Wrap-up remarks by Monika Stankiewicz, HELCOM Executive Secretary at the BONUS-HELCOM stakeholder Conference: research and innovation for sustainability, 6 November 2018
Thank you for excellent presentation of projects – you have all done your job, standing out not only in delivering good results but also communicating them so well. What also struck me is the high ambition of the projects, which in itself can push the policy agenda forward. A number of topics that were identified as gaps in science in the past are now well covered by these new research results.

Because time was limited at this conference, we only had a fraction of the projects presented. But I know that there are also other BONUS projects with extremely interesting and useful results, and I would like to acknowledge them as well. Here, I would also like to mention the BONUS’ new Synthesis projects. 

“Westward” expansion, “interregional”, “engaging beyond territorial boundaries” were mentioned many times today, there are three reasons why this is a good idea: 1) it’s interesting, 2) it is already taking place – such as through the closer cooperation between HELCOM and OSPAR (to be intensified!), but also with other RSCs, and the work under MSFD, to mention only a few examples, and 3) because ‘”the Baltic Sea is a time machine, for future coastal and ocean management at the global level”. “What happens in the Baltic should not stay in the Baltic” – we cannot wait for the world to come to us, we have to actively engage in processes beyond the Baltic Sea and share our experiences. We need to act to impact on the global agenda. The opportunities are there to do so, because oceans are currently so high on the global agenda – the Our Oceans conference is one concrete example, but there are more, for instance the preparation of the World Ocean Assessment II.

The Baltic Sea is the most polluted sea in the world – the mission is now to change such an image of the Baltic Sea. We need to show its beauty and its success stories.

As expected, what has also come across from the presentations and discussions is that marine ecosystem are complex – with many interlinkages and interactions, including us humans impacting on it and benefiting from it. Gaps in knowledge still need to be filled in. Impacts of climate change have to be further studied. Monitoring needs to be improved, and a holistic approach in both science and management is needed to guide further management actions, to quote the excellent Erik Bonsdorff.

One can easily get overwhelmed by the number of issues we don’t fully grasp, and by the complexity of it all. Likely, the aim of the conference was not save the Baltic Sea today. Saving the sea is a continuous and adaptive process – and at present, the real choice when managing human activities is between doing the same (or less), or doing more but with given uncertainties. We want to do more, as Asa Bjering from CPMR said, and do it in the different roles that we have, as Jacob Granit from SWAM said.

Research topics that seem to be in high demand are those covering human activities, trade-offs in decision making, and concrete solutions to environmental problems, and recovery paths under changing climate, as well as development of indicators and threshold values, circular economy, socio-economic issues. Still, basic research is needed. Desires have also been expressed for science to serve regional needs, and also addressing the needs of each country. 

For policy-science interface, I refer to my statement from this morning that each of us need to fully appreciate both the scientific work and policy processes, as both are needed to reach our common goal. It is not a trivial task at all for a manager to identify the important message in a scientific result. Neither is it easy for a scientist to figure out by who, where and how decisions are being made. But we can help each other, as HELCOM and BONUS already do.

In this context I would like to highlight the notion by Sigi Gruber from the Commission to appreciate the need for capacity building to both communicate science but also to embed it in the policy process, and to allow to engage with stakeholders in a meaningful way on macro-regional, national or local levels. We need to plan for such capacities to be in place in our doings, invest in it, and have science plans in each of our organizations. We also need discussions on transparency when developing scientific products, which equally apply to any policy process, so stakeholders can learn the rules of the game and realize what is in it. 

There were a number of points raised on the process of policy-making – imagine all the complexity that has been pointed out today; and now put it in the context of the nine coastal countries in the Baltic, 16 countries in OSPAR, not to mention the number of countries involved in the EU decision making process. This is, in a nutshell, why international policy making processes are perceived as slow. Perhaps we are as fast as one can be in the Baltic Sea, in HELCOM or in OSPAR, given the international setting and complexities. So the more important question to me is: how effective are the measures – do the decisions bring the desired change in reducing pressures and impacts?  

This leads to a BIG question - why has Good Environmental Status not yet been achieved, and when it will be achieved? This is a very pertinent question in the Baltic Sea that will stay with us for longer period of time, and I am convinced that it will become a burning question in other sea regions and other policy areas as well.

One of the issues to look at in this context is the implementation of agreed measures, and making sure that new actions and measures are concrete – as rightfully pointed out by Prof. Bonsdorff. In the future, we need better knowledge on the effectiveness of measures, something that both HELCOM and OSPAR are planning to analyze – based on the current information as part of the update of the BSAP and North East Atlantic strategy, respectively.

HELCOM will look into the newest scientific results and prepare a synthesis on the effectiveness of measures and on the conditions influencing the achievement of GES, including climate change. We would not propose such synthesis to be done to Contracting Parties with such a confidence if it was not for the BONUS projects and the relevant information it produced.

Here, I would like to bring one message from today, by the SOIL2Sea project – Changes in land use and agricultural practices can have similar or larger impacts compared to climate change.

I am very hopeful towards a future joint Baltic Sea and North Sea research and innovation programme. Such a programme is being prepared under the EU-funded project BANOS CSA, which stands for “Baltic and North Sea Coordination and Support Action”. HELCOM is one of the strategic partners in this project, together with ICES, OSPAR and JPI Oceans.

A future joint Baltic Sea and North Sea research and innovation programme is an opportunity and we must see it in that way. It is an opportunity to explore new ways of cooperation across the two sub-basins, provide scientific underpinning to policy integration, and it fits well into the “westward” extension trend – or engaging ourselves into the wider processes.

It is an opportunity to engage stakeholders from the early stage in creating a future research agenda, as was done in BONUS. Joining up and pooling resources of countries makes sense, as demonstrated well in the Baltic Sea, and can now be extended to a greater geographical area. We should aim to have a strong research agenda, good mechanisms for administrative and financial management of the programme, and ensuring long lasting impact of the funded research. So, our contribution to this process is important to make it a success.

To finalize, I would like to recall that the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development for 2021-2030. This decision of the UN recognizes science as a prerequisite for managing the ocean sustainably. The extensive and impressive BONUS legacy, and BANOS CSA, the future research programme that will come out of it and which we have started to co-create today, can be seen as our contribution to the UN Decade of Ocean Science.