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Sustainable Development in the Baltic and Nordic Regions

Submitted by on 28 Mar 2013 – 14:27

By Mikael Gustafsson MEP, Member of the European Parliament Committee on Development

Sustainable development is an important challenge in the Baltic and Nordic region. Roughly 90 million people live in 9 countries around the Baltic Sea. The majority live in small and medium sized cities, and we see a strong urbanization trend in the area.

The EU has appointed the region with a “green image” but this has to improve. The competition within a limited sea area is increasing every year and human activities such as oil and gas extraction, shipping, fishing, and industrial pollution leaves us with a lack of long-term goals for the environment. On land, the transport sector continues to grow as people and goods are travelling longer distances.

Meanwhile, EU-15 had by 2005 only managed to reduce its emissions by 1.5 percent.

In the context of sustainable development in the Baltic and Nordic region there is a need for better planning of sea use as well as the transport sector.

Transport on sea is undoubtedly the most important way to transport goods to and away from the Baltic Sea region. Using ships to transport goods and people is energy efficient. Sea roads have low friction, low investment costs and in general a high security when it comes to accidents.

But it seems that the governments in the region are not successful in finding a balance between economic, social and environmental quality. The increased competition in the region has made the Baltic Sea one of the most threatened marine ecosystems on the planet.

There is a lack of a holistic approach and the governments in the region have not considered objectives from other sectors. Considering the condition of the Baltic Sea region, there are several important environmental sectors that the governments have to invest in. However, the Baltic Sea remains one of the most heavily trafficked seas in the world and especially the intense shipping of oil is accompanied with substantial risks. The HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan estimated the number of accidents at 150 per year, where many result in oil spills. This has an enormous ecological effect and does not only impact the nature, but also other sectors in the region such as the fishing industry.

Governments jointly need better planning of sea use. Investments in green jobs have to be expanded. A good example is that investments in renewable and sustainable energy sources such as offshore wind power have grown. There are 13 wind farms in the Baltic Sea region, located in Sweden, Denmark, Germany and Finland and another 25 are under development.

Since the transport sector is responsible for more than a quarter of the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions, sustainable transport and more efficient public transport in terms of an industrial chain between the cities and countries in the region are required. The EU’s transport policy has to be seriously tightened and more environmentally friendly. Around 13 billion Euros are spent every year on transport infrastructure projects by the EU. This huge budget has to assure the citizens of Europe that greener and smarter transport projects are prioritized.

However, if we really want to decrease air and water pollution and stop climate change, countries around the Baltic Sea have to make investments in local and regional public transport. Public transport is an important part of strengthening daily life for students, poor people, elderly and people with disabilities. It is also used more by women than men. Today’s transport sector is based on men’s values and needs. More money allocated to public transport; ordinary buses, BRT-buses, trains, cheaper tickets and higher quality also increase gender equality in the transport sector.

The re-developed the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) means Member States can apply for money for greener infrastructure projects and such investments are important for long-term sustainable development. Still, this does not ensure sustainable transport investments. What we have seen in the last two decades is that almost 50 percent of EU investments in transport projects have been distributed to aviation and road. In the Baltic and Nordic region it is possible to combine public transport for those who commute to larger cities with transports of goods. Thus electric rail infrastructure has to be developed.

Additionally, the concept of “Green Corridors” has to be implemented. They allow more efficient transport, but have to be more environmentally friendly. This will also create new jobs. One example would be the enabling of the North Bothnia Line in Sweden which should be given priority in the current TEN-T revision. It is a strategically important link within the transnational transport system of goods in northern Europe, related to the Bothnian Corridor. It connects with Finland, Norway and Russia and has a tremendous importance for Swedish and European sustainable economy.

Transport is the only sector that has seen its emissions increase over the past two decades. The completion of the North Bothnia Line has to be done before there are negative economic and environmental consequences. This strategic issue has great importance for the future, and transport by rail is in most cases the only alternative.

The voices of green investments have to be heard in the Baltic and Nordic region.