Environmental pollution knows no borders

Adviser Jaakko Henttonen (ND Environmental Partnership), what does the future of the Northern Dimension area look like in terms of environmental conditions?

I could start from the positive development that we have seen in the Eastern parts of the Baltic Sea during the past few years. We have witnessed spectacular improvement in the environmental situation in the Gulf of Finland along with the more efficient treatment of wastewater in St Petersburg. The change is very visible not only for the 5 million people inhabitants of St Petersburg but also for the people living in the neighbouring countries. NDEP co-finance projects alone have leveraged close to EUR 860 million in overall investments for St Petersburg to improve wastewater treatment. This figure includes significant Russian local and federal budget funds of over 50%. This has certainly been money well spent.

I am also extremely pleased that the Kaliningrad wastewater treatment plant was finally completed and it already fulfils the HELCOM requirements. As a result, I expect the environmental conditions also in the Kaliningrad bay to develop positively during the next 5-10 years.

Nevertheless, eutrophication of the Baltic Sea still remains a challenge, which needs to be tackled through joint action.

In the Arctic areas, black carbon poses a real threat. District heating facilities and industrial plants are among the biggest black carbon emitters in the Barents region. On the other hand, black carbon emissions are a concrete “thing” that can be dealt with effectively if there is the will to do it. Decrease in black carbon emissions would also have relatively quick environmental impacts as it could slow down warming and melting of snow and ice.

Year 2017 has been declared as the year of the environment in Russia, which I hope will have positive implications for the treatment of environmental hotspots like Krasnyi Bor hazardous waste landfill site near St. Petersburg. I have also great expectations for the Finnish Chairmanship in the Arctic Council in 2017-2019 as climate change and environmental protection are high on their chairmanship priorities.

How are these issues dealt with by the NDEP?

We will continue the work that we have been successfully carrying out for almost 15 years to further reduce the phosphorous and nitrogen compounds in the Baltic Sea. In addition to the already mentioned big investments in St Petersburg and Kaliningrad, we have currently several other water and wastewater treatment projects ongoing in Russia and Belarus.

Regarding the Barents Sea region, NDEP has been successfully dealing with the nuclear safety projects in the Barents region. The removal of the spent nuclear fuel from the Andreeva Bay will commence in summer 2017. Similarly, the elimination of the hazards associated with Lepse ship – which has been a key target for Russia and the international community for over two decades – is now close to completion. These are the two remaining areas of activity for the NDEP nuclear works.

Regrettably, there has been very few environmental projects in the Barents region, mostly due to the lack of committed local partners. Commitment of municipalities is essential for a successful realization of any large scale environmental infrastructure development project, be it wastewater treatment plant or district heating facilities. If we want to turn the Arctic into a black-carbon free area by 2030, we need to do it in close collaboration with the local actors, international experts and financial institutions. NDEP’s potential and financial capacity to tackle such challenges was duly noted at the recent Northern Dimension Senior Officials meeting in Reykjavik. It remains to be seen if NDEP can indeed co-finance these much needed investments in the near future.