Discussions of Estonia’s energy and climate future pick up momentum
Kadi-Kaisa Kaljuveer, Estonian Environmental Law Center (J&E/Estonia)
At a time when some of the biggest countries in the world are finding ways to question the seriousness of climate change, Estonian NGOs are gaining momentum in the climate front. The main source of CO2 emissions and therefore also the main “contributor” to climate change is its oil-shale industry located conveniently 200km away from the capital towards the east. Electricity and heat production in Estonia is mostly based on oil shale, although the