The Estonian government has approved the country's new National Energy and Climate Plan (REKK), set to be submitted to the European Commission. The purpose of the plan is to consolidate targets set elsewhere, which are more ambitious than those included in the previous iteration.
The previous REKK was approved in 2019. Estonia is currently in the process of updating the plan, in the process of which a new draft was compiled. The final new climate plan, however, must be approved next summer.
A total of ten primary targets are outlined in the letter of explanation accompanying the draft of the updated REKK, an increase from the previous plan's eight.
One of the new targets, for example, is for Estonia to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions, i.e. climate neutrality, by 2050. Also set as a target is an increase by 434,000 tons to carbon sequestration targets in the land use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF) sector.
In 2019, the REKK set a target annual output of 4.3 terawatt-hours (TWh) of renewable energy; in the updated edition, that annual target has been upped to 9.4 TWh. Similarly, in the previous version, the goal was for the share of renewable energy in the total final energy consumption to hit at least 42 percent in 2030; now, that goal has been upped to 65 percent, and with renewable electricity accounting for a full 100 percent of final electricity consumption.
Minister: This isn't a law
Speaking to ERR, Minister of Climate Kristen Michal (Reform) said that the new climate plan draft itself doesn't have equal force to legislation.
"This is a job review, meant for us to get feedback from the European Commission as well regarding our activities and how we're managing," he explained.
The Riigikogu approved the renewable electricity target last fall, and many of the targets included in the newest draft were taken from the "Estonia 2035" strategy, which was approved by the Riigikogu in spring 2021. The latter, however, has been updated each year by the government.
"We've set this target with various other decisions and documents, and of course this plan reflects this increase in ambition over time," Michal added.
That also means that if some targets outlined in the plan go unmet, the plan doesn't provide for any sort of punitive sanctions.
"This plan itself certainly won't be entailing any sanctions," the minister explained. "Rather, if we're incapable of achieving our steps and were to give up, [sanctions] would certainly arise in connection with our general national goals. But this plan is still first and foremost a report on the direction we're heading."
Minister of the Interior Lauri Läänemets (SDE) told ERR that the most crucial thing, however, is that Estonia's intention to reduce felling volumes is communicated to the European Commission.
"We said that if we continue felling in such quantities, then Estonia's forests will start to secrete carbon, not sequester it," Läänemets said. "This is a fundamental change to Estonia's positions, and this should soon be reflected in the forestry development plan as well."
Nonetheless, the nature of the climate plan itself has raised questions. While the plan itself shouldn't impose new obligations on Estonia, some MPs have had doubts in that regard. Riigikogu committees have likewise previously shown skepticism regarding whether all of these targets can be achieved.
Market participants have questions too
For example, when providing feedback on the plan this May, Viru Keemia Grupp (VKG) asked what the legal consequences are of what's written in the REKK.
Environmental associations are critical of Estonia drawing up the climate plan merely as a notice to the European Commission.
Estonian Fund for Nature (ELF) climate policy expert Laura Vilbiks told ERR that the energy and climate plan should look more toward the future.
"Environmental associations' and in fact also the European Commission's view is that the REKK should instead be a visionary document that would pave the way for other development plans and also set some new goals," Vilbiks explained. "At the moment it doesn't do that."
She added that the deadline for exiting from oil shale as well as deadlines and volumes for felling volume reductions, for example, must be more clearly recorded.
"In some areas we know that Estonia actually wants to increase its ambitions, but that can't be noted in the REKK because it hasn't been officially agreed upon anywhere," Vilbiks said. "We're holding off, and the REKK is fairly unambitious as a result."
Nevertheless, Vilbiks acknowledged that the even targets set forth in the current climate plan draft may come as a surprise to some.
"In fact, it turns out that many people probably aren't aware of what Estonia has agreed upon to date," the climate policy expert said.
"These processes — there are so many of them, and they're fairly fragmented," she explained. "The REKK is good in that it brings all of that together into one place, and all parties have an overview of what's going on in climate and energy policy. That's good, but at the same time, of course, as these processes are underway in the country, they should be significantly more communicated and involved. The working groups where these things are worked out are often quite closed as well."
Editor: Aili Vahtla