EU climate goals package meets mixed reception with Estonian politicians

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Climate neutrality requires new wind farms and curbing of greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture Source: TASS / Scanpix

The European Union's long-range climate neutrality proposals package was rolled out Wednesday and has been met both by enthusiasm, by environment minister Tõnis Mölder (Center), who notes it is tailored to Estonia's biggest challenge in the area, the oil shale sector, and by rejection by leader of the opposition Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE), Martin Helme, who has dismissed it as 'insanity'.

The deal has also divided Brussels, with up to a quarter of European Commissoners opposing it, according to some reports.

The European Commission adopted a package of proposals on Wednesday aimed at repointing the EU's climate, energy, land use, transport and taxation policies towards reducing net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55 percent, by 2030, when compared with 1990 levels.

Minister of the Environment Tõnis Mölder (Center) says the measures will have a tangible effect, despite their not being revolutionary.

Environment minister Tõnis Mölder. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Mölder said: "Achieving climate neutrality cannot be left to fate, and, in any case, it brings important benefits to society: more energy efficient homes that are cheap to heat and cool; a cleaner environment; greener transport; and a greener and stronger energy system".

Estonian civil servants sifting through proposals

"In the coming months, we will discuss the matters related to the package with stakeholders and ministries to shape Estonia's negotiating position," Mölder, who noted the EU package had been worked on over a lengthy period of time, continued.

Estonian authorities are now starting to work through the package, while the government will formulate its views on required legislation submitted for negotiations, involving stakeholders, later this year, BNS reports.

The national goal is to reduce greenhouse gases by 70 percent by 2030; while Estonia has already reduced emissions by 64 percent when compared with 1990's levels, BNS reports, the country's carbon footprint per capita is the fourth largest in Europe.

EKRE leader: Measures are 'insanity'

Opposition Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) leader Martin Helme says the package should, however, be rejected.

Helme told ERR Thursday that the measures were "Insanity - a big quarrel is coming, it is sure a big quarrel is coming, and I think sooner or later we'll come to the conclusion that the Gilets Jaunes riots were essentially a rebellion against climate goals."

EKRE leader Martin Helme. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The electorate has not given its assent to the measures in any EU member state, and were instead the result of climate hysteria.

Helme said that:  "In fact, there is nothing wrong with the climate, the climate has been changing since the dawn of time – it changed before there were any people, and will change after them too," adding that the climate is affected by the sun and by processes under the earth's crust.

"The content of this package is a supercharged ideological statement to the effect that all industrial economic activities to date are harmful to the planet, and must be wiped out," he went on.

The EU will start taxing industry, he said, something which will be carried ou simply under the pretext of climate, which will in turn lead to higher prices, including for essentials like food and energy.

"Tax sovereignty must remain with each country," he added.

Environment minister: Good that measures take into account situation in individual member states

Meanwhile, Tõnis Mölder, the environment minister, said the fact that the climate package takes into account the specifics of each member state – in Estonia's case the oil shale sector – is key, while it also engenders novelties such as separate emissions trading system for road transport and buildings.

Previously, the trading system applied only to carbon-intensive industrial sectors such as steel and fertilizer production, electricity generation and shale oil refining, he said.

Minister of Economic Affairs and Infrastructure Taavi Aas (Center) said that whereas earlier the achievement of Europe's climate objectives were primarily met via the energy sector, the bigger picture is now being looked at, and transport is receiving greater attention too.

Aas said that: "If road transport is incorporated into the emissions trading system, it is important that its revenues are channeled back to the member state, meaning Estonia, for green investments."

With the measures and other projects, Europe aims to become the world's first climate-neutral continent by 2050, and Wednesday's proposals represented the commission's legislative tools for delivering on targets agreed in the European Climate Law which fundamentally transform Europe's economy and society for a fair, green and prosperous future, the European Commission claims.

Work been several years in the making

The Green Deal was first presented in December 2019, while the European Climate Law enters force this month, and the climate goals were announced before the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in December 2020, making up the EU's contribution to meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement.

Existing EU climate and energy legislation has already slashed greenhouse gas emissions by 24 percent compared with 1990's levels, BNS reports, while the EU economy has grown by around 60 percent over the same period, meaning growth has been decoupled from emissions.

EKRE leader Martin Helme, however, said that the Center/EKRE/Isamaa coalition, in which he had served as finance minister, had rejected several aspects of the package, primarily relating to taxation.

If the entire European economy were to stand idle, nothing would change much in terms of carbon emissions worldwide, he claimed.

Tõnis Mölder nevertheless notes the European Commission has been looking for more ways to speed up changes, for instance with new vehicle emission requirements, the establishment of a cross-border interoperable alternative fuels infrastructure and the improvement of the energy efficiency of buildings through a renovation wave are planned.

Green Deal declares war on greenhouse gas emissions

The commission also presented an increase in the Modernization Fund and a new Social Climate Fund this week, to help countries meet these targets and support low-income households in the green transition.

Wednesday's proposals will enable the necessary acceleration of greenhouse gas emission reductions in the next decade. They combine: application of emissions trading to new sectors and a tightening of the existing EU Emissions Trading System (ETS); increased use of renewable energy; greater energy efficiency; a faster roll-out of low emission transport modes and the infrastructure and fuels to support them; an alignment of taxation policies with the European Green Deal objectives; measures to prevent carbon leakage; and tools to preserve and grow our natural carbon sinks.

The EU ETS puts a price on carbon and lowers the cap on emissions from certain economic sectors every year. It has successfully brought down emissions from power generation and energy-intensive industries by 42.8 percent in the past 16 years. The Commission is now proposing to lower the overall emission cap even further and increase its annual rate of reduction. The Commission is also proposing to phase out free emission allowances for aviation and align with the global Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) and to include shipping emissions for the first time in the EU ETS. To address the lack of emissions reductions in road transport and buildings, a separate new emissions trading system is set up for fuel distribution for road transport and buildings. The Commission also proposes to increase the size of the Innovation and Modernization Funds.

