Preface A joint commitment to saving the Black Sea

The Black Sea: A Unique Environment

Almost one third of the entire land area of continental Europe drains into the Black Sea. It is an area which includes major parts of seventeen countries, thirteen capital cities and some 160 million persons. The second, third and fourth major European rivers, the Danube, Dnieper and Don, discharge into this sea but its only connection to the world's oceans is the narrow Bosphorus Channel. The Bosphorus is as little as 70 metres deep and 700 metres wide but the depth of the Black Sea itself, exceeds two kilometers in places.

The large natural river supply of phosphorus and nitrogen, essential nutrients for marine plants and algae, has always made the Black Sea very fertile. The tiny floating marine plants known as phytoplankton which form the base of the marine food chain are either eaten or die and gradually fall to deeper waters where bacteria take care of decomposing them, almost completely. Replenishment of the bottom waters of the sea with new seawater from the Mediterranean takes hundreds of years. The bacteria in the bottom waters quickly consume all the oxygen and the sea is virtually dead below a depth of about 180 metres. The Black Sea is the biggest natural anoxic basin in the world. Despite this situation, for millennia, its surface waters supported a rich and diverse marine life. Its coastal inhabitants prospered from the abundant fisheries and, more recently, from the millions of tourists who flocked from all over eastern and central Europe to bathe in its warm waters and enjoy the beauty of its shorelines, plains and mountains.

The Black Sea in Crisis

In a period of only three decades, the Black Sea has suffered the catastrophic degradation of a major part of its natural resources. Increased loads of nutrients from rivers caused an overproduction of tiny phytoplankton which in turn blocked the light reaching the sea grasses and algae, essential components of the sensitive ecosystem of the north-western shelf. The entire ecosystem began to collapse. This problem, coupled with pollution and irrational exploitation of fish stocks, started a sharp decline in fisheries resources. To make matters worse, in the mid 1980s, a jellyfish-like species (Mnemiopsis leidyi), which was accidentally introduced to the Black Sea from the eastern seaboard of America in the ballast water of a ship, invaded the Black Sea. Its diet included fish larvae and the tiny animals small fish feed upon. It quickly reached a total mass of 900 million tons (ten times the annual fish harvest from the entire world!). Though declining, Mnemiopsis continues to plague to Black Sea but this is not the only problem. Poor planning has destroyed much of the aesthetic resources of the coastlines. Uncontrolled sewage pollution has led to frequent beach closures and considerable losses in the tourist industry. In some places solid waste is being dumped directly in the sea or on valuable wetlands. Tanker accidents and operational discharges have often caused oil pollution. All of this came at a time when five of the Black Sea countries were facing an economic and social transition and were unable to take the necessary urgent remedial actions.

It does not require much insight to appreciate that the exploitation of the Black Sea's resources in the past few decades has been unsustainable. The environment of the Black Sea has deteriorated dramatically in terms of its biodiversity, habitats, fisheries resources, aesthetic and recreational value and water quality. The Black Sea has many "uses", ranging from fishing, tourism and mineral extraction on one hand, to its use as a cheap transport route and as a convenient place to dump solid and liquid waste on the other. Many of these uses have an additional economic cost through their impact on the environment. The present environmental crisis has been precipitated largely by ignoring these hidden costs. Like so many environmental issues, by paying little or no attention to these "costs", they have been conveniently transferred from one generation to the next.

The Need for International Action

The resources of the Black Sea - and its problems - are shared by six coastal countries, Bulgaria, Georgia, Romania, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine. Management of the Black Sea's shared resources is the responsibility of these countries but part of the responsibility for controlling aquatic and airborne pollution should also be shared amongst the other eleven countries which have a major part of their territory in the Black Sea basin. Protection of the Black Sea cannot be achieved on a unilateral basis. Almost every use of the sea and coastal areas has the potential for affecting the well-being of neighboring countries. Even pollution restricted to the vicinity of an industrial plant may affect the economic development of another country by killing juvenile fish which would have otherwise migrated to its coastal seas. On the other hand, countries may wish to overexploit their part of a migrating resource in order to deny access (and advantage) to the neighbours. Joint management and protection of shared marine living resources is one of the few available options to countries bordering the Black Sea. In this manner, a better sense of ownership of the Sea's resources can be attained and "owners" tend to protect their property more than those enjoying a free service. There is a strong need for harmonizing legal and policy objectives and for developing common strategies for investment in the control of pollution. Use of the "commons" space must be carefully regulated so that one "user" does not deprive another of his or her rights. Furthermore, only concerted international action can hope to do anything to protect the biological diversity of the Black Sea. Everyone living by the Black Sea or visiting it wants to enjoy the benefits of a healthy environment .... but who should make the first move?

