Inhabitants around the Baltic Sea are willing to pay more to save the Baltic Sea from eutrophication than what it would actually cost. So concludes a report from the international research network BalticSTERN. “This is the first time that an environmental economic analysis about an international agreement [the Baltic Sea Action Plan], one concerning a large number of countries, has been conducted. This makes the report unique,” says Mats Svensson at the Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management, SwAM.
The Baltic Sea is the largest brackish sea in the world; it contains a mixture of saltwater from the North Sea and freshwater from rainfall and rivers. It is an ecologically-unique sea but is also vulnerable to environmental impacts such as eutrophication, overfishing, pollution, marine debris, and the risk of oil spills.
BalticSTERN conducted a large study in 2010 and 2011 of the 9 countries bordering the Baltic Sea in which roughly 10,000 people were interviewed. Many were worried about the state of the sea with increasing algal blooms, overfishing, oil pollution, toxins, debris, oxygen-deprived bottoms, and damage to flora and fauna. Concern was greatest in Finland, Estonia, Sweden and Russian coastal areas.
Baltic Sea residents were also willing to pay for a healthier marine ecosystem, totaling about €3.8 billion per year. Swedes are willing to pay €838 million annually.
“These figures show that people are concerned about the environment and are taking the matter very seriously. It also means that information about the Baltic’s situation has reached people,” says Svensson, interim head of analysis and research at SwAM.
Researchers involved in BalticSTERN have also calculated the cost to fulfill the targets in the Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP) which states that the Baltic Sea shall reach good ecological status by 2021.
If each country were to reach its nutrient reduction targets in the most cost-effective way, the total would amount to €2.8 billion.
But if resources are instead invested where they would do the most good, it would be significantly cheaper and faster to reach shared goals. Total cost would then decrease to €2.3 billion.
“This type of solution means bi- or multilateral agreements. SwAM feels positive about the presentation of cost-effective solutions. The issue of improving the environmental status of the Baltic Sea is urgent and we must work together,” says Svensson.
“SwAM is involved in financing the BalticSTERN report. We hope to effectively distribute it to all whom are affected.”
The difference between what people are willing to pay and the projected cost is called “welfare gain” in the report. In total, this would amount to between €1 billion and €1.5 billion per year for those in the Baltic region.
BalticSTERN results indicate that the most cost-effective measures include sewage treatment plants, reduction in the use of fertilizers, phosphorus traps in agriculture, bans on phosphorus in detergents, and investments in wetlands to reduce the leaching of nitrogen into the sea.
“Eutrophication is the top issue, but imbalance within the Baltic Sea’s ecosystems is also important. We need to look at which resources can help reduce chemical fertilizer usage, as well as other measures that can reduce nitrogen and phosphorus leakage into our lakes and streams, and thereby into our seas,” explains Svensson.
BalticSTERN is an international research network with partners in every Baltic region country. The BalticSTERN secretariat, based at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, is funded by the Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management.