Updates to state climate plan causing MPs concern

Riigikogu Environment Committee meeting in session.
Riigikogu Environment Committee meeting in session. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Riigikogu committees at the start of this week discussed updating the national energy and climate plan. While this plan is intended to consolidate goals already set elsewhere, some MPs have expressed concern that discussions have gone ahead to rapidly, which may lead to Estonia taking on new obligations without this being fully recognized.

Estonia's national energy and climate plan to 2030, known by its Estonian abbreviation of REKK, was submitted to the European Commission in 2019. It is supposed to provide the Estonian public, business and other member states with the most accurate overview of how Estonia will achieve EU-agreed goals. At least that is what it stated on the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications website. In reality, however, the almost 200-page document does not achieve that end, ministry Under-Secretary Timo Tatar says.

Tatar said: "The table of contents contained in the national energy and climate plan has been given in advance, as per a European Commission request from each member state. Unfortunately, it is a document which is difficult to read, and is pages and pages in length. Unfortunately, them, in its current form, it certaily does not fulfill the purpose of making it simpler for people to read and comprehend.

The planned climate law, when it is produced, must provide clarity, Tatar added. But an updated draft of that plan is needed at the European Commission by the end of this month.

Timo Tatar. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

"The concept behind the plan is still, first of all, to give the European Commission an overview of which measures the member states intend to use to achieve the set goals. This is not a paper where we would be setting additional goals or developing measures," he went on.

For instance, last year Estonia decided to set a goal of producing as much electricity from renewable energy sources as the total annual electricity consumption projected for 2030.This will be written into the new plan.

At the same time, forecasts get reviewed. The new plan forecasts that Estonia's energy consumption will not rise; this is expected to be achieved thanks to greater efficiency. However, members of the Riigikogu's Economic Affairs Committee, who saw the draft of the new plan on Monday, were critical of that forecast, according to committee chair Priit Lomp (SDE). Market participants have also expressed their doubts, Tatar added.

"Most likely this is a job for next year, where we have to find out what the realistic and credible increase in energy consumption is. The green transition means that many sectors will start using electricity, for heat pumps, for example, instead of fossil fuels. This will definitely have its impact on electricity consumption, and this is similarly the case in transport," he went on.

The final updated climate plan must be submitted in a year's time.

Opposition worried that the climate plan may imperceptibly impose obligations on Estonia

Economic affairs committee member Rain Epler (EKRE) said that the plan was presented to the committee over a period of about 45 minutes. Epler noted that there is no time to get to know the plan in depth, while this week he says he devoted his attention on getting to know the EU regulations on critical raw materials.

Epler said: "I haven't read the REKK draft myself, from beginning to end, and in detail, but I remain skeptical and suspicious. If this is an update of the plan and schedule, there will likely be an attempt to further update something," adding that there are fewer and fewer documents around today that the average person, or even someone as omniscent as a Riigikogu MP, might grasp simply by sitting and reading.

"In this regard, I agree with Timo Tatar that it does not fulfill the purpose very well. As for the climate law, I also expressed my doubts to Timo Tatar following the committee session, to the effect that it might be the case that when this draft climate law arrives, but there is some point of dispute within it. Could it be that back when the decision was made, when renewing the REKK, we already set a goal or set a framework."

At the same time, Epler says he is also awaiting substantive discussion on the climate law.

Epler also expressed hope that: "There will, however, be a draft bill which will finally arrive here from the government. Hopefully, some things will then be more concrete."

On Tuesday, the Riigikogu environment committee also discussed the current plan.

Andres Metsoja (Isamaa), the committee's vice-chair, said: "It is difficult to say what this plan will be until the end point. Either these goals have already been clearly stated, or there are still goals which have not been clearly stated."

Metsoja said that various other EU regulations and directives are simultaneously under discussion at committee level. By way of example, if the plan includes a major increase in the number of electric cars, the EU needs to ensure, via another regulation, that sufficient mineral resources are available for this. 

Perhaps it is difficult to draw a line on which plan or regulation Estonia actually undertakes by obligation. This would be all the more so given the positions and plans are constantly changing during negotiations with other countries.

"In the context of this haste, a situation can happen where there is significant proportion of the information field, where, I would venture to say, different Riigikogu MPs have understood things in different ways. What are we talking about in society or, more broadly, in relation to the interest groups who we are actually going to apply the plan to."

Metsoja said that the committee also discussed municipalities' plans. These include whether urban buses should continue to run on biofuel or should switch to electricity.

Andres Metsoja. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

"Actually, there is already a plan to switch to electric buses in relation to long-distance transport, but there [in urban areas] we would say no; we are putting the market for biodiesel production at risk, so we should still be able to continue using biodiesel in urban areas. This all seems a bit contradictory," Metsoja continued.

Coalition MPs pledge that climate law will provide clarity

Reform MP Mait Klaassen, a member of the environment committee, called the recent committee discussion fruitful, but acknowledged, like Metsoja, that not everyone may understand things in the same way.

"I has to be explained, explained and explained again here why something is done and for what purpose, as the average man today really does not understand. A city person understands things one way, a rural person understands another, a person from a smaller town understands a different way and so on," Klaassen said.

For this reason, it is also encouraging that there are people from very different backgrounds sitting on the committee, Klaassen, a former University of Life Sciences (Maaülikool) added. The energy impact on forestry was also under discussion.

"However, these numbers derived from the documents of the old forestry development plan. The new forestry development plan, with its different figures, has not been adopted yet. It is this type of 'live' document."

Klaasen said also that the climate plan might be fully comprehensible to him, but this may not be the case for everyone.

"Certainly this document requires prior knowledge if various sectors. For example, if someone were to read the EU Land Use, Land-Use Change, and Forestry (LULUCF) documents, it would be relatively difficult for someone who has not come into contact with these sectors to grasp," Klaasen went on.

However, Klaassen also said that there is always the risk that ambitious plans will have unexpected consequences, no matter how much the Riigikogu may discuss it.

"With all kinds of reforms, there are always those cases where we head off in the wrong direction. For this reason, we have to review documents and goals regularly. When we can see that we have gone in the wrong direction somewhere, we have to then correct that."

Hanah Lahe (Reform), a member of the Environment Committee, said that there were two major changes in the new climate plan.

"First of all, it includes for the first time the goal of climate neutrality, which was missing before, with criticism resulting. The second aspect was the plan added by the previous administration that the volume of all final energy consumption should come from 100 percent renewable energy sources."

However, Lahe, too, acknowledged that there is slew of material, meaning it is not viable to work through everything 100 percent.

Again, he said that the climate plan itself is not easy for the average person to understand. However, Lahe said that there should not be any major surprises later, and expert opinion should be trusted.

"At the same time, it is also important to state that we are not 100 percent certain of anything. I think this is something that many do not dare to say, but we have a direction and a goal. This is the right way to move. Climate neutrality is a common goal throughout the world and efforts must be made for it," Lahe went on.

Like other MPs, Lahe said she hopes that the climate law will finally bring clarity to ordinary people.

"I would very much like it to be the case that it brings together all those goals relating to climate goals. There would need to be waystages, intermediate stages within the legislation. I strongly believe that when the climate law does arrive, the entire energy and climate field will have been rendered much clearer for the common man," the Reform MP added.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Mirjam Mäekivi

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