To complement the substantial spending on climate in the EU budget, member states should spend the entirety of their emissions trading revenues on climate and energy-related projects. A dedicated part of the revenues from the new system for road transport and buildings should address the possible social impact on vulnerable households, micro-enterprises and transport users.

The Effort Sharing Regulation assigns strengthened emissions reduction targets to each member state for buildings, road and domestic maritime transport, agriculture, waste and small industries. Recognizing the different starting points and capacities of each member state, these targets are based on their GDP per capita, with adjustments made to take cost efficiency into account.

Member states also share responsibility for removing carbon from the atmosphere, so the Regulation on Land Use, Forestry and Agriculture sets an overall EU target for carbon removals by natural sinks, equivalent to 310 million tons of CO2 emissions by 2030. National targets will require member states to care for and expand their carbon sinks to meet this target.

Climate neutrality in some areas as early as 2035

By 2035, the EU should aim to reach climate neutrality in the land use, forestry and agriculture sectors, including also agricultural non-CO2 emissions, such as those from fertilizer use and livestock. The EU Forest Strategy aims to improve the quality, quantity and resilience of EU forests. It supports foresters and the forest-based bio-economy while keeping harvesting and biomass use sustainable, preserving biodiversity, and setting out a plan to plant three billion trees across Europe by 2030.

Energy production and use accounts for 75 percent of EU emissions, so accelerating the transition to a greener energy system is crucial. The Renewable Energy Directive will set an increased target to produce 40 percent of our energy from renewable sources by 2030. All member states will contribute to this goal, and specific targets are proposed for renewable energy use in transport, heating and cooling, buildings and industry.

To meet both Europe's climate and environmental goals, sustainability criteria for the use of bioenergy are strengthened and member states must design any support schemes for bioenergy in a way that respects the cascading principle of uses for woody biomass, it is argued.

Martin Helme: Electric cars at least as harmful to environment as fossil fueled-vehicles

Martin Helme remains unconvinced, stressing that no one is opposed to conserving the natural environment and reducing pollution, but that, for example, the purpose of the electric cars set out in the EU's climate package has nothing to do with that in actuality, in his opinion.

Helme said that: "Electric cars are at least as harmful to the environment as, for example, diesel or petrol cars. Their production and subsequent disposal is extremely damaging to nature."

The distance between charging points for electric cars being every 60 kilometers across the union, regardless of the size of the country, was not logical, he added, noting that distances between fuel filling stations have generally been set by the market.

Package in brief (source: BNS):

    • New proposal for a carbon border mechanism to prevent carbon leakage, moving production to third countries with lower climate requirements.
    • Foreseen rise in national ambition for the Shared Commitment Regulation sectors, meaning transport, agriculture, waste, etc., and the Land Use and Forestry (LULUCF) sectors; as well as raising the EU's renewable energy and energy efficiency targets for 2030.
    • The Energy Efficiency Directive will set a more ambitious binding annual target for reducing energy use at EU level. It will guide how national contributions are established and almost double the annual energy saving obligation for member states.
    • Public sector will be required to renovate 3 percent of its buildings each year to drive the renovation wave, create jobs and bring down energy use and costs to the taxpayer.
    • Combination of measures is required to tackle rising emissions in road transport to complement emissions trading. Stronger CO2 emissions standards for cars and vans will accelerate the transition to zero-emission mobility by requiring average emissions of new cars to come down by 55 percent from 2030 and 100 percent from 2035 compared to 2021 levels. As a result, all new cars registered as of 2035 will be zero-emission.
    • To ensure that drivers are able to charge or fuel their vehicles at a reliable network across Europe, the revised Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Regulation will require member states to expand charging capacity in line with zero-emission car sales, and to install charging and fueling points at regular intervals on major highways: Every 60 kilometers for electric charging and every 150 kilometers for hydrogen refueling.
    • Aviation and maritime fuels cause significant pollution and also require dedicated action to complement emissions trading. The Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Regulation requires that aircraft and ships have access to clean electricity supply in major ports and airports.
    • The ReFuelEU Aviation Initiative will oblige fuel suppliers to blend increasing levels of sustainable aviation fuels in jet fuel taken on-board at EU airports, including synthetic low carbon fuels, known as e-fuels. Similarly, the FuelEU Maritime Initiative will stimulate the uptake of sustainable maritime fuels and zero-emission technologies by setting a maximum limit on the greenhouse gas content of energy used by ships calling at European ports.
    • The tax system for energy products must safeguard and improve the single market and support the green transition by setting the right incentives. A revision of the Energy Taxation Directive proposes to align the taxation of energy products with EU energy and climate policies, promoting clean technologies and removing outdated exemptions and reduced rates that currently encourage the use of fossil fuels. The new rules aim at reducing the harmful effects of energy tax competition, helping secure revenues for member states from green taxes, which are less detrimental to growth than taxes on labor.
    • New Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism will put a carbon price on imports of a targeted selection of products to ensure that ambitious climate action in Europe does not lead to 'carbon leakage'. This will ensure that European emission reductions contribute to a global emissions decline, instead of pushing carbon-intensive production outside Europe. It also aims to encourage industry outside the EU and our international partners to take steps in the same direction.
    • The EU's long-term budget for the next seven years will provide support to the green transition. A total of 30 percent of programs under the e2 trillion 2021-2027 Multiannual Financial Framework and NextGenerationEU are dedicated to supporting climate action; 37 percent of the e723.8 euro Recovery and Resilience Facility, which will finance member states' national recovery programs under NextGenerationEU, is allocated to climate action.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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