The Gulf of Finland with the cities St. Petersburg, Helsinki and Tallinn and its local coastal zones have continuous potential for economic growth. However there are several serious threats to the ecological sustainability of the area. The potential conflicts are multidimensional including both sectorial and spatial dimensions. The environmental threats are usually complex and versatile. Several of the existing problems have historical roots derived from voluntarily planned economic growth.
Lately the Baltic Sea was proclaimed a Particularly Sensitive Sea Area. It means that the growing intensity of sea traffic is internationally recognised dangerous to the ecosystem and therefore it is necessary to apply additional means for protection of marine environment. Unfortunately the area does not yet include the zone under the Russian jurisdiction.
The intensity of human activities in the Gulf of Finland coastal zone forms permanent threats to the habitats of the area. The environmental NGOs have permanent concern of the situation; they have long traditions of working relationship in several forms of bi- and multilateral international cooperation.
The NGOs unite the most active part of the population. But even if they have massive membership, it will be still not enough to improve the situation. The authorities make the decisions. The authorities form strategies, agendas, spatial planning, etc., all of which have influence to the ecological situation. The process of forming decisions includes the public participation.
In principle almost every citizen shares the concerns about the ecological state in his home settlement and surrounding nature. The problem is, how to unite the voices of everybody, how can the citizens use their environmental rights. The NGOs must play here the key roll.
The states round the Baltic (excepting Russia) have ratified the Arhus Convention on access to information, public participation and access to justice in environmental matters. Now the citizens have legal right to be involved in decision-making, even more - the authorities have obligation to involve population to the process. This is the case of responsibility of the NGOs. They must raise awareness of broad public, they must form common visions, they must demonstrate the will, skills and courage to stand for the interests of people. All of that needs a very practical approach depending of the concrete local situation.
Understanding the mentioned above will give to the environmental NGOs the capacity and basis to fulfil their mission - to protect nature and people from degeneration.
President of the Estonian Society for Nature Conservation.