Future government to face challenging climate decisions

Logging. Source: RMK

The agreement reached last week between the European Parliament and member states over the European Union's climate targets for forestry and land use (LULUCF) did not significantly reduce Estonia's requirements. The future government will have to decide how to accomplish the planned objective.

In the summer, when EU environment ministers, including Urmas Kruuse (Reform) of Estonia, agreed on climate targets for forestry and land use, the timber industry expressed concerns, but the Ministry Of Environment reassured the industry that nothing is certain and that discussions continue.

Officials did not believe that carbon reduction goals could be lowered, as the European Parliament, the other side of the negotiations, was far more ambitious and the majority of decisions were finalized last Friday.

The big numbers have not changed: Estonia's LULUCF sector needs to sequester 2.5 million tons of CO2 by 2030. In comparison, the same sector emitted 1.3 million tons of CO2 in 2020.

We should begin serious efforts to sequester 2.5 million tons by 2026.
It is up to the country to decide what these steps should be. In layman's terms, the formula entails sequestering 0.5 million tons in 2026, 1 million in 2027, 1.5 million the following year, and so on. If less is accomplished in one year, more must be done in the following year; otherwise, the so-called "budget deficit" cannot be avoided, and the climate change "budget" will not be met.

As a result of negotiations between the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union, which represents the governments of the member states, the scope of targets was only slightly curtailed.

"The agreement between member states includes a provision that allows us to exclude affected regions from the calculation of climate targets for the land use sector when natural calamities occur. So as not to account for them when calculating emissions and sequestration," Mart Kiis, climate adviser at the Ministry of the Environment, explained.

Also, in accordance with the new strategy compensation or additional CO2 quotas might be asked for from a pan-European fund. It is currently unknown how large this fund will be or how quotas will be distributed between the member states.

Estonia, for one, has maintained the exception for peat soils. Due to heavy peat soil cultivation in Estonia, which emits more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, we can emit an additional 4,9 million tons of CO2 between 2026 and 2030, which is not included in the target.

The necessary measures will be clear in the coming year

According to Kiis, the primary goal of reducing carbon emissions is to slow global warming. "As a general principle, we work under the assumption that our 2030 goal is minus 2.5 million tons," Kiis said, adding that on a national level, we must continue to look for concrete ways and solutions to move in that direction.

Several studies and analyses have already been conducted in Estonia; however, officials and politicians have yet to provide concrete solutions. Kiis said that alternatives are now being weighed.

"At some time, once the entire picture has put together, including a socioeconomic effect assessment, it will be necessary to make political decisions regarding whether and how we pursue these objectives," Kiis said.

Kiis stated that the document explaining the various possibilities should be completed by the end of the first quarter of the next year, at the latest by March.
Clearly, the substantive decisions will be left to the incoming administration.

The Ministry will review the Environment Board's calculations in the coming days, which show that the range of options is narrower than previously thought. The daily Õhtuleht has already reported some of these figures (link in Estonian): they indicate that our woods are capable of sequestering much less carbon than initially projected.

Even if we reduced deforestation to nine million cubic meters per year (it is now slightly more than ten million cubic meters per year - ed), carbon sequestration from forests would be insufficient to balance carbon emissions from other land use sectors, forcing Estonia to purchase additional carbon quotas in 2030.
Nobody knows how much it will cost, but the figures are in the hundreds of millions.

Kiis was hesitant to say whether annual deforestation could be reduced to, say, seven million cubic meters. "It is too early to make such an assessment today unless we have reviewed all of our options across sectors for moving forward," he said.

For example, peat mining emits about one million tons of CO2 each year. If we stopped doing this and instead planted permanent grassland on peat soils instead of crops, we would save enough carbon to reduce felling volumes by a fraction only.


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Editor: Kristina Kersa

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