A binding agreement is needed; the Commission should be the driving force

Piret Ehin

On the issue of climate change, the Estonian government supports “an ambitious and binding global agreement” on cutting greenhouse gas emissions that includes all major polluters, and believes that, in this respect, “the role of the European Commission as a driving force is irreplaceable.”[1] According to the government, Estonia is prepared to contribute to both reducing greenhouse gases and financing the future agreement. In light of these goals, the results of the Copenhagen conference were disappointing. According to Prime Minister Andrus Ansip, the EU “did what it could” and has set a good example for the other partners both in terms of reducing emissions and commiting finances. European partners should continue work towards a legally binding global agreement.[2] According to the Estonian government position paper for the European Council meeting of 25-26 March 2010, Estonia continues to support the EU’s plan to reduce emissions by 30 percent compared to 1990 levels in case other developed countries commit to comparable reductions and developing countries “contribute each according to their obligations and ability.”[3] In the post-Copenhagen situation, the Estonian government believes that it is better to refrain from introducing new numerical targets. Instead, the EU should focus on explaining its position and communicating with all partners. Again, the European Commission should play a central role in these efforts.[4]
However, there appears to be a gap between the Estonian government’s rhetoric and real commitment to fighting climate change. Like many other post-communist countries, Estonia could easily meet Kyoto targets due to the collapse of Soviet-era heavy industry, and the changed structure of the economy enabled it to profit from selling emission quotas. Despite formally meeting the Kyoto targets, the Estonian economy is still very carbon-intensive and Estonia is among the biggest per capita polluters in Europe.[5] In its recent report, the State Audit Office of Estonia found that the Estonian government has not set clear objectives in fighting climate change, lacks a solid action plan for coordinating the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, does not know how effective the emission reduction measures used so far have been, is not able to predict emission volumes in the future, and has not used the emissions trading system to provide incentives for enterprises to reduce pollution.[6]
While various environmentalist groups keep pushing for better policies, the general public does not appear to take the topic too seriously. Public discourse in Estonia focuses on the question of whether global warming really exists and whether it is due to human activity. Many people, including prominent politicians and opinion leaders, regard global warming either as a “matter of faith,” a “political game,” or a “profitable business.” Indeed, an opinion frequently encountered in the media is that Estonia would only benefit from warmer weather and improved conditions for agriculture and tourism.

The government argues that European countries, including Estonia, need to help developing countries cope with climate change – not least because of the various ways (immigration, violence, and terrorism) in which difficulties in developing countries affect Europe and Estonia. The government has not advanced clear visions on who should bear the costs of fighting climate change in developing countries, and seems content to leave this question for bigger powers to decide. Its own efforts focus on providing assistance to nations that have suffered in natural disasters (e.g., Haiti). Estonia continues to observe principles of sustainable development in its aid programmes targeting developing nations.

[1] Opening Remarks by Foreign Minister Urmas Paet at the conference Opportunities for Green Industry in Estonia, 20.05.2010, available at: (last access: 01.06.2010).

[2] Kristin Aasma: Kopenhaageni kliimakonverents: keskmise temperatuuri tõus jäägu alla 2 kraadi, Õhtuleht, 20.12.2009.

[3] State Chancellery of Estonia: Informatsioon ja Eesti seisukohad Euroopa Ülemkogu 25. ja 26. märtsi 2010. a kohtumiseks, available at: (last access: 01.06.2010).

[4] Ibid.

[5] National Audit Office of Estonia: State’s efforts of reducing greenhouse gas emissions: Summary of audit results, 26.11.2009, available at: (last access: 01.06.2010).

[6] Ibid.