Maritime spatial planning (MSP) is a public process of analysing and allocating the spatial and temporal distribution of human activities in marine areas to achieve ecological, economic, and social objectives that usually have been specified through a political process. (Definition according to UNESCO initiative on Maritime Spatial Planning)
The revised Action Plan of the European Union Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region (EUSBSR) has got 14 policy areas (PA). One of them is Spatial Planning, which includes Action 2: Ensuring coherent maritime spatial plans throughout the Baltic Sea.
The overall goal of this policy area is to increase territorial cohesion in the Baltic Sea Region (BSR). The maritime spatial planning in the Baltic Sea Region is coordinated by HELCOM-VASAB MSP Working Group (https://helcom.fi/helcom-at-work/groups/helcom-vasab-maritime-spatial-planning-working-group/). The new Regional Baltic Maritime Spatial Planning Roadmap 2021-2030 was adopted in October 2021.
I asked Mr. Joacim Johannesson from the Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management and Ms. Natalia Zając from the Polish Ministry of Infrastructure about their opinions on the process of MSP development and coordination in the Baltic Sea Region.
How does maritime spatial planning increase territorial cohesion in the Baltic Sea Region?
Mr. Johannesson: The Baltic Sea Region has been a frontrunner in regional transboundary cooperation on maritime spatial planning. In a decade-long process, we have experienced the benefits of joint learning in developing MSP. Our extensive cooperation has led to a better understanding of each other’s planning and circumstances. Our methods and planning evidence have been refined. In addition, there is now more likelihood for functional coherence between the countries’ maritime spatial plans. MSP has in turn contributed to advancing marine management by providing new ways of thinking and methods on how to address marine and maritime challenges. It has also strengthened and broadened the regional cooperation. All of this has supported territorial cohesion.
What is the impact of the revised EUSBSR Action Plan on your work?
Mr. Johannesson: The EUSBSR Action Plan contains a specific action to ensure coherent maritime spatial plans throughout the Baltic Sea Region. The new Regional Maritime Spatial Planning Roadmap 2021-2030 will follow-up on the implementation of maritime spatial plans as well contribute with guidance on how to assess and achieve coherence. There are also other interlinkages with the Action Plan such as a fostering sustainable blue economy, aspects related to offshore wind energy development and the provision of new data for better maritime spatial planning to mitigate human pressure.
What are the main goals of the revised Regional Baltic MSP Roadmap beyond 2020?
Mr. Johannesson: The new Roadmap is building on previous work on maritime spatial planning within and between the Baltic Sea Region countries, but also has some specific new elements. The Roadmap will support the implementation of the plans and prepare for the next planning round. One specific action is to develop a regional follow-up system on MSP, including monitoring at the Baltic Sea Region level. The goal of the new Roadmap is strengthening the joint effort and coherence throughout the Baltic Sea Region to implement maritime spatial plans, aiming for sustainable development of the region and building a sound basis for an adaptive MSP process applying the ecosystem-based approach.
The Roadmap outlines the anticipated regional work on MSP to be carried out by the HELCOM and VASAB Members. The Roadmap includes five objectives with 26 actions:
- Implementation of maritime spatial plans builds a knowledge base for the new MSP-cycle,
- MSP improves regional policy coherence,
- MSP contributes to achieving progress towards good environmental status of the Baltic Sea set in the Baltic Sea Action Plan,
- MSP contributes to the sustainable blue economy,
- MSP contributes to climate change mitigation, adaption and increased resilience of the BSR.
Ms. Zając: The Regional Baltic MSP Roadmap 2021-2030 takes account of the new phases we are heading to – implementation and monitoring of MSP. It also addresses – as much as it is possible – the burning regional and global issues, such as climate change, biodiversity and good environmental status of the Baltic Sea.
What are the main challenges for the implementation of maritime spatial planning in the Baltic Sea Region?
Mr. Johannesson: There are a number of challenges. There is still a need for more joint and coherent data on human pressures and the marine environment. In the transboundary cooperation, the national legislation and planning systems may sometimes be a challenge (even though the EU member states base their legislation on a common EU framework directive). There are quite different geographical planning scales and the maritime spatial plans are different in nature, from plans being quite strategic in some countries to being detailed and more binding in other countries. Even though the countries share the overarching goals such as within the EUSBSR and the Baltic Sea Action Plan (HELCOM) there are also sometimes various national priorities relating to specific issues.
Ms. Zając: In my opinion, the main challenges for the implementation of MSP in the Baltic Sea Region are related to the proper understanding of the MSP’s provisions and its position in the country’s legal system. To effectively implement the MSP it is important that all the stakeholders apply it in good faith.
In your opinion, what are the best practices in MSP in the BSR so far?
Mr. Johannesson: An extensive transboundary and cross-border collaboration is a best practice that is now very well developed in the Baltic Sea Region. Another best practice is early dialogue and involvement between the countries in the national planning processes.
Ms. Zając: The best practice in MSP in the BSR is real cooperation between the countries. Thanks to the HELCOM-VASAB MSP Working Group and the Baltic Sea Region Maritime Spatial Planning Data Expert Sub-group the BSR countries can regularly exchange experience and raise issues referring to the MSP process, as well as receive constructive feedback from the fellow planners. The members of these groups really contact each other when it is needed – to arrange a bilateral consultation meeting or to exchange relevant MSP data. Such cooperation creates a positive vibe and builds a strong fundament for coherent plans.
As we can see from the mentioned opinions, Maritime Spatial Planning in the Baltic Sea Region can be used to mitigate turbulences, explore synergies, and reconcile nature conservation and economic development to build a more coherent Region. Let’s keep our fingers crossed for the successful implementation of the Regional Baltic MSP Roadmap 2021-2030!
By Rafał Rolka, Let’s communicate! project