Thursday, May 23, 2024

Minister: Climate law realistic about current tech capabilities

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Michal said the bill’s framework derives from EU and Paris Climate Agreement rules. At the same time, the bill takes into account that achieving a temperature rise significantly below two degrees Celsius is not feasible.

Michal said that the proposed law honestly and realistically outlines what can and can’t be done, given current tech. “If new technologies emerge, then these goals can be exceeded at a margin,” he added.

“Europe has set certain targets to reduce emissions by 55 percent by 2030, as set out in the Paris Agreement. Today, as a nation, Estonia is among the top five in Europe on this, having reduced emissions by approximately 57 percent,” Michal went on.

“We will continue at this pace with all our future activities. However, to achieve the long-term goal of a 90 percent reduction, as discussed at the ministers’ tables in Europe, new tech is required. My belief is everyone in Europe understands this. I would say that we are drafting this law in line with the Paris Agreement, but going forward, new solutions will definitely be needed,” he added.

The minister compared achieving the climate law’s goals with losing weight.

“I would say it’s like weight loss: A person can either try to lose weight by revising their diet and exercise regime, or rely on the miraculous weight loss drug Ozempic,” he said, noting that Estonia is opting for the first of these approaches.

“We are starting today with the climate-resilient economy bill, focusing on ‘diet and exercise.’ The equivalent of Ozempic in the climate field—carbon capture technology, which all countries have included in their goals—does not yet exist as a business model,” the minister added.

According to Michal, the European Commission is developing the details of the potential nature of this new tech.

“This will add an additional 10 percent to the goals. So, I would say that we are more ambitious in this plan than many other countries. Today, we are already among the top five countries that have reduced their emissions. This means there is no reason to talk about a lack of ambition or of action. Some countries talk about being climate-negative yet have only reduced emissions by a few percent so far,” Michal said.

Michal emphasized that there is currently no new technology in a commercial form that can be described in the law for emission reductions, otherwise, the law would be full of hot air.

“Many universities in Estonia are working on this, but this new technology does not yet have a business model that we can say is entirely profitable or reliable.

“For this reason why we are describing what can be done today. Otherwise, the alternative would be to fill the law with hot air and hollow claims, and then gather here on the show to scratch our heads about how it went wrong. We will write down what we can realistically achieve with current tech and add to that as new technologies and options arise,” said Michal.

The minister noted that the law slightly relaxes the targets for certain sectors, such as agriculture, due to food security concerns.

“In land use, primarily, where we are making way for food security, the solutions in agriculture may not be advanced enough to move at the pace once agreed upon,” he added.

“As for forestry, we are moving towards higher value-added activities and sustainable long-term felling volumes and defining nature reserves. We have said that 30 percent of Estonia must be protected land in the future. I think this is a message welcomed by both the nature conservation and forestry sectors. Of course, we still need to work on the implementation.”

Peat cutting is also to continue, but with the goal of reducing it. “The peculiarity of peat mining is that it results in a significant carbon footprint, about one-tenth of Estonia’s carbon footprint. So, it definitely needs to be reduced,” Michal said.

Impact assessment on the law is still forthcoming, though Michal noted that significant public funds would be needed to make various investments. He argued, however, that the question is whether this constitutes an expense or a revenue entry.

Michal provided an example where, in order to save five billion euros over the next 20 years on energy costs for Estonian citizens and residents, about two billion euros would need to be invested in various energy sector activities.

“When all is said and done we would save about three billion euros on energy costs. Is this an expense or a revenue? The investment have to be made in any case, but for the people, this spells lower energy costs. Similarly, various modes of transport need to be replaced. Renovating buildings, also, for example, has €160 million allocated in the budget this year—people can renovate their homes, boost their property value, business gets work, and the money goes into the economy. Again, is this an expense or a revenue? The investments need to be made, but it they build on society’s ability to function better and may also be financially beneficial.”

“So I would argue that much of what we are doing needs to be done in any case, but just a bit more rapidly and also in a manner which is beneficial for the people,” the minister concluded.

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