Today, the Riigikogu deliberated the matter of significant national importance “Climate-neutral Estonia by 2035?”, initiated by the Environment Committee.
Reports were delivered by member of the Board of the Estonian Green Movement and interest protection expert Madis Vasser, Chair of the Environment Committee Yoko Alender, Minister of the Environment Tõnis Mölder, and senior researcher in climate change economics at the University of Cambridge and Co-Chair of the Science and Technology Council of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Annela Anger-Kraavi.
Vasser spoke about the public initiative “Climate Neutral Estonia 2035”, to which signatures had been collected already a year and a half ago. “At that time, the world was somewhat different. For example, the European Parliament had not declared climate emergency yet. There was also no global pandemic and no changes in way of life, that probably were rather unthinkable at that time,” Vasser said.
Vasser pointed out that the people and organisations that had signed the petition wanted the government of Estonia to act quickly and decisively in order to stop the climate change. “Estonia must achieve climate neutrality through science-based solutions that involve the whole society. These solutions must be fair, environmentally sustainable and smart. All this must be done by 2035,” the speaker said.
He asked a rhetorical question: what is climate neutrality. “It means the greenhouse gases emissions and their sequestration reaching zero in total in Estonia. No matter how much emissions we release into the atmosphere, we must be able also to remove the same amount from there over the year. But I want to underline that is not just one agreed-upon date or year, like 2035, it is more of a gradual process of how to reach that target and afterwards retain what has been achieved,” Vasser said.
In conclusion, Vasser said, “Climate-neutral Estonia 2035 is necessary, because in that way, we can be the bellwethers of the green transition and not be blown around by it. And it is possible because the awareness of the necessity of those changes has spread in society and various measures have been sufficiently analysed. This goal is valuable because it gives a brave purpose to society, a clear framework to the private sector and a greater weight to biological diversity.”
Alender said that in her opinion, this was one of the most substantial and serious petitions she had had the honour to deal with during her five years in the Riigikogu. The Environment Committee has discussed the petition in 2019 and 2020 at altogether seven sittings, and has consulted with other committees.
Alender highlighted some initiatives that were important from the climate point of view and were being dealt with. “The energy sector development plan is being updated and the transition to renewable energy in both production and consumption is sped up. The Ministry of Defence is about to acquire radars that will free territories in East-Viru County for the production of wind energy. The maritime areas thematic plan will be completed in order to speed up establishing of offshore wind farms. Preparation of hydrogen roadmap is also under way, first Estonian companies are trying to participate in the all-European financing scheme of the sector,” Alender noted.
She added that in order to motivate people to get involved in the energy sector as community, the emergence and functioning of local renewable energy cooperative societies is encouraged. The local benefit instrument developed by the Ministry of Public Administration should motivate the local governments to bring investments to their region. “Green energy transition could actually be carries out gradually in the whole public sector, being an example and transferring to the use of renewable energy. Increasing of energy efficiency is naturally also continued,” Alender explained.
She also pointed out some specific recent proposals that could be tackled together. “Following the example of other Nordic countries, a Climate Council consisting of leaders of the state, scientists and business people could be established at the Government Office. Together, the Climate Council would draw up a roadmap for Estonia for achieving climate neutrality by 2050. The private sector has already gone half of the way here. Let us meet them and move on faster together,” Alender said.
Chair of the Environment Committee underlined that from now on, we would set climate neutrality as a national target, and initiate the updating of the Fundamentals of Climate Policy until 2050.
Mölder emphasised that the Estonian climate policy was influenced not only by Estonia, and a global approach was necessary here. “The decisions made at the UN and also at the European Union level will certainly influence Estonia’s views in these issues in many aspects,” the Minister of the Environment said. He explained that in 2016, Estonia had ratified the Paris Climate Agreement, and its target was to keep the rise of global average temperature preferably below 1.5 C in comparison to the pre-industrial time. At the European level, the European Green Deal has also been adopted, and this is the action plan of changing the sustainability of the European Union economy. Reaching climate neutral European Union by 2050, at the same time ensuring fair transition, is the foundation for achieving that.
