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Russia seeks Baltic pollution partnerships

  |   April 5, 2013 at 12:05 AM
ST. PETERSBURG, Russia, April 5 (UPI) -- Russia's push to create public-private partnerships as a way to help clean up the polluted Baltic Sea is the focus of an environmental summit in St. Petersburg.

The meeting, to be attended by Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and premiers from 10 other Baltic and northern European nations, is being called in part to strengthen international cooperation on tackling the chronic environmental woes of the Baltic, which is plagued by nitrates and phosphates from waste run-off.

The nutrients, contained in fertilizers and sewage, enter the sea from large "spot" sources such as wastewater treatment facilities and also from diffuse sources, such as scattered farm fields.

Environmentalists say the pollution is causing the "eutrophication" of the Baltic Sea, though which algae blooms deplete oxygen from the water, triggering fish die-offs and creating a 25,000-square-mile-wide "dead zone" the size of Latvia.

A 2007 action plan developed by the Helsinki Commission of nine Baltic Sea nations has achieved a 40 percent reduction in direct nitrogen and phosphorus discharges as well as a 40 percent decrease in airborne nitrogen emissions.

Some 200 Baltic Sea anti-pollution commitments have been at previous summits, including 11 by sovereign states.

But to achieve its stated objective of eliminating the Baltic's algae blooms, direct phosphorous and nitrogen inputs must be cut by a further 42 percent.

Nitrate-reduction targets adopted under the Helsinki Commission agreement cover the Baltic proper, the Gulf of Finland and Bornholm Basin. Targets have been set for oxygen "debt," which is a measure of a lack of oxygen caused by eutrophication. The ultimate aim is to reach a level of oxygen debt that was prevalent in the 1950s to 1970s.

Russia, which holds the rotating presidency of the Council of the Baltic Sea States, has indicated it will use the prime ministerial conference to promote its top priority of establishing international public-private partnerships to tackle environmental challenges.

A release from the Russian delegation, headed by Igor Vdovin, board chairman of the National Agency for Direct Investment, said they will be focused on building such partnerships for environmental projects in two pilot regions -- Kaliningrad and St. Petersburg/Leningrad Oblast.

The Russians said they will be also be seeking to create a "common space" for public-private partnerships in the Baltic Sea region as well as a regional investment fund among the 11 Baltic Sea states attending the event as well as the European Commission.

Finland, which launched the environmental summit process in 2010 and takes over the Council of the Baltic Sea States presidency this year, says it's aiming to speed up the implementation of the Helsinki Commission's clean-up action plan.

Finnish Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen and Minister of the Environment Ville Niinisto were both set to travel to St. Petersburg, the government said Tuesday.

Katainen in November called for closer links between the Baltic Sea countries to combat maritime pollution at an address in Jyvaskyla, the Finnish daily Keskisuomalainen reported.

"The question is to save the Baltic Sea," he said, calling it the biggest challenge facing the surrounding nations. "For it to achieve good ecological status will require closer cooperation and, above all, the cutting down of (nutrient) load factors."

Niinisto, meanwhile will also be present at the Russian-hosted public private partnership forum, the governing National Coalition Party reported in its Verkkouutiset.fi online magazine.

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