24 Jan 2019

Clean seas in the Nordic–Baltic region

Water is at the core of human activities and a critical resource for food production, energy systems, drinking and sanitation. It is no surprise that this vital resource is increasingly coming under pressure from human activity, through excessive use, untreated waste streams and plastic pollution.

Water is also at the heart of adaptation to climate change. Some 90% of all natural disasters are water-related, according to the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction. Approximately three in ten people live in low-lying coastal areas or flood-prone zones. Focused action on better management of water is needed, as recognised by UN Sustainable Development Goal 6: “Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all” and Goal 14: “Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development”.

The Nordic-Baltic region is blessed with rich water resources, and NIB intends to help protect these for the future. Eutrophication—excessive richness of minerals and nutrients, inducing excessive growth of plants and algae that deplete oxygen—has been evident in the Baltic Sea for many decades. This is due to past high, and still excessive, inputs of nitrogen and phosphorus. Inputs of nutrients from land have decreased in recent years, but the effect of these measures is not yet generally reflected in the status of the marine environment. Further measures therefore need to be implemented. The fight to reduce eutrophication in the Baltic Sea catchment area is not over.

Improving the environment is one of the pillars of NIB’s mandate and NIB has played an important role in the protection of the Baltic Sea for decades. Over the past fifteen years, the Bank has financed numerous projects with positive effects on the marine environment and the quality of surface and groundwater.

Among the most important projects financed by NIB were the completion of a wastewater treatment plant and a 12-kilometre sewage collector in St Petersburg in Russia, the largest city in the Baltic Sea region—and once its largest polluter. The NIB-financed project completed the city’s decades-long efforts to reduce discharges of untreated effluent into the Baltic Sea. The Bank is also financing investments in discharge-cleaning projects in its member states, and in Poland and Belarus.

Although not entirely part of the catchment area of the Baltic Sea, large parts of the Danish and Norwegian marine and coastal ecosystems are also affected. The pressures range from fisheries, aquaculture, shipping, and oil and gas production, to runoff of nutrients and other pollutants from onshore industry, agriculture and wastewater treatment, and marine litter. In addition, pollutants reach marine ecosystems through long-range transport in the atmosphere and with ocean currents.

Investments in modern water infrastructure is a necessity for cities to be sustainable and to protect natural resources. The limits of the existing infrastructure currently restrict further urbanisation and economic development of growth areas. A large part of the existing wastewater treatment capacity, which was built in the 1970s, is approaching the end of its technological lifetime. These treatment facilities need to be replaced or heavily refurbished.

Water can also cause severe disruption when in excess. Low-lying coastal land is susceptible to climate change through rising sea levels and violent storm events. Adaptation to climate change is an increasing concern for many of NIB’s member states. Active and passive control systems are therefore needed. Municipalities constantly invest in improvements of public infrastructure, particularly in environmental protection and adaptation to climate change. Society is becoming more and more aware of environmental risks and threats, and is starting to be more concerned about the quality of the environment and the resilience of the infrastructure around us.

NIB intends to continue and intensify its efforts towards a cleaner and smarter water infrastructure and management in the Nordic-Baltic region, contributing to the objectives outlined by the HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan and the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive. NIB’s Nordic-Baltic blue bond intends to support this by focusing investments on the protection of water resources in Nordic and Baltic waters.

This bond allows us to target activities to protect our waters for the future.

Luca De Lorenzo

Luca De Lorenzo

Head of Sustainability and Mandate at NIB