Estonians breathe cleaner air but sea water pollution remains a problem
Estonians enjoy cleaner air and Estonia has greater biodiversity than most other European countries, but the state of the coastal waters and high material resource use continues to pose a problem, the European Environment Agency's (EEA) assessment found.
EEA's quinquennial review "The European Environment - State and Outlook 2015" (SOER 2015) showed that EU's strict environmental policies have led to cleaner air and water, less waste sent to landfills and more recycling, but Europe still remains a long way from achieving the objective of "living well within the limits of the planet" by 2050, as set out in the 7th Environment Action Program.
Organic farming up, waste production and GHG emissions down
On a positive note, Estonia stands out for organic farming: its relative share of organic farming (14.9 percent) within the total utilized agricultural area is third highest in Europe. Only Austria (18.6 percent) and Sweden (15.8 percent) show a higher figure. Estonia also managed the third highest growth of organic production between 2006-2012.
Estonians create less municipal waste per capita than most other European nations. The rate of landfilling decreased 28 percentage points between 2004 and 2012.
It has made similarly good progress in meeting the emission ceilings set by the NEC Directive of the Gothenburg Protocol. The three Baltic states recorded the largest relative reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of all European Economic Area (EEA) countries from 1990-2012, but despite decreasing the total amount of GHG emissions by 53 percent, Estonia still remained the third highest offender in the EEA in 2012.
The report also points out that in terms of energy policy, Estonia, together with Austria and Finland, sets a good example for good practice concerning education, capacity building and energy audits.
Material resources use and state of coastal waters cause for concern
However, Estonia is second highest in Europe for material resource use (DMC) per capita, behind Finland. Estonia was also one of very few countries that experienced a decline in resource productivity from 2000-2012.
The increase in DMC use could be put down to large-scale infrastructure investments and the oil shale industry. The latter means that Estonia is energy independent but has a large environmental footprint. In the period 2007-2011, 79 percent of total waste produced in Estonia comprised of waste from the oil-shale and energy industries. However, these are actively seeking ways to recover and reduce waste.
The other problem is the state of coastal waters. Although Estonia has been building modern wastewater treatment plats and is modernizing its industry to diminish air and water pollution, in 2013, 34 percent of the monitored water bodies were considered as being in a moderate status or worse. Haapsalu Bay is offers an especially sad example: although Haapsalu's modern wastewater treatment facility was completed in 1998, pollution accumulated in bottom sediments still has an effect due to the shallowness of the bay and poor water exchange. The conditions of Lake Peipsi are also deteriorating.