Published on Eurasian Perspectives

Addressing Pollution in the Black Sea

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Green sea weed on the rocks on the Romanian Black Sea coast with a fishermen village and boats on the background Green sea weed on the rocks on the Romanian Black Sea coast with a fishermen village and boats on the background

For millennia, the Black Sea has supported economic and human development in the region, and today more than 160 million people living in Bulgaria, Georgia, Moldova, Russia, Türkiye, and Ukraine share the benefits of the Black Sea marine ecosystem. Even though the region has taken actions to overcome environmental risks from development and urbanization pressures, and to protect the Black Sea ecosystem, environmental problems continue to escalate. Pressures from pollution, marine litter, and plastic continue to threaten the Black Sea marine ecosystems and people’s livelihoods. The Black Sea has experienced a distressing increase in pollution over the past two decades, emerging as Europe's most polluted sea.

As a semi-enclosed sea with a vast coastline of over 4,000 km, the Black Sea faces severe environmental degradation, including eutrophication caused by nutrient pollution and the escalating issue of plastic and marine litter. The Blueing the Black Sea (BBSEA) Program, through its proposed programmatic advisory services and analytics (ASA) directly aligns with the commitment of Black Sea coastal countries, including Georgia, Moldova, Türkiye, and Ukraine to work together toward a sustainable and resilient Black Sea by 2030. The program aims to foster regional cooperation in addressing land-based nutrient, chemical, and plastic pollution. By expanding the scope of the BBSEA Program to include marine litter, it addresses a major gap in current efforts and complements existing initiatives.

The ASA within the BBSEA Program tackles the lack of consolidated knowledge and policies action regarding marine litter and plastic in the Black Sea, which was identified during consultations with stakeholders in consultations in Bulgaria, Georgia, Moldova, Romania, Türkiye, and Ukraine as one of the key issues. Plastic pollution, including microplastics, poses a significant threat to the Black Sea's delicate ecosystem. The pollution accumulates due to unsustainable consumption and production patterns, inadequate waste management, and insufficient public awareness. This negatively impacts marine life, biodiversity, and human health, while also affecting crucial blue economy sectors such as tourism, fisheries, and shipping.

The ASA is building on regional partnerships and enhancing sustainable practices in sectors such as fisheries, shipping, and tourism, aligning  with the sub-goals of SDG 14 (Life below water) and SDGs 11 (Sustainable cities and communities) and 12 (Responsible consumption and production). Its emphasis on circular economy principles, including the economic arguments for addressing pollution/plastic and estimating the cost of inaction, fosters innovation, sustainability, and economic growth while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving resource security.

This work's findings are being shared at the same time the INC2 Plastic Conference is happening, where countries are showcasing the need to address plastic pollution in the Black Sea. The study's comprehensive approach, focus on marine litter, and economic arguments for action make it a significant contributor to the region's efforts to safeguard the Black Sea's environment and promote sustainable blue growth. The knowledge and insights generated by the program inform decision-makers and development partners, enabling them to take effective measures and unlock the region's blue economy potential through a set of recommendations for actions towards a possible shift from the business-as-usual scenario to reduce the current pollution and plastic pressures.

As a knowledge product for the respective officials and technical experts in the Black Sea countries and for the regional development partners, the ASA has the potential to support the dialogue on the blue economy agenda in areas, such as healthy marine environmental and actions for mitigation of pollution and plastic.  The most recent is the Common Maritime Agenda (CMA), a unique framework of collaboration on the Blue Economy in the Black Sea region. It is developed as a broader framework of a Black Sea Strategy. There are multiple cross-connections between the strategic objectives of the CMA and the BBSEA Program that could support the countries to perform actions for the common good and acts to reduce the inflow of nutrients from land bases sources.

Tackling the priority areas of pollution and plastics can unlock multiple development opportunities for the countries in the Black Sea region. The growing economic significance of the Black Sea will require an expanded commitment to prevent further land-based and marine pollution with tangible results.


Paola Agostini

Lead Natural Resources Management Specialist, Europe and Central Asia

Eolina Petrova Milova

Senior Environment Specialist

Sameer Akbar

Senior Environmental Specialist, Environment, Natural Resources, and Blue Economy Global Practice, Europe and Central Asia, World Bank

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