Erki Savisaar: Crisis requires green turn efforts be stepped up

Erki Savisaar.
Erki Savisaar. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

We need to generate electricity using oil shale until we have found steerable alternatives ensuring energy and supply security as well as environmentally friendly ways of maintaining grid frequency, Minister of the Environment Erki Savisaar writes.

When it comes to steps necessary for hitting climate targets, we must admit that failure to make uncomfortable choices and considerable investments now might greatly reduce our choices down the line and saddle the coming generations with much higher cost. The green turn is a solution and opportunity for boosting our competitive ability.

The green turn stands for innovation in all walks of life and directly concerns everyone, our environment and health. Whereas technology needs to be harnessed in the service of human well-being. Therefore, we need to expedite the green turn to solve crises that have come to cast a shadow on our everyday life.

The green turn is not a new initiative that will see us do different things in completely different ways in Estonia. What it means is picking up the pace of achieving recent goals. We are not starting from a clean slate as several strong initiatives are in the works, with the green deal giving us a framework to go on.

Oil shale to remain until solutions found

A balanced and versatile energy portfolio is at the heart of ensuring energy security. Hydrogen, wind and solar, biogas and biomethane, waste fuel and nuclear – by combining them, we need to put together a necessary energy portfolio that is as safe as possible for both the environment and people.

It is important to map, weigh and explain to the people the potential risks. That is why, as education minister, I am chairing the nuclear energy working group that will determine the effects of building a nuclear power plant in Estonia by the end of next year. This will allow the government to make a carefully considered proposal. The final decision is up to the Riigikogu.

We need to keep turning oil shale into energy until we find steerable alternatives ensuring energy and supply security as well as environmentally friendly ways of maintaining grid frequency. Oil shale remains one of Estonia's most important natural resources, which is why we need to think of ways and find environmentally friendly technologies for continuing to make use of it for the benefit of our people.

Several important milestones are looming in waste management. It is certain that we will not hit our targets on the central government level alone. Local governments play the lead role in achieving recycling goals and their contribution must grow in the coming years.

We need even more purposeful action to develop separate collection systems and ways of focusing on regional solutions for sorting and recycling.

Let us keep materials and work in Estonia

Material collected in Estonia should also be given value in Estonia. Packagings collection that has now been in effect for years is not followed by sufficient local sorting and recycling volume. Every year, around 20,000 tons of plastic collected in Estonia gets sent abroad for processing, with both work and material moving out of the country without creating any local value added.

Estonia currently only uses biowaste for compost, even though it has great energy potential. Work is underway to construct an anaerobic biowaste treatment or biogas factory in Maardu with a projected annual capacity of handling 20,000 tons of biowaste. The factory would give Estonia the ability to recycle its kitchen and restaurant waste.

Biogas created when agricultural and food waste is fermented together can be used to fuel buses and tractors, with the biomass byproduct used as fertilizer for our fields.

I consider sustainable and affordable water services to be another important priority, with more help needed for regional water utilities.

Unfortunately, only three or four water companies catering to major cities can make do without subsidies today. Estonia has a total of around 150 water companies. That is why it is my goal to develop regional water utilities. The need to support smaller regions will remain, with political agreements needed to ensure funding in the sector.

If we want water services to be sustainable and affordable ten or 20 years from now, we must make decisions today.

Considerable effect on environmental data

All the aforementioned fields have one thing in common. High-quality and accessible environmental data is of key importance in managing climate change, reducing pollution, protecting diversity and promoting circular economy. A European study from last year on the economic effect of open data found the impact of environmental data to be as significant as that of its healthcare and financial counterparts.

We must not underestimate global cooperation, which is one reason Estonia, working with the UN environmental program, launched the Data for the Environment Alliance (DEAL) initiative.

The alliance helps shape global environmental data policy and is working to make sure environmental data is of high quality and available. The DEAL initiative allows Estonia to share our best practices in data and digital solutions fields and promote business and climate diplomacy.

Working towards hitting climate targets and fostering the economy and employment are inseparable. We need to make smart use of different solutions and means to support development in Estonia, including in Ida-Viru County and other regions. Also using European support from the just transition and recovery funds.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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