A Strategy Develops .... and the Black Sea Environmental Programme is Born

The first move was to establish a new legal framework for cooperation. Inspired by the Regional Seas Conventions which emerged after the 1972 Stockholm Conference on Environment and Development, representatives of the Black Sea countries drafted their own "Convention for the Protection of the Black Sea Against Pollution". This Convention was signed in Bucharest in April 1992, and ratified by all six legislative assemblies by early 1994. The "Bucharest Convention" includes a basic framework of agreement and three specific Protocols on: the control of land-based sources of pollution; dumping of waste, and; joint action in the case of accidents (such as oil spills). Its implementation will be overseen by a Commission with a permanent secretariat in Istanbul (the Istanbul Commission).

In order to set the goals, priorities and timetable needed to bring about environmental actions, a Ministerial Declaration on the Protection of the Black Sea Environment was signed by all six Ministers of the Environment in Odessa in April 1993. Based largely upon the Agenda for the 21st Century adopted at the 1992 Rio Summit of World Heads of State, this innovative document set the stage for three years of change.

In order to make an early start to environmental action and to develop a longer-term Action Plan, the Black Sea countries requested support from the Global Environment Facility, GEF, a fund established in 1991 under the management of the World Bank, the UN Development Programme and the UN Environmental Programme. In June 1993, a three-year Black Sea Environmental Programme was established with US$ 9.3 million funding from GEF and collateral funding from the European Union (Phare and Tacis), The Netherlands, France, Austria, Canada and Japan. ....The BSEP was born!

The Black Sea Environmental Programme

Although most Black Sea countries had a considerable number of dedicated experts, including scientists, engineers, economists and lawyers, the linkage between their work and national and regional decision-making on environmental matters was often poor. National environmental legislation was often based upon objectives and standards which were too strict to be enforced or were not linked to effective economic instruments such as fines or permit charges. As a result of years of isolation, many institutions lacked the modern equipment and know-how necessary to face the challenge of providing reliable information on the state of the environment itself. Such information is the cornerstone for improving environmental policy and for developing a longer-term prioritized policy of actions, including investments. In many cases though, investments were urgently required to reduce or eliminate obvious major "hot spots" of pollution, particularly those which were already having an impact on human health.

These realities were addressed at first meeting of the Black Sea Environmental Programme (BSEP) Steering Committee which took place in Varna, Bulgaria, in June 1993. At the meeting, high level representatives of the Black Sea Governments met together with the GEF Partners, donors and representatives of Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs), in order to define a three-year workplan. The meeting selected as three overall BSEP objectives: to improve the capacity of Black Sea countries to assess and manage the environment; to support the development and implementation of new environmental policies and laws; and to facilitate the preparation of sound environmental investments. The first BSEP challenge was to rebuild the institutional linkages which were needed at a local, national and international level in order to effectively assess priorities and to manage the environment. But how could this goal be achieved in a region which frequently lacked modern means of communication and was in the midst of a profound economic and social crisis?

In order to improve the capacity and forge new linkages, a system of thematic Working Parties was established, based upon regional "Activity Centres". Each Black Sea country agreed to host one of these Centres and corresponding National Focal Points were established for each Centre in each of the other countries. For general programme coordination, a Programme Coordinating Unit (PCU) was established in Istanbul by the UN Office for Project Services on 2 January 1994. It works directly with the National Coordinators, high level government officials appointed by the Ministers of Environment. The PCU has a small expert staff which manages project financing, liaises with donors, governments, specialist agencies and NGOs and also coordinates Working Parties on environmental economics and legislation, data management and geographical information systems and tourism. For their part, the NGOs are very active in programme implementation, have organized national and regional NGO fora for the Black Sea and select two representatives as observers to the BSEP Steering Committee. The entire BSEP network has been linked by electronic mail, a cost effective and reliable communications tool.

In order to achieve its objectives, BSEP has developed a close relationship with other partners and organizations with similar goals. These include major donors, organizations such as the Black Sea Economic Cooperation and the NATO Science for Stability Programme, specialized UN Agencies and International NGOs. The BSEP programme includes the supply of essential instruments, training, pilot and demonstration projects and pre-investment activities. The World Bank plays a particularly important role, in close cooperation with the PCU, in the identification of urgent investment projects and with assistance to the Black Sea countries to facilitate the investments themselves.

