Izmailova: State should use taxes to motivate reduction in meat consumption

Riigikogu candidate for chair of the environment committee Züleyxa Izmailova (Eesti 200) told ERR that the state could use tax policy to encourage a reduction in meat consumption, RMK should invest more in permanent forestry as an alternative to logging and Eesti Energia should stop burning wood in Auvere.

Tuesday, the Foresight Center, a think tank at the Riigikogu, delivered a study on developments in Estonia's green turn. The review begins with the key observation that the environmental footprint per capita in Europe exceeds safe limitations 2.9 times on average, and 3.8 times in Estonia. Can our environmental footprint be reduced to safe operating space, while allowing our economy to flourish?

Our planet, as we all know, has limits. We must respect these limitations unless we intend to move elsewhere; physics also tells us that infinite growth is impossible.

In the case of Estonia, as well as globally, we should try to change the economic structure. Maris Lauri (Reform) said in her speech to the Riigikogu yesterday that the methods that have been effective for the past three decades are no longer viable and that we must reinvent our economy. We must also change the way we eat, the foods we eat, and the quantity we consume.

The study offers suggestions for how Estonia could reduce its carbon footprint. Estonia's environmental footprint would be lowered by 5 percent if people consumed animal products within the limits recommended by the National Institute for Health Development (TAI). I have seen these illustrations of the food pyramid as a child, indicating how much and what foods to eat; to no avail!

When talking about Estonian food habits, the health argument is most important.

We consume twice as much meat as is recommended. This type of positive program and public awareness, in my opinion, is a must-have step.

So far, they have been of little help. I see the "Eat beetroot!" poster, yet I still purchase sausage. Should the government take a more concrete step here, making beef more expensive and beetroot less expensive? There have been many proposals on how to convince people to consume less meat at the EU level in each of the member states.

Yes. So far, our ruling parties have held that VAT differentials between products are unacceptable. Personally, I believe that taxes could be used to limit meat consumption and promote healthy eating. There is no single solution; it is the result of a number of circumstances. We can do both persuade society to adopt better lifestyle while also leaving a lower carbon imprint.

There is still a great deal of ignorance about this topic, so it could make many people think. Our health is the foundation of everything and, as a result, the state endures substantial health care costs.

Züleyxa Izmailova Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

In the European Union, we have agreed on targets, but when it comes to agreeing on practical measures to cut emissions from land use, agriculture, transportation, district heating, and so on, each member state goes to great lengths to water down these commitments.

Absolutely. I agree.

Does Estonia do it too?

Estonia has recently been rather responsible. Although several interest groups have aired their opinions and everyone is attempting to tilt the deck in their favor.

Clearly, we have to begin somewhere; all sectors must investigate the emissions problem and identify strategies for reducing them. And we return to the circular economy, or how to consume in an environmentally friendly way.

But if one country chips away at its commitments here and another chips away at theirs there, will 55 percent be ready by 2030, as the slogan promises?

It is more than just a catchphrase; but, in reality, if we do not believe that the environment and climate change are issues that we must address together in order to make our economy more sustainable and to maintain a habitable world, it will be impossible to achieve these objectives. That is why we must all make an effort every day. The private sector, civil society, lawmakers and journalists are all involved. We have to all keep this problem in mind every day and keep it high on the agenda so that the discourse does not go off course.

Züleyxa Izmailova. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

The government made some remarkable commitments. I attentively listened to the election debate, but it was unclear whether we would cease peat extraction, drastically reduce deforestation, or reforest agricultural land. What we are doing to achieve the pledged carbon sequestration by 2030. Do you have a good grasp of Estonia's strategy?

We have to tackle everything; we cannot do it only in this or that industry. We have to do it everywhere at once. Unfortunately, this is the only way: no simple way forward here.

Should peat extraction be stopped in Estonia?

The extraction of peat, of course, should be tied to the goal. For the time being, we mine out here and the peat is transported across the border to produce tomatoes, which we then purchase. In the long run this does not look promising.

We need to think about how we can become more self-sufficient locally, how to use our resources locally.

How can the state regulate this?

Setting a goal is the first step. What is our purpose? Whether it is to refine our resources locally or simply to bring the raw material on the market?

