The Baltic Sea and the Chesapeake Bay have the same iconic status for the people living close by. Another thing they have in common is the fact that their water protection goals and related decision-making are mostly based on natural scientific data. Economics and social sciences could improve the efficiency of the decision-making process, as well as provide a deeper understanding of the impact of incentives on people’s behaviour and the benefits from conservation to citizens.
The Baltic Sea and the Chesapeake Bay in the eastern part of the United States are some of the world’s largest bodies of brackish water. Millions of people live around these water bodies in several countries or states. The most important environmental problem is eutrophication, caused by an excessive amount of nutrients, and its harmful effects: lack of oxygen, turbidity and algal blooms.
The Baltic Sea and the Chesapeake Bay in the eastern part of the United States are some of the world’s largest bodies of brackish water.
Reduction goals have been set for nutrient loads for both the Chesapeake Bay and the Baltic Sea. The goals have been divided among the local countries or states. The abatement targets are based on scientific modelling of how much the loads must be reduced to reach the environmental goals. The Chesapeake Bay model also estimates how abatement measures affect nutrient emissions. Achievement of the reduction targets is being monitored by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission – Helsinki Commission (HELCOM).
There are a total of six states in the Chesapeake Bay catchment area, but only two of them with shoreline. There are nine coastal countries in the Baltic Sea region, plus five other countries in the catchment area. The countries and states have different views on water quality protection, and the economic effects of the actions vary by country and state, as the costs and benefits from protection are unevenly distributed.
Reducing the nutrient loads from agriculture is a challenge in both regions.
Reducing the nutrient loads from agriculture is a challenge in both regions. In the United States, the states independently decide on the regulation of agriculture, while the agriculture of the Baltic Sea countries, except for Russia, is controlled by the common agricultural policy of the European Union.
The effectiveness of agricultural measures depends on the location and the type of farm where they are implemented. Higher load reductions could be achieved by means of targeted actions, but practical implementation of such actions is challenging. Both in Europe and in the United States, there has been discussion on result-oriented or pay-for-performance agricultural policy where environmental subsidies would be paid according to the achieved benefits – such as the improvement of the status of water systems – instead of funding actions.
Economics and social sciences can contribute significantly to water protection.
Economics and social sciences can contribute significantly to water protection. The information provided by the research could be utilised in the setting and prioritisation of environmental goals, and in the assessment of the benefits gained by citizens from the protection. Furthermore, cost-effective actions could be identified and the impact of incentives on the behaviour of farmers could be assessed. This would increase the efficiency and acceptability of policies to reduce eutrophication.
Some individual projects have been able to showcase integrated ecological-economics research, and currently interdisciplinarity is often a requirement for obtaining research funding.
A future challenge will be producing high-quality research that thoroughly combines natural sciences and social sciences and aims to respond to topical policy-relevant questions. Transoceanic cooperation provides new perspectives and benefits for both research and decision-making.