Estonia can still get on board with European Union plans to limit deforestation and put in place other policies which relate to climate change goals, provided appropriate compensatory or mitigating measures are applied, according to MP Raimond Kaljulaid (SDE).
The policies could significantly impact the forestry sector and also peat cutting and other areas of agriculture and the environment, while former environment minister Erki Savisaar has called the effects of the Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) on Estonia potentially "catastrophic", adding that state officials should have pursued the issue more forcefully, and earlier, at EU level, including with the European Commission and with the Council of the EU, where all 27 member states are due to formally agree to the plan, on June 28.
Raimond Kaljulaid said: "We will probably be forced to concede that there is no prospect of talking about significantly reducing these obligations."
"But the Estonian representatives have been given the task of renegotiating flexibility and compensatory measures," Kaljulaid added after a meeting of the EU's environmental council (ENV) on June 28, where the LULUCF is on the agenda.
The commission also gave the government guidance on how to proceed with a possible vote – a relatively unusual event at Council of the EU-level.
The decision whether to vote against the package or continue support it largely depends on the mitigation measures that Estonia hopes to receive, Kaljulaid said.
At stake is the fairness of the EU's green transition in relation to more heavily forested member states like Estonia.
"However, considering how important the forestry sector is for Estonia, and especially for our already less populated rural areas, and what the implementation of the goals set by LULUCF may mean for it, there is reason to assume that some mitigation measures will be found here," he said.
Meanwhile Erki Savisaar, who was environment minister from November last year to the start of this month and also sits on the Riigikogu's EU committee, stressed that Estonia must reserve its right to vote against the LULUCF.
Savisaar told ERR Monday that: "Even if we are left on our own, this will demonstrate that there is a problem with [the LULUCF]. Or, even to demonstrate ten years from now that we said there was a problem with it but that you did not listen to us."
"If we start to reduce agriculture, forestry and peat production by a quarter. in order to fulfill a number that has nothing to do with the climate, this is not economically or socio-economically sensible," Savisaar said.
"The effects on Estonia will be catastrophic."
Estonia should have presented its views earlier and more forcefully at European Commission level, Savisaar added.
The talks were also hindered by the fact that hammering out Estonia's positions domestically at the Riigikogu was a protracted process, he added.
It is possible that more attention should have been paid to the matter ahead of the autumn 2019 decision to support the EU line on full climate neutrality for 2050, Savisaar added – Savisaar did not reject the EU principle but said that the route there might better be handled by each member state individually, given the different temperaments in negotiating which the representatives of the various member states exhibit, he said.
The European Commission unveiled the "Fit for 55" proposals last summer, while the domestic government set out Estonia's initial positions near the end of the year, meaning the Riigikogu EU Affairs Committee only confirmed Estonia's positions at the end of January this year.
Savisaar added that he does not see much likelihood of the other member states will moving significantly nearer to Estonia's positions.
"There is a slim chance that this case will not be closed during the French presidency and it will go to the next presidency. Then something may come from there," Savisaar said.
France's stint as president nation of the Council of the European Union ends on June 30, when the Czech Republic will take up the baton.
"However if France still pushes things hard, because the major countries in Europe are behind it, it will be quite difficult to reopen the file [later]," Savisaar added.
Raimond Kaljulaid said that he hoped representatives of all EU member states will be able reach a compromise at the ENV which would also take into account at least some of Estonia's concerns and avoid obligations that Estonia might not be able to fulfill in any case.
Since several member states have already been able to agree on the exemptions they need, it may be even more difficult for Estonia to find allies in disputes, he added.
He also rejected Savisaar's implicit criticism of officials representing Estonia's positions.
The government is still jointly responsible for this, and at that time the Center Party was still in government, Kaljulaid said (Center exited office on June 3 – ed.).
"It is not up to politicians to blame the officials, but rather the government must give the officials enough resources and their support to defend our positions. Pointing the finger at the officials does not move live forward," he said.
"Politicians could better ask what they did not do and look in the mirror," Kaljulaid added.
The Riigikogu's EU affairs committee approved Estonia's positions on Monday, by 10-4 votes.
In eight day's time the position of the EU Member States will be agreed on how to meet the climate targets already decided.
The LULUCF Regulation provides for Carbon sequestration - the means of capturing and storing atmospheric CO2 with the goal of reducing global climate change, and is a part of the "Fit for 55" policy, which aims to cut net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55 percent by 2030. As noted, Estonia signed up to "Fit for 55" in 2019.
Acting environmental minister and current rural affairs minister, Urmas Kruuse, said Friday that Estonia was not alone in opposing the LULUCF, though the majority of member states will be in favor.
Claims have been made that implementing LULUCF could cost up to 14,000 jobs in Estonia and might lead to a situation where, for instance, grass-fed beef cattle raised on land covered by LULUCF would not end up on the dinner table as its sale would be forbidden.
Editor: Andrew Whyte