Estonia has been able to obtain more favorable conditions in a forestry and land use plan which is part of the European Union's climate change goals, on the eve of the package being approved, Ministry of the Environment undersecretary Marku Lamp says.
The Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) plan, which among other things reduces forest felling volumes, disproportionately affects Estonia due to its heavily forested nature, it has been argued, and Estonian officials and diplomats have been in talks through the week during a meeting of EU environment ministers in Luxembourg, in the hopes of getting better terms.
The LULUCF would pivot Estonia from a CO2 emitter to a position of sequestration, over the next eight years, but could put up to 14,000 jobs in jeopardy, according to some estimates.
Other undesirable side effects, it has been claimed, would include the barring of beef in cases where the cattle in question had grazed on land protected by the LULUCF.
Speaking to ERR's Vikerraadio Tuesday, Lamp said he also believed that the EU's e policies related to "Fit for 55" package was on the verge of being adopted by member states and aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55 percent by 2030.
France holds the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union and has been overseeing progress accordingly, but its term ends on June 30, i.e. Thursday.
Aall the the various regulations of the climate package were on the table at the same time, Lamp said, adding that better conditions in LULUCF, from an Estonian perspective are now in place.
He said: "Such flexibilities have been introduced there, which would help such countries where there is a greater area of soil which is deemed to be peat soil (like Estonia – ed.), and which are more carbon-emitting and therefore more difficult to relocate immediately. Taking that into consideration, the conditions in Estonia have certainly become more favorable."
"So far as natural disturbances are concerned, the presidency [of the Council of the EU] has introduced leeway to take into account the specifics of Estonia."
"We have also seen an increase in the damage to forests by pests, for example. Should this increase further over the next decade, the presidency has provided that additional credits could be used in countries where this problem exists," Lamp went on.
At the same time, there were still some concerns, since the "Fit for 55" package's goals were still quite ambitious, he said.
"Are these flexibilities sufficient to achieve this goal together with our own activities? There is still a bit of ambiguity in this, and one of the key issues for us is certainly that access to the flexibilities today is behind achieving such a pan-European goal. Flexibility can be accessed once the pan-European goal of linking this sector has been met," Lanp went on.
The Ministry of the Environment had estimated that up to 14,000 jobs would be lost in the land cultivation and forestry sector if targets are not met quickly. Production in the sector might be cut by one quarter, while the state would receive €80 million less in direct tax revenue.
Whereas in 2020 Estonia's LULUCF sector would emit 1.3 million tonnes of CO2, then by 2030 the same areas of land and forest should sequester (i.e. the opposite of emit) 2.5 tonnes of CO2.
Estonia is dependent on the performances of other member states regarding the organization of its land use and forestry, Lamp said, while Estonia must still strive to meet its goals, he added.
Vikerraadio host Madis Hindre asked that if by 2030 Estonian forests, arable land, swamps and meadows have to sequester a total of 2.5 million tonnes of CO2 (see above) then what is the real sequestration need in Estonia, considering the flexibilities mentioned above.
Lamp responded that this was difficult to state exactly, adding that the touted flexibilities certainly do not help to cover the entire missing range, while their share is somewhat small.
The government adopted Estonia's positions on the LULUCF last Thursday.
Minister of Rural Affairs and acting Minister of the Environment Urmas Kruuse (Reform) had said the government is most concerned about the LULUCF aspect of "Fit for 55".
The issue could be seen in the light of differences between the sparsely forested and densely populated core of western Europe, and the many member states in the Central and Eastern Europe region, where the situation is more or less the reverse of that – Estonia is around 50 percent forested and has a population density of around 30/sq km, around a quarter of that of the population density of the EU as a whole, and compared with less than 40 percent forest cover for the EU in general (and as low as 10 percent or less in countries such as the Netherlands and Ireland).
Former environment minister Erki Savisaar (Center) had called the potential effects of LULUCF on Estonia "catastrophic".
Urmas Kruuse is holding the environment minister post on a caretaker basis following the dismissal of the Center Party ministers from office at the beginning of the month.
"Fit for 55" also include both a ban on internal combustion engines from, and the inclusion of the maritime sector within, the carbon trading framework.
The Czech Republic will hold the presidency of the Council of the European Union next, a post held by Estonia in the latter half of 2017.
Editor: Andrew Whyte