Diplomat: Climate agreements in Estonia's strategic interests
European Union climate agreements, including the recent accord for including transport sector emissions in the quota trading scheme, are in Estonia's strategic interests as they help lessen Europe's dependence on Russia, Estonia's deputy permanent representative to the EU Marten Kokk said.
"I see a situation today where global climate targets and Estonia's vital security interests coincide. Both support the EU using as little fossil fuels as possible," Kokk told ERR on Thursday.
The EU agreed last week to create an additional carbon quota trading system called ETS2 that will cover motor fuels and heating of buildings. The diplomat said this will help reduce fuel use and dependence on major fossil fuel suppliers.
"This has been a national security goal for Estonia for a long time, starting with [President] Lennart Meri. He was referring to the Nord Stream [gas pipeline], while other ways fossil fuels are entering Europe – such as the Druzhba pipeline – are no different; their effect on how other European states think is similar. This is the first time in history where these two goals, climate targets and Estonia's national security interests, coincide to this extent."
Kokk said that Estonian diplomats have been saying for years how Europe's dependence on Russian fossil fuels is a direct national security concern for Estonia. "We have been pursuing this agenda for decades, while we've seen very little receptiveness in Europe so far. But Russia's war in Ukraine has changed the situation, with 82 percent of Europeans now in favor of switching to cleaner and more sparing energy sources," Kokk suggested.
"One should never lose sight of the strategic perspective. It is in Estonia's interests for Europe not to depend on Russian and other fossil fuels to recent extent. We have seen it slow down decision-making in Europe," he remarked.
ETS2 part of broader climate package
Kokk explained that ETS2 is part of the broader European climate package of Fit for 55 proposed by the European Commission in July of 2021, promising extensive changes in environmental rules, the economy and people's daily lives. The climate package's 12 initiatives cover the EU's climate, energy, land use, transport and tax policy with the aim of reducing the EU's greenhouse gas emissions by 55 percent by 2030 when compared to the 1990 level.
Based on this, the nature of the recent agreement could not have taken politicians by surprise, Kokk found. "That the transport and housing sectors would be added in 2027 is no great surprise. I believe that more or less everyone involved have known it all along."
The diplomat said, when prompted, that Estonia's representatives based their actions on a mandate from the government and the Riigikogu European Affairs Committee, as always.
"The most difficult aspect of the talks concerned how much money the EU is willing to put up in funds for alleviation. The Council (Member States – ed.) only got to €59 billion. This grew to €86.7 billion during talks with the Parliament. I consider it an important victory," Kokk said.
He said that while ETS2 is aimed at altering behavior, the EU's Social Climate Fund is aimed at helping those worst hit by the changes.
He said that Estonia's share comes to €186 million to which it needs to add €62 million for a total of €248 million. "It is a lot of money for the EU and Estonia to use to smooth out the effects."
The diplomat said that Member States have quite a lot of freedom in terms of how to use the money, and support is aimed at those looking at the greatest difficulties.
Kokk also remarked that the changes aren't due for another four years.
"The important thing to note, which I believe has been somewhat lost in debate, is that nothing will happen immediately. These things will take effect in 2027 pending a review, and should energy prices remain high, it will be postponed by another year."
ETS2 could change car use in Estonia
The diplomat said that Estonia's fleet of personal vehicles has been among the most polluting in Europe for years and that ETS2 could deliver an improvement.
"There is no other way. People do not just change the way they behave. It is not a case of simply suggesting people buy a more economical vehicle – they won't. But if we do it trough the price of fuel, more people will think about how to do it."
Several Estonian politicians have expressed their surprise and displeasure over the December 18 agreement, claiming it to be contrary to Estonia's interests and something the country should not have supported.
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Editor: Mait Ots, Marcus Turovski