, let me stress that the Marine Strategy provides a framework in which science can underpin environmental management action. But there needs to be a clear understanding of “good environmental status”, the long-term resilience of Europe’s marine ecosystems, and the limits that we must place on the economic exploitation of the marine environment, especially in relation to climate change. Perhaps Europe should consider producing a regional ‘Stern’ Report.

Without such ongoing dynamic forms of enquiry, we will simply be reporting on past trends, leading - inexorably - to inaction at best and at worst the unsustainable development and collapse of Europe’s seas and marine ecosystems.
Thank you for your attention.

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