Mart Raamat: Buckle up drivers! For the last time

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Mart Raamat. Source: Private collection

It is to be hoped that the Estonian government has at least for the time being decided that the European Union's new climate plan cannot cost Estonians more than the Dutch or Germans, that transport needs to remain available and life in the countryside possible, Mart Raamat, head of the Estonian Oil Association, writes.

Wednesday was no doubt historic in the context of the European and global climate struggle – the European Commission unveiled its mammoth climate measures package that paints a picture of how to become the first climate neutral continent by the middle of the century.

The volume of the package is unprecedented, covering 13 different legal initiatives on nearly 4,000 pages and treating with everything from forestry to aviation and from cement production to road transport.

Another milestone is that the climate struggle has for the first time reached a point where every person will need to ask themselves how it affects them. While reducing greenhouse gases has in the past been the concern of major industrial companies and left individuals largely unaffected, people will come to realize in the second half of the decade that the price of hitting the targets countries have agreed on can be very high indeed.

It was only a few hours after Commission President Ursula von der Leyen declared that the fossil fuel-based society will be left behind in Europe that publications reported how the ambitious climate package almost split the Commission. Commissioners from various leading parties expressed opposition to the package that is set to hit the poorer part of society especially hard.

Dark clouds over EU institutions stem from plans to interfere in the transformation of the transport sector. A cautionary tale from France is still fresh in people's memory – the 2018 "yellow jackets" unrest that followed sharp fuel tax hikes. Similar reactions are feared once the Commission's plan of notably hiking the price of transport mid-decade starts to materialize.

The European Commission wants to completely ban the sale of internal combustion vehicles by 2035. Finally, Lenin's plan of electrifying the entire nation will come to fruition, jesters might say.

While electric vehicles are an effective way to reduce CO2 emissions in the transport sector, Europe is planning on putting all of its eggs in the same basket and ignoring the long-standing principles of subsidiarity and technological neutrality. Switching to electric vehicles might be the most cost-effective solution in densely populated Central Europe, while power infrastructure investments needed in sparsely populated Estonia where a lot of families directly depend on their vehicles would be much more expensive and the risks much greater.

One shudders to consider the options of a family living in a remote forest farm that an autumn storm leaves without power for several days. That said, it is quite possible that living in the countryside will only be a privilege of the wealthy by then – considerably higher fuel taxes would make using a motor vehicle a luxury for rural area residents who tend to earn lower salaries.

True, the package prescribes the creation of a social fund meant to compensate the most vulnerable social groups for negative effects of the green turn. Creating such a mechanism is no doubt a just goal – studies show that the consumption habits and climate behavior of wealthier people is what has contributed to growing emissions in recent years.

At the same time, transport expenses eat up a considerable part of the income of less fortunate people, while realization of climate plans would hike that percentage further. The Commission estimates that 34 million people or ca 8 percent of EU citizens could find themselves in "energy poverty" as a result of the green turn.

The fund to be created – that will draw from higher taxation of fuel consumers – is expected to distribute around €10 billion a year in 2025-2032. It will no doubt be a complicated task of redistribution for Estonia – the important thing is to make sure support reaches those in need instead of allowing the wealthy part of society to buy luxury EVs a little cheaper.

In any case, Estonian state officials are looking at a hot rest of summer – shaping Estonia's positions requires thoroughly analyzing the mammoth package. In addition to Estonian industry that is threatened by the package, the people also need protecting.

It is to be hoped that the Estonian government has at least for the time being decided that the European Union's new climate plan cannot cost Estonians more than the Dutch or Germans, that transport needs to remain available and life in the countryside possible.

But the pessimist in me cannot help but point out that the government has so far demonstrated anything but willingness to protect the Estonian people and business environment in the climate crisis struggle. Questionable environmental decisions see the government plan to shut down industry in Ida-Viru County and hike the price of motor fuel for individuals and companies alike without a second thought. But there will always be hope that the government will eventually turn its countenance back toward people and companies in the green transition.

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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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