What has been Achieved?

Establishing and operating a network linking over 40 institutions around the Black Sea proved a difficult but rewarding task. Some 27 thematic Working Party meetings were held, in many cases providing the first opportunity for specialists from all six countries to share information and jointly design workplans. The process has been further facilitated by the successful completion of the electronic mail network, including a Black Sea bulletin board.

A major emphasis has also been given to capacity building, focusing on improving skills for assessing and managing natural resources and the environment. In 1995 alone, the BSEP, including co-sponsors and associated partners, mobilized almost 1000 experts to more than 50 workshops, meetings and training sessions. The BSEP has also contributed more than $1.5 million to re-equipping its pollution monitoring network. In order to increase public awareness, BSEP recruited the support of NGOs as well as producing its own popular newsletters, films and posters.

Since effective environmental policy requires accurate and accessible information, each BSEP working party is prepared national and regional thematic reports. Together with the Black Sea Data System (developed with support from The Netherlands) and the Black Sea Geographic Information System, these ensure the ready availability of information and analysis to scientists, managers and national and regional-level policy-makers.

Finally, the BSEP's environmental investment programme, led by the World Bank, has supported the development of an Urgent Investment Portfolio, which has already led to a US$ 18 million emergency concessionary loan to Georgia. Among other activities, this loan is financing the rehabilitation of municipal services for the coastal cities of Batumi and Poti together with provisions for coastal zone management along the Georgian Black Sea coast.

What will be Done Next?

Correcting decades of destructive use of the Black Sea is a task which will require a huge initial effort during the next decade, to be followed by sustained action on a permanent basis. An assignment of this magnitude will require careful planning and coordination among the many partners who will be involved, in particular the national and municipal governments of the six coastal countries. For this reason and at the governments' request, the BSEP has assisted with the preparation of a strategic Black Sea Action Plan to be presented to a Ministerial Conference for adoption in October 1996. More than a piece of paper with a theoretical scheme for cleaning up the environment, the Plan has to be a pragmatic and unambiguous statement of common goals and objectives and the means of their achievement.

The Transboundary Diagnostic Analysis

The first step in creating the Black Sea Action Plan was the completion of a systematic scientific analysis of the root causes of environmental degradation in the Black Sea.. Which ones cause actual degradation? What sectoral activities cause the degradation and how serious is it? What are the information gaps, policy distortions, institutional deficiencies? Information on stakeholders and public involvement are also essential so that economic and social aspects can be included. The analysis of root causes, termed a Transboundary Diagnostic Analysis (TDA) was completed on 22 June 1996. The document was prepared by a group of sixteen leading specialists, drawn from fourteen countries including all six Black Sea countries, together with the five PCU specialist staff. Together they analysed the thematic reports based upon the work of over 100 Black Sea specialist cooperating through the BSEP network. The results of this work were condensed into the series of analytical tables presented in this document and employed as a basis for the preparation of the Strategic Action Plan itself.

Towards a Sustainable Future

Sustainable development of the Black Sea will require continued, even enhanced, international cooperation. The Black Sea Action Plan, once adopted by the six coastal countries, together with the Bucharest Convention, will form a comprehensive framework for sustainable regional management. However, success will depend on thorough implementation of the actions and commitments contained in these agreements. Governments will have to give priority to implementing and enforcing existing laws and policies, and urgent investments will be required. Black Sea coastal and basin countries will need to reaffirm their joint commitment to reducing pollution and over-exploitation of the Sea's biological and aesthetic resources. The international community will have to contribute effectively and in a coordinated manner. Perhaps most of all, local communities will need to see for themselves how their efforts can contribute to a better future. Their sense of pride and ownership will have to be restored. Only in this way will the Black Sea be able to serve as the keystone of the sustainable development of the surrounding coastal economies. Sharing responsibility is more difficult than exchanging blame. Yet with a concerted effort, the beauty and richness of the Black Sea can be enjoyed by present and future generations alike. We hope that this document will make a small but significant contribution to these noble aims.


See also

Welcome What is the Black Sea Transboundary Diagnostic Analysis
Guide Users’ guide to the Black Sea Transboundary Diagnostic Analysis
Contributors Contributors to the Black Sea Transboundary Diagnostic Analysis
Contact How to contact authors and designers
Acronyms Abbreviations used in the Black Sea Transboundary Diagnostic Analysis