If we want to refine everything locally, how can the government ensure that we do not dig peat and send it to Spain to produce tomatoes?

It all starts with a strategy and as far as I can tell, the coalition has agreed that we need a climate law. So that our firms can make decisions about what investments to make and where to go in general. And I believe that this is also the start of a very important dialogue in which multiple parties can get involved and the best solution for Estonia can be found.

Züleyxa Izmailova. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Madis Kallas (SDE), former minister of the environment and current minister for regional development, told ERR in April that his forestry development plan will be still implemented. It specifies an annual harvesting capacity between nine and 11 million cubic meters. Should this development strategy be made public, altered and debated in the parliament? Or should it be implemented as the previous administration approved it?

To my knowledge this development plan will be carried out as intended. Regarding the quantity of trees to be cut down: it is a number, not a commitment. If over time we develop a strong belief that these felling rates should be lowered, we can also make that decision. I would not be overly preoccupied with that number right now.

Rather, we should reach a societal consensus regarding how we cut down trees in the first place.

Does it not even matter how many trees we cut?

It is important, we cannot dismiss this factor; however, it is not sufficient on its own. It is also critical to consider when and how we cut.

I believe that we should take the benefits of permanent forest management in Estonia more seriously. We have not done much of this here yet but our neighbors, the Finns, are very much engaged with it. There is also enough research to back it up.

Züleyxa Izmailova. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Should private forest owners somehow be told to manage permanent forests?

Finnish scientists are already demonstrating how using the economics of permanent forestry can produce a superior raw material in the form of timber, which was the point I was attempting to make in my previous response; and even more than that.

Mikk Marran, the head of RMK, said permanent forestry could be effective in some isolated areas, but when we are talking about big numbers, permanent forestry does not work. We must engage in rejuvenating thinning, as he explains. Otherwise, the forest cannot remain healthy.

Mikk Marran is not a specialist on this subject.

He is head of the State Forest Management Center (RMK)


Is RMK's CEO not a specialist?

No, he is not.

What do we do now?

I cannot solve all of Estonia's problems by myself, but I trust Mikk Marran is a quick learner. When he began his job, he said to have no prior knowledge. Now I think a bit of knowledge is starting to amass. It will come.

But it was not Mikk Marran who thought it up. RMK has very experienced people at work who say the same thing.

It is about what we want to accomplish, our objective. I am not suggesting that we should implement a permanent management strategy whenever possible, but we have to evaluate this possibility and make better use of it.

However, this nine to 11 million cubic meters, do you share my conviction that this volume should be reduced?

My personal opinion is that it should be lower. And specifically in terms of how we do the cutting. As I said, this clear-cutting method is not justified. It is harmful for our ecosystem and in terms of carbon sequestration, modern science is already convincing us that deforestation is causing great damage. That if we destroy nature that stores carbon, it cannot be quickly replaced. This is a very big problem. And in order to make our forestry less polluting, we need to consider newer solutions to forest management.

Züleyxa Izmailova. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Should wood burning at the Auvere power plant be banned?

It has never been a sensible decision and politicians actually recognize this.

Rail Baltic's builders will soon apply for a Natura exemption to run the railway through southern regions. Of course, this will be complemented by compensatory measures, among other things. Is it justified to give a Natura derogation for the Rail Baltic route?

This is a very important issue, as the issue of Natura sites in Estonia is extremely sensitive. Thus far, we have not strictly adhered to it as intended. We also see extensive tree felling in Natura areas. In addition, there will be an exception for the construction of the Nursipalu training field. In some instances, it is justifiable, but it is essential to consider all repercussions.

Regarding Rail Baltic as a whole, I believe a different construction method could have been chosen.

You won't stop this train?

Fighting every conflict might not be a good idea. However, when the issue reaches my desk as the incoming chair of the Environment Committee, we will evaluate all arguments.

Züleyxa Izmailova. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

In your political career, have you made that many difficult and painful compromises as you will have to in the next four years?

I do not suppose so. If only because I have never served in the parlament. I have never served as environment committee head.

Political parties in the Riigikogu represent their constituents, which exemplifies democracy. As a person with a green and progressive agenda, I cannot be the sole governor. You have to take into account the opinions of others.


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Editor: Urmet Kook, Kristina Kersa

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