“A legally binding climate neutrality target is that soon these major goals will also be enshrined in European climate legislation. Estonia supports climate neutrality across the European Union by 2050 and agreeing about the activities of the European Union to achieve that,” Mölder said. In his opinion, in this way we can ensure that all Member States will contribute to achieving this target and we will create equal conditions on the market.
The Minister of the Environment explained that the objectives of Estonian climate policy were formulated in two documents adopted in 2017. “Fundamentals of Climate Policy until 2050” sets reducing the emission of greenhouse gases by 80% by the year 2050 as the long-term aim of Estonia. In order to achieve that, an interim target has been set that by 2030 we will reduce the amount of emissions nearly 70%.
“One of the great priorities of the Government is to raise Estonia’s climate ambition, including achieving total climate neutrality by 2050. This target is already integrated in the development strategy “Estonia 2035”, which at the moment is being discussed in the Riigikogu,” Mölder said. He added that we were planning to include the grater climate ambition also in the national development documents.
Mölder explained that, in order to achieve climate neutrality, exiting fossil fuels, including oil shale as energy sources had a central and key role. Therefore, the Government has set the target of ending electricity production from oil shale by 2035. He underlined the word ‘electricity’. “We can see already today that besides environment protection, producing electricity from oil shale is no longer competitive namely from the economic point of view.
Mölder considers it important that the transition to climate neutrality should take place step-by-step and in such a way that the planned investments could be implemented in reality. “The decisions and investments we make in the next ten years are of key importance to achieving our targets,” the Minister of the Environment said.
In the opinion Annela Anger-Kraavi, climate neutrality as such is a theoretical concept. “It is a time point when it will be achieved,” she said. She spoke of emissions we could not reduce, among which often international aviation and shipping were mentioned, or there were other sectors, for example, agriculture had emissions that were hard to reduce. All these should be extracted from the air in some way, be it other natural means, like forest, grasslands or wetlands, or with the help of technologies. “In the second half of this century, at some moment, there should be a point when the emissions we still emit and those we extract achieve balance. Now we have to think what will come after that,” Anger-Kraavi said. In her opinion, it is necessary to offer a longer-term vision than climate neutrality by 2035 or 2050. “Ideally, the amount of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases extracted after that should be greater than the amount we emit,” Anger-Kraavi said. She called the situation a striped zone. “Otherwise, without that, we will not achieve limiting or cannot limit the global man-made warming to 1.5 C in comparison to pre-industrial revolution time,” she explained.
She also spoke of IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “It is their 1.5 C report, the special report that was adopted in 2018, which shows us where we are now,” Anger-Kraavi explained. She noted that the diagram started with 2010, and at present the emissions were increasing, but by 2030, the global emissions should have been reduced by half, and from then on, in about 2055 or 2050, they should be at zero.
“After that, the emissions should be negative, which means that more CO2 is absorbed from the air that emitted there,” Anger-Kraavi said. However, in her opinion, it is important to keep in mind that besides CO-gases, there are also other climate factors, other greenhouse gases, as well as soot. They, too, should be reduced in order to achieve climate neutrality. “When we speak of climate neutrality, we actually speak of reducing the amounts of all gases that affect climate, also black carbon or soot. So that catching carbon dioxide from the air partially compensates also the fact that those other greenhouse gases or factors cannot be reduced to zero,” she explained.
IPPC proposes four scenarios on how, and what could be done, to achieve climate neutrality, to achieve that we absorb carbon dioxide from the air. After that report, in 2020, when the UN Convention on Climate Change called on countries to present long-term climate change strategies, strategies for fighting against climate change, several countries have already promised that they wanted to achieve their climate neutrality by one or another moment in time.
Anger-Kraavi asked a rhetorical question whether Estonia should achieve climate neutrality by 2035. “In Principle, yes. I think, as I said before, that it is necessary to see beyond that, what comes after that.”
During the debate, Jevgeni Ossinovski (Social Democratic Party), Üllar Saaremäe (Isamaa), Imre Sooäär (Centre Party), Peeter Ernits (Estonian Conservative People’s Party), Annely Akkermann (Reform Party) and Eduard Odinets (Social Democratic Party) took the floor.
Photos (Erik Peinar, Chancellery of the Riigikogu)
The video recording of the sitting will be available on the Riigikogu YouTube channel.
(Please note that the recording will be uploaded with a delay.)
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