Photos: Kristian Singh-Nergård
The Palanga Youth Conference 2022: Sustainable progress in times of crisis
Blue and Green Bioeconomy as well as Renewable Energy - these were the central topics of this year's 30th annual conference of the Baltic Sea Subregional State Cooperation network in Palanga Lithuania. 30 young people from 6 countries had come to the pretty little town on the Baltic Sea coast to approach under the term of sustainability the three issues.
First the young people had to explain what exactly they understood by the terms of Blue BioeEconomy and Sustainability. In their perspective both concepts should be thought of together. And also the Green Economy - understood as a circular economy with as low resource consumption as possible - must be part of the solution if the goal is not only to protect the environment in the Baltic Sea, but also to revitalise it to a large extent. After all, about 20 percent of inland sea are considered to be oxygen-poor or completely oxygen-free areas where hardly anything thrives - no fish, crabs, mussels or plants.
On the second day, a visit to the Marine Research Institute of the University of Klaipeda on the Curonian Spit offered insight to the practical aspects of Blue BioEconomy. Here, the focus was on insights into sustainable land-based fish farming as well as the development of biotechnological aquacultures. With its research findings, the institute contributes to make innovative sustainable concepts economically interesting for investors and thus to gradually displacing non-sustainable fish farming.
As an outcome of these introductory workshops, the 30 young people from 6 countries agreed on three basic principles: all activities in the Baltic Sea should fulfil far-reaching sustainability criteria, large parts of the Baltic Sea should be free of any cultivation at all in order to build zones of recreation for nature and biodiversity – and finally nuclear power can not be takes as a sustainable solution for the energy crisis. Sure, offshore wind farms can also have considerable disadvantages, but these can largely be managed, for example through spatial planning, analysis of migratory bird routes and harbor porpoise populations. Here, above all, further research is still needed.
With these positions in mind, youth was prepared for the annual conference, to which numerous experts, politicians and practitioners had come to Palanga's youth and cultural house. At the beginning of the conference the environmental policy aspects played a rather subordinate role. The opening discussion was rather focused on the changed security situation in the Baltic Sea region after Russia's war against Ukraine since 24.2.2022. The panelists, first and foremost Johannes Schraps as President of the Baltic Sea Parliamentary Conference and Grzegorz Poznański General Secretary from the Council of Baltic Sea States CBSS, mainly drew attention to the fact that it could be difficult to keep Russia on board when it comes to protecting the environment in the Baltic Sea. However, Russia had signed various international treaties obliging them to maritime protection, for example the HELCOM agreement and the Baltic Sea Action Plan updated in 2021.
The workshops following offered many innovative ideas on bioeconomy, all of them somehow sustainable, which led to interesting discussions between the generations. Economic, ecologic and social aspects of the bioeconomy where highlighted, whereby the slogan "Keep calm and implement" quickly became the running gag of the conference. But how can the implementation of innovations in the field of sustainability actually be accelerated in reality? The young participants repeatedly pointing out the role of politics to change the framework conditions in such a way that sustainable economic concepts should be fiscally favored and environmentally harmful practices should be prohibited.
Thus, the young people did not let themselves be distracted in the conversations, enquiries and comments. Their task of throwing a spanner in the works and raising uncomfortable fundamental questions was part of their role at the congress. Pointing out contradictions and making the long-term view of the young generation clear was what they were all about. For the next two years this will also be the task of the Youth Board members, which are Karolina from West Pomerania and Andreas from Brandenburg, as well as the Board substitute Jonathan from Viken in Norway. Karolina is definitely someone who wants to work on issues such as human and civil rights, issues that have not been on the agenda of the BSSSC network so far. We can look forward to new impulses and initiatives.
The final presentation by the young people drew attention to the aspect of youth washing. A buzzword bingo was a source of amusement. Phrases such as "The future belongs to you" or "We are counting on you", would help adults to simply pass on responsibilities without seriously being committed to solve the problems in the here and now. Some of the listeners seemed to feel caught. But one thing is clear: The BSSSC Youth slogan “Nothing about us without us” is still the aim. The youth want to be taken seriously, for example by being actively involved at the next Annual Conference in Szczecin 2023 from the very beginning, they want to have the floor at the opening session and the panel discussion. The chances of this are quite good, as with Karolina as a Youth Board Member they have a direct line to the BSSSC Chairman office in Szczecin. BSSSC is definitely on the right track in its cooperation with young people. Youth participation here is anything else then youth washing.