Think tank report: Greenhouse gas emissions in Estonia on rise again

Auvere Power Plant.
Auvere Power Plant. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Greenhouse gas emissions in Estonia have dropped 40 percent over the past decade, but with the European energy crisis and renewed competitiveness of oil shale, emissions have been on an upward trend again since 2021, according to "Greenhouse gas emission trends in Estonia and the European Union," a new report published by the Foresight Center on Monday.

Emissions from energy generation account for nearly half of Estonia's total emissions today, Foresight Center expert Magnus Piirits said according to a press release.

"2020 was the lowest emission volume year in Estonia's recent history, but in 2021, emissions increased 13 percent on year, and this growth trend continued in 2022," Piirits said. "Right now, we don't see emission levels dropping significantly this year either, because Europe is still in the grips of an energy crisis, and oil shale energy is filling the gap that has opened up."

Following energy generation, the next biggest polluters last year were the processing industry, agriculture, and transport and storage. Together with energy generation, these sectors were responsible for 90 percent of total emissions in Estonia.

Sectors' emissions volumes can also be examined in connection with the added value they generate. As a whole, the creation of €1 million worth of added value in Estonia generates 1.6 times more greenhouse gases than the EU average.

A positive example among the largest sectors was the processing industry, whose emissions decreased by 14 percent compared with the EU average in 2008-2021 and are now just 10 percent away from it. Other such examples include the information and communication sector as well as trade, where relative emissions have remained below the EU average.

Piirits stressed the importance of bearing in mind that all economic sectors are closely interlinked, with one providing input for the other.

"For example, power generation creates 6,802 tons of greenhouse gases per €1 million of added value; however, electricity constitutes an important input for all other sectors," he highlighted. "The construction industry has fairly low emissions, and yet these are much higher in the production of building materials, which creates input for the sector."

Reduction target 'ambitious, but doable'

Estonia set a target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 8 million tons a year by 2035; it still has one third of the way to go. Piirits sees this objective as ambitious, but doable.

"The rule of thumb is that the wealthier the country, the higher its carbon footprint; an exception here is Sweden, which is strong in hydro, nuclear and bioenergy," the think tank expert said.

"Our calculations show that if Estonia's power generation emissions were at the EU average level, Estonia would have already reached its greenhouse gas target by now," he noted. "The drive we've witnessed over the last year in developing the production capacities of renewable energy fills us with cautious optimism."

"Greenhouse gas emission trends in Estonia and the European Union" (link in Estonian), the brief new report published Monday, is part of the Foresight Center's "Green Transition Scenarios in Estonia" research. This research focuses on Estonia's key options in taking the green transition forward and analyzes alternative scenarios for implementing the green transition which could emerge in Estonia as a consequence of various further developments of fundamental choices.

The Foresight Center is a think tank at the Chancellery of the Riigikogu that analyzes long-term developments in society and the economy. It conducts research aimed at analyzing long-term developments and discovering new trends in Estonian society.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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