Viljar Kirikal: Government not ready for pivotal climate turn

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Viljar Kirikal. Source: VKG

The European Commission will on July 14 unveil an even more ambitious climate neutrality measures package called Fit for 55. The package that will force the Estonian economy down the path of extensive restructuring and heralds a massive change in consumer habits requires heightened attention, Viljar Kirikal, head of regulatory relations at VKG, writes.

The government needs to be ambitious in knowledge before adopting the Commission's latest climate ambition. To make sure its decisions serve the interests of Estonians instead of Brussels bureaucrats, the cabinet will need to give us a clear vision of broad-based measures as part of an extensive social contract, relevant expenses and sacrifices that need to be made in different sectors for achieving climate neutrality.

Estonia has hit its climate target two decades in advance

Estonia has reduced the intensity of greenhouse gases by 70 percent since 1990. The Europe-wide goal for 2030 is 40 percent the hiking of which to 55 percent is now being discussed. Therefore, Estonia has already complied with this requirement on the level of 2040+.

It is yet unclear whether Estonians will have to continue paying for, with even bigger expenses than recently, the obligations of Germany, Poland, Italy, France and other major polluters in Europe and what it will cost.

Climate obligations of other countries have so far fallen on the shoulders of companies that are part of the Estonian emissions trading system – mainly the oil shale chemistry and power industry and the by now extinct cement industry.

Companies that make up the system have reduced the intensity of greenhouse gases by around 70 percent (2020 vs 2005). This in a situation where sectors that are not part of the system, such as transport and agriculture, have added to their emissions.

The government is out of simple political solutions for fitting Estonia into the Commission's climate framework. We are looking at painful economic and social changes, including in transport and agriculture.

Last year, agriculture alone contributed 1.5 million and transport nearly 2.4 million tons of emissions for ca 35 percent of all 2020 emissions (11.1 million tons in total).

Estonians headed for painful social change

The UN proposes that our climate impact needs to fall by 2.4 times by the year 2030 compared to today – for total emissions of 4.6 million tons. If that is what the government's vision prescribes, we will need to put in a massive self-sacrificing effort in the next nine years which course will need to be maintained. We will need to reach an annual output of just 0.8 million tons by 2050. We need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 14 times compared to the current situation! The end goal is full climate neutrality that remains wishful thinking today.

There can be no doubt that our lives will change beyond recognition with this decision.

For example, new taxes and fees to fade out road vehicles that use internal combustion engines. The International Energy Agency finds that such vehicles should be completely banned 14 years from now. It also needs to be explained how animal husbandry, forestry, construction and sparsely populated areas can be married to the climate neutrality dogma.

The Swiss were asked for their consent for climate policy regulations at a referendum. The people said "no."

Unlike in Switzerland, the people do not get to make climate policy decisions in Estonia. Whether relevant calls are made by the Riigikogu elected to protect the interests of the people or the European Commission will become clear in the next year and a half.

Global greenhouse gas emissions are growing. Globally dialing back emissions requires an international effort using measures than can credibly provide results.

Unfortunately, the Paris Agreement does not provide such measures. The agreement is not universal and only outlines general efforts.

The International Energy Agency has regarded a credible international climate policy agreement to be an absolute and time-critical precondition for keeping the temperature from rising to unsustainable levels. Achieving that precondition in the coming years remains highly unlikely in light of previous experience.

The government's responsibility in realizing the climate plan must start with an honest, transparent and fair exchange of information. It is high time for the government to open a dialogue with the people for shaping the main theses of Estonia's climate plan and listen to what the people can and are willing to tolerate in the process.

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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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