Jaak Aaviksoo: Climate policy and national interests

Jaak Aaviksoo.
Jaak Aaviksoo. Source: Anna Aurelia Minev/ERR

I am in no way contesting the need to rise to climate challenges, while actual results depend more on careful consideration and responsibility than pace and ambition. The green turn will still need to observe Estonia's national interests.

Eesti Energia's trendily green mobile app reported the market price of electricity at €19.4 cents per kilowatt-hour on Wednesday. It was €4.95/kW in September of last year. A hike of more than four times. Considering annual power usage, the hike constitutes additional expenses in the total volume of €1.5 billion for the Estonian people. The ballpark is that of annual education funding.

There are a lot of reasons/explanations, but all of them can be summed up as EU climate policy and its Estonian counterpart. Climate change requires action and perhaps forceful intervention, while our decisions will need to be carefully weighed, responsible and universally understandable.

The European Commission unveiled its "Fit for 55" regulatory measures plan aimed at keeping the promise of Ursula van der Leyen's Commission to build a climate-neutral Europe by 2050 in July, on the 232nd anniversary of the taking of the Bastille. It introduced a much more ambitious than previously goal of reducing CO2 emissions in the EU by 55 percent compared to the 1990 level by 2030. Estonia has assumed the obligation to curtail its emissions by no fewer than 70 percent.

The public rhetoric accompanying the package is based on an enthusiastic growth strategy. We will introduce restrictions on consumption and hike the price of polluting but in a way to foster economic growth and prosperity, boost employment and global competitiveness, social equality etc.

It simply isn't possible – the green turn has a price. And one shouldn't buy something without knowing how much it costs. We don't even know if we can afford it at all, whether in Europe or Estonia.

It is unfortunate that the climate package's effects analysis fails to answer simple questions, such as how much will electricity, an airline ticket to Brussels, a car ride to Tartu or heating an average apartment in January cost in the future. Without answers to said questions, it is irresponsible to close power stations or ban internal combustion engine vehicles and wood burning furnaces.

Reducing carbon emissions is in our national interests, while "survival throughout the ages" is more important. It also pays to know that Estonia's carbon emissions make up 0.04 percent of the global total, and that China's emissions grew tenfold compared to the 20 percent the EU saved in 1990-2018.

Estonia is expected to shape a position on the climate package's proposals in the near future. It requires serious public debate of balanced interests that would concentrate on finding solutions, concrete challenges and relevant risk and cost assessment, instead of long-winded rhetoric assurances, as has unfortunately happened in the case of the foundations of climate policy recently passed in the Riigikogu.

The government has convened a green policy managing committee and a panel of experts for this purpose. I would very much like to hope that the green turn's cost, risk and effects analysis will occupy a prominent position in their work and reach the wider public before relevant political decisions are made.

I am in no way contesting the need to rise to climate challenges, while actual results depend more on careful consideration and responsibility than pace and ambition. However, even more important is broad-based public support that requires open and honest communication also as concerns the unavoidable expenses of the green turn.

The green turn will need to take into account Estonia's national interests to mirror the approaches of our partners near and far.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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