Doc. 8217

2 October 1998

Energy co-operation in the Baltic Sea region

Opinion1

Committee on the Environment, Regional Planning and Local Authorities

Rapporteur: Mrs Kaarina Dromberg, Finland, European Democratic Group

The Baltic Sea region comprises several Nordic countries, the Baltic States and parts of Poland, Russia and Germany. Even before the Council of Europe’s membership grew and the Organisation encompassed the whole of this geographic area, the Assembly paid constant attention to developments there (cf. Resolutions 189 (1960) and 872 (1987)). More recently, especially since 1989, the Assembly has stated on many occasions that it views the Baltic Sea Region as a test-case for European co-operation, which it has encouraged in many fields (cf. Resolution 995 (1993)).

Energy production is a case in point, in which increased regional co-operation and market integration could have positive effects on the environment. In the Baltic Sea Region, there are significant differences from country to country as regards energy production and sources. Many facilities which date back to the previous political regimes are outdated and inefficient. Furthermore, the breakup of the Soviet Union and the demise of COMECON severed many distribution networks, thus making the newly independent countries more dependent on (now) imported fuels and on whatever facilities were located within their territories. Such is the case of the Ignalina power plant in Lithuania.

Given these circumstances, some were left with no choice but to forgo imports of cleaner fuels such as natural gas and resort to using lower quality fuels (such as coal with a high sulfur contents) for heating and energy production. To quote an example, the consumption of natural gas in Latvia between 1991 and 1996 decreased by 64%. On the contrary, fuel wood and to some extent peat increased nearly 70%. Still today, despite the efforts made, some countries keep relying on heavy fuels, fuelwood and coal as primary energy sources, whereas other, cleaner sources such as hydropower remain less important.

      The readings regarding emissions give mixed results. In most countries the trend points at a decrease in sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrous oxide (NOX) emissions. Many countries have made huge efforts to reform their urban heating facilities (a major source of fine particle emissions) and install sulfur filters in their power plants. Poland, for instance, whose 1989 sulfur dioxide emissions per household were treble the OECD average, has managed to halve them. However, a factor which should also be taken into account is the sharp economic downturn which followed the demise of communism, and which led among other things to a slump in energy consumption and production. Steel production in Estonia, for instance, fell by 50% between 1990 and 1995, and cement production by 70%, which led to lower energy needs. This might also explain, at least in part, the reduction in polluting emissions. But it does not, however, reflect any structural changes in energy production. Where structural changes have been limited, the current economic upswing might lead to a renewed increase of such emissions.

Hazardous waste remains a problem. Some of the Baltic countries still lack proper waste treatment facilities, despite the efforts made by the European Union's Phare programme to help finance them. Recent data points at a decrease in investment in such facilities.

Some of the region's countries have recently joined the European Union, and some others are currently shortlisted as prospective members. This has brought about a wave of legislative measures aimed at adapting national legislation to EU standards, a trend which the committee deems very positive. Further assistance should be provided within the Council of Europe, the OECD, the EU and other European fora to countries in transition, in order to help them harmonize their national environmental legislation and energy policies, as well as their economic legislation (including competition and taxation), to European standards. Moreover, as part of their pre-accession strategy, countries applying for EU membership should set up assistance and cooperation projects at all levels (ie, European, regional and bilateral) in order to promote environmentally sound structural changes and energy choices. Environmentally sound changes will ultimately give these countries a competitive advantage and facilitate their integration into the EU.

Similarly, the region's countries have made an effort to sign and ratify the most significant international environmental treaties. The Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer, for instance, has now been ratified by all of the region's countries. However, some work remains to be done. Some of the Amendments to the Montreal Convention are not yet ratified by all of them, nor are other important international conventions such as the Basle Convention.

European cooperation in questions related to the reduction of polluting emissions such as acid rain and fine particules is crucial for the transition economy countries. It has a direct impact on the neighbouring countries’ population and environment. A considerable proportion of the polluting emissions which burden the air, the waters and the forests in the Baltic Sea area countries comes from such countries and are caused by environmentally unsound energy production. Some progress has been made in some areas but the situation still remains difficult in some parts of the region.

The committee is convinced that a higher level of integration in the Baltic energy market might ease the environmental problems caused by current fragmentation, as it would bring about more transparent prices and a freer cross-border flow of energy, know-how and investments. This should be complemented by further aid in order to help adapt the former communist countries' power plants to European standards, and phase out as soon as possible the RBMK power plants that are still in operation.

The committee backs the conclusions reached by the Committee on Science and Technology and supports the draft resolution the latter is putting forward. For the sake of completing it, the committee should like to table the following amendments :

1. After paragraph 10.iii, insert a new paragraph as follows :

“to tackle the environmental and landscape problems arising from past exploitation of energy sources and, e.g., in the case of a reduction in energy prices, to set aside a percentage of the savings in order to set up a fund for dealing with such problems”.

2. After paragraph 10.xiii, insert a new paragraph xiv as follows :

"regarding the region's countries that have not yet done so, to sign and ratify the Basle Convention on the Control of the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Waste and their Disposal, and the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which sets out special targets regarding greenhouse gas emissions in the transition economies, as well as a timetable for their implementation 

Reporting committee : Committee of the Science and the Technology ( Doc. 8168).

Committee for opinion: Committee on the Environment, Regional Planning and Local Authorities.

Budgetary implications for the Assembly : none

Origin: Doc. 7862 and Reference No. 2207 of 22 September 1997.

Opinion unanimously approuved by the committee on 9 and 10 september 1998.

Secretaries to the committee : Mrs Cagnolati-Staveris, M. Chevtchenko, M. Grau Tanner.


1 See Doc. 8168