Time short for EU climate goals' impact on Estonian agriculture, forestry

Minister of Rural Affairs (and since June 3 caretaker environment minister) Urmas Kruuse (Reform).
Minister of Rural Affairs (and since June 3 caretaker environment minister) Urmas Kruuse (Reform). Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

The Estonian state is engaging in last minute negotiations to mitigate any negative effects of imposing European Union climate package goals on its forestry and agricultural sectors which could cost up to 14,000 jobs, ERR reports.

In the most extreme examples provided, grass-fed beef cattle raised on land protected under the EU policies would not end up on the dinner table – since the sale of the meat would be forbidden.

The issue could be seen as somewhat of a clash between the sparsely forested and densely populated core of western Europe, and many member states in the Central and Eastern Europe region, where the situation is more or less the reverse.

There were 11 days left in which to find a solution, i.e. by June 28, at the time of speaking rural affairs minister Urmas Kruuse (Reform) said Friday, adding that the Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) policies, which among other things reduce forest felling volumes, disproportionately affect Estonia.

Kruuse said that Estonia was not alone in opposing the LULUCF, though the majority of member states will be in favor.

Kruuse said: "The number of countries that could support this goal is definitely higher than the number of those that do not."

At the same time, since the measures originate from the European Commission, in the normal run of things the matter would not be voted upon, meaning any ad hoc vote would in effect take the form of a protest at that level at Council of the EU-level.

The matter also concerns two of Estonia's ministries – rural affairs, headed up by Kruuse, and environment, whose ministerial post is currently vacant following Prime Minister Kaja Kallas' dismissal of all seven Center Party ministers a little over two months ago – Kruuse is doubling up in the meantime.

Kruuse called the (EU) measures damaging in the short-term.

"This short-term goal can only be achieved by reducing felling volumes, peat production and agriculture," said Kruuse.

"Excess grasslands should be afforested. There has also been talk of ending the cultivation of peat soils and transferring these to permanent grassland use."

Other concerns in addition to LULUCF include European Commission proposed rules against deforestation. "Estonia has also used deforestation to restore historical landscapes through the reproduction of semi-natural communities. This is extremely important in terms of species diversity," Kruuse said.

Kruuse added that the European Commission believes that products which support deforestation should not be sold, something which, again, he opposes.

"In our view, such things could be permitted. Otherwise, it could mean that organic cattle which have been raised on such a [deforested] area, or the timber that had been grown there, should not come on the market at all," the minister went on, adding that Estonia is negotiating on that topic also.

"Negotiations are continuing here too, though may be fruitless. "We have pushed this point of view, both of the Minister of the Environment (formerly Erki Savisaar and before that, Tõnis Mölder – ed.) and the Minister of Rural Affairs, but we are not completely sure that we will be taken into account there either," Kruuse went on.

In general, voting does not take place at Council of Europe, though should the conditions do not become more amenable to Estonia, then representatives might be prepared to do so, but this would be a quixotic gesture.

However, Undersecretary at the Ministry of the Environment Marku Lamp said: "Voting in opposition is certainly something more for show, and in that sense undoubtedly the last thing we want to do.

"We're definitely working to make sure we don't vote against this file," Lamp went on, making diplomacy the key.

"The plan is certainly to meet as much as possible with the French presidency of the Council of the EU, the French minister of the environment, and senior commission officials, and to look for allies as long as we have the right goals," Lamp said.

The state also wants the fact that many of Estonia's forests are ancient – meaning they sequester** less carbon – and the situation regarding pests or diseases naturally occurring in the forest, to be taken into account.

However, making various exemptions for Estonia may affect the general EU being met or not. 

"Which in turn makes us dependent on other countries," Lamp said. "And at some levels, there are also doubts about whether a pan-European goal is achievable. Initially, we would try to gain independence from other countries," he went on, adding he was unable to forecast the results of the negotiations.

The Ministry of the Environment has estimated that up to 14,000 jobs will be lost in the land cultivation and forestry sector if the LULUCF target is met rapidly, while production in the sector would be reduced by a quarter and the state would receive €80 million less in direct tax revenues, ERR reports.

The French presidency of the EU is searching for compromise among member states, though has not come up with a solution which is significantly more suitable for Estonia. 

At home, the government formally adopted the position outlined above, on Thursday, while Kruuse, in his dual role as acting environment minister, reiterated that the government is most concerned about the proposals concerning the LULUCF package – citing 2020 figures which show that the LULUCF sector emitted 1.3 million tonnes of CO2, while by 2030 the same land and the same forests should sequester 2.5 tonnes of CO2.

The EU is overlooking specialist concerns relating to a minority of member states, Kruuse added.

He also said that while time is short on the negotiations, he had first started thinking about the matter during the negotiations on the European Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), last summer.

The policies related to "Fit for 55", which aims to cut net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55 percent by 2030 and would include both a ban on internal combustion engines and the inclusion of the maritime sector within the carbon trading framework.

This still has to be finalized in negotiations between the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament – the package failed at its first attempt at the legislature.

Intergovernmental agreement are due for June 28, when the EU's environment council meets in Luxembourg and the deadline for the negotiations outlined above, at least if the French Presidency of the EU achieves this aim.

Next week is midsummer week in Estonia meaning most of the now 10 remaining days fall on holidays, here, or weekends, while a coalition deal will not be struck in Estonia before June 28.

France's Presidency of the Council of the EU, a role Estonia held in the second half of 2017, ends on June 30.

The European Commission adopted a series of legislative proposals for available translations of the preceding setting out how it intends to achieve climate neutrality in the EU by 2050, including the intermediate target of an at least 55 percent net reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

The LULUCF Regulation slots into this, though EU leaders in October 2014 that all sectors should contribute to the EU's 2030 emission reduction, including the land use sector.

It falls in line with the Paris Agreement, which points to the critical role of the land use sector in reaching long-term EU climate mitigation objectives, its framers say.

*Carbon sequestration is the process of capturing and storing atmospheric carbon dioxide. It is one method of reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere with the goal of reducing global climate change.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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