The Baltic Sea Challenge 

In 2007, the Cities of Helsinki and Turku committed to concrete voluntary action for the coastal waters and the entire Baltic Sea. This commitment resulted in the Baltic Sea Challenge. The Baltic Sea was addressed in the cities’ strategic work, the City of Helsinki’s strategy programme and the City of Turku’s climate and environment programme.

This joint Action Plan for the Baltic Sea comprised 37 concrete actions divided into nine themes, and approximately a dozen civil service departments and administrative branches from both cities were tasked with carrying out these actions. The two cities undertook to reduce their contribution to nutrient loading from point and diffuse sources, and the emissions from shipping and boating, in addition to developing their oil spill preparedness and response, and increasing research, awareness and cooperation in order to improve the state of the coastal waters and the entire Baltic Sea. The work is coordinated by the Environment Centre in Helsinki and the Environmental Division in Turku.

In addition to taking concrete action to protect the waters, the two cities undertook to invest in international environmental cooperation, research on water pollution control, and increasing general awareness of the Baltic Sea. In addition to taking action themselves, the two cities also invited other actors to join the initiative. Between 2007 and 2013, approximately 200 organisations from Finland and other Baltic Sea states took up the Baltic Sea Challenge. This included municipalities, companies, associations, educational institutions, regional actors, and state institutions. Almost half of these partners are associations that include interest groups, hobby associations, Rotary Clubs, and environmental associations, and approximately one third is made up of cities and municipalities. Cooperation partners also include dozens of small and medium-sized enterprises, large companies, and educational institutions, from universities to elementary schools.

As a form of activity, the Baltic Sea Challenge is unique. Its core is formed by concrete actions to protect the waters, taken at a local level and in the organisations’ own operations. These measures exceed the minimum legal requirements. A great number of those that have taken up the challenge also have their own Baltic Sea Action Plans. The Cities of Helsinki and Turku offer those partners who are part of the Baltic Sea Challenge network the opportunity to share best practices, learn about new operating models, and build bridges between different operating cultures.

The Baltic Sea Action Plan set out by the Cities of Helsinki and Turku has now been underway for seven years and, for the most part, it has been a major success. The Action Plan has supported the cities’ harbours, waterworks, rescue services, sports, building, urban planning, and education divisions, as well as international operations, in paying attention to the impact their actions have on waters. It has also increased awareness of the state of the Baltic Sea and the opportunities for influencing this matter amongst their own employees, interest groups and customers.

The Baltic Sea Challenge is not completed. Both the Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission (HELCOM) and the European Union have had a hand in changing the national and international operating environment over the years, and more action is needed. By renewing their joint Action Plan, the Cities of Helsinki and Turku undertake to continue their work for the coastal waters and the entire Baltic Sea in 2014–2018. At the same time, they invite new actors to join the cooperation, and current partners to renew their Action Plans.

Helsinki and Turku, November 2013

Mayor Jussi Pajunen                                     Mayor Aleksi Randell

Baltic Sea Action Plan of the Cities of Helsinki and Turku for 2014-2018