Someone clearly concerned about the environment wrote on Twitter, the day you took office, “Status Quo retained at the Industrial Lobby Ministry.” Are you repeating the talking points made by the industrial lobby, as claimed in your green opponents?
It is hard to judge from the inside. That judgment is up to the public. I do meet with conservationists as well as those who use or attach value to natural resource. I’m looking for a balance between consumption and protection so that life can continue and the environment remains intact.
Have you had the opportunity to meet representatives of Estonian Greens during your time in ministry?
They are not yet available, although I did meet them when I was chairing the Riigikogu Environmental Committee. I believe I will meet with someone there next week. My calendar shows me that this is the case. I meet with people who want to meet.
Do you think there is any consensus on whether climate change can be attributed to man-made?
It is not true, although it is evident that humanity plays a role. Disputes revolve primarily around the extent of that role. And how quickly we’ll be able to change the situation.
What will happen to the climate if we can reduce carbon emissions to zero? Will it heat up for 50 years, 100 years, or just 50? Or will it cool down right away? We don’t know. It is clear that Man has made a significant impact on climate change.
Is the ministry keeping you informed about the negative effects of CO2 emissions and falling on the atmosphere?
There are many types of reports. It is more a matter for analysis. There are many studies. The conclusions of these studies can be very divergent. However, they must serve as a basis to make balanced decisions about what to do next.
It is a complicated topic, especially in relation to our forests.
Tnis Mlder, your predecessor revealed that the European Commission expected Estonia to capture 2.5million tons of CO2. Mlder said it was beyond our capabilities, with the current level of 0.7 million tons. Does this mean that the rate of felling will have a significant reduction?
Our carbon capture capacity has been subject to change in the past. It is currently at 0.7million tons, which seems ideal considering the current situation in agriculture.
We could do better. But, there’s no sensible way to improve performance fourfold.
Although theoretically possible, an increase of 1.8million tons would have severe socioeconomic implications.
What will happen in ten years’ time, for example?
It is extremely difficult to predict anything prior to that time. These rules from Europe could be applied in many different ways. We will attempt to get it done at all costs.
Another option is to pay for carbon we can’t capture. This would be buying quota. The current price per ton is 80. You can calculate your own price [Estonia would have to pay 144 million annually at the current quota price].
The carbon capture obligation may be split between land use in various sectors. In addition to forests, there is farmland and peatlands. It is impossible to predict the volumes of relevant volumes a decade later than now.
Tell the Commission, Estonia won’t accept losing tens or thousands of jobs.
We will not say it is excessive. [laughs].
We will argue that rules must be practical. We will say that rules must be feasible. If we force change and place all the burden on forestry it would cost thousands of jobs and billions of value added. This is not sustainable and sensible for Estonia’s future development.
How much should we reverse felling?
One-half of the reductions have been suggested. Perhaps less if we can shift some of this burden to agriculture.
There are 60,000 jobs in the forestry sector. We would have to find new jobs for 30,000 people in order to meet the carbon capture goal. This would mean that we lose a large portion of our exports, and cause a significant imbalance.
Your term will be valid until the next Riigikogu election, provided that no other developments occur. Because they’re finished felling here, you won’t be required to tell timber companies they can pack their sawmills up and move them to Belarus/Africa.
The discussions on the forestry development plan are ongoing and I hope that the Riigikogu will eventually see the draft plan that was created at the end of last. The plan will then be decided by the MPs. As long as this discussion continues, it is not worth taking drastic measures.
The 2.5 million-ton carbon capture obligation could jeopardize the development plan.
There are other methods to capture carbon in land usage.
It could also have an impact on agriculture. We don’t know what it will do.
Estonia’s interests must be protected at all costs during negotiations. Our agriculture must be able to feed the country at the minimum.
We don’t want to live in a world where only Tallinn and Tartu are inhabited, with Estonia remaining a reserve for carbon capture.
We seek to find a balance that allows Estonians to live in all parts of the country and allows them to consume responsibly. The European-level agreement on carbon capture states that long-lasting products like wooden houses and furniture are better at capturing carbon than trees in forests.
Is anyone able to predict the cost of Estonia’s climate agreement?
We do have an estimate. Estonia stands out from other EU countries in that at least we tried to predict the future.
According to the Tallinn centre of Stockholm Environmental Institute, reaching climate neutrality would require Estonia to spend 17.3 billion over 30 year. Since then, it has been decided to accelerate the transition. Does this mean that costs will continue to rise?
It is a mix of private investments and public sector activities. Although the study does provide some guidance, there are many questions.
This turn is extremely capital-intensive. It is necessary to change our habits. This will cost us. It is difficult to estimate the cost right now.
It doesn’t matter what figure you might come up, it will not be right. The green turn will cost more if we wait too long. If we continue to use the same technology, we will lose our competitive edge.
Why has the Riigikogu European Union Affairs Committee ELAK not approved Estonia’s “Fit to 55” positions
I couldn’t say it.
But I believe that MPs want to examine those documents for the first time since a while to form a position before deciding if the government’s text is appropriate and reflects the goals we have set during negotiations or if it needs to be modified. The Riigikogu is entitled to do this.
There is a plan to make the CO2 trading system applicable to all dwellings. How would that work?
It is absurd to reveal all details today. They will become obvious over time. However, 60 percent of Estonian dwellings use district heating.
District heating users would still be taxed by producers. As the fuel manufacturer decides the carbon footprint of heating a dwelling, an individual cannot determine it.
We will push producers and importers to choose solutions that have a lower carbon footprint.
When will it become effective?
It’s difficult to say. First, we need to agree on whether it will be implemented. It will then be explained in detail how it will work.
You can’t take it to next week’s EU environment ministers meeting, because ELAK won’t give you a mandate.
Estonia doesn’t have an official position so I can’t take it there. However, I can talk about the direction I see things heading.
However, I am unable to answer questions about Estonia’s position and how we will vote. The position is not yet available.
When will it be resolved?
I cannot answer. The Riigikogu can discuss matters for as long as they wish.
ELAK members state that they are still in touch with ministries. Are all the proposals from the Ministry of the Environment available to allow MPs to make decisions?
I believe we have addressed all of their concerns.
The problem is that they ask questions for which there are no answers right now, and that will be the subject of negotiation. We don’t know what agreement will be reached.
It is impossible to agree upon a step-by–step action plan before 2050. You can calculate the cost today!
Was the decision to support the EU 2050 target for climate neutrality the right one? Did we make a mistake?
No. Estonia will achieve the 2050 goal. We will also reduce emissions by 70 percent in 2030, as compared with 1990.
The question is about the Europe-wide goal and how countries are able to achieve it. There are efforts to share the burden with those who are better at it.
It is unfair to Estonia, and that is what we want at negotiations. Those countries must first consider their obligations.
Is it necessary to have a specific piece or legislation in order to switch to climate neutrality? When faced with colossal changes, we cannot rely on the opinions of a few auditors.
The Constitution clearly states that any changes that have an impact on people’s lives must be made through legislation.
It is unclear whether this is a single or multiple act. This question requires a political decision. The process has not yet prescribed a specific act for the transition.
We will move forward with acts in different areas where things can be adjusted based on the agreements we make. These things will change in time.
Do you agree to your colleague [Minister of Economic Affairs and Infrastructure]Taavi Aas believes that the quota trading system needs a price limit. Can the environment minister, charged with conserving our national environment, agree on something like this?
It has not been discussed from this perspective.
Then, there is the question as to whether we are talking a absolute ceiling or one that is only available to private consumers or Estonians.
Taavi Aas wants to make electricity more affordable for everyone. However, I agree to the economy ministry that we need incentives to make investments happen. It seems like the ice is moving, but almost nothing has been spent on energy in the past decade!
Did it really take this much shock to get things moving?
It seems so. We haven’t built a single windturbine in the past decade because we haven’t reached an agreement among ourselves. If we stop building, we will continue paying through the nose.
Estonia’s GDP is around 30 billion. How much will it be spent on climate change?
We need to ask ourselves what every euro we invest can do for the environment. So we might say that all of it will have a positive impact on the green turn.
But, should it be 1, 2, 4, 5, 5 or 10 percent of the GDP each year?
We don’t know, or have only a vague idea.
We all know what the environment does for us and what it doesn’t. We will have to decide whether we want to make more use of resources or reduce it altogether. We will also need to decide if we really do need it all.
I don’t understand if you prefer the prosperity of Estonians over a beautiful natural environment and the future for the planet.
Both are crucial. Or let’s just say that all of them are important. I don’t think I have to make a choice.
You do in reality. After all, you are the minister for the environmental!
No, I don’t think so. We need to find a balance that allows the economy to continue to work while protecting the environment. We don’t have to sacrifice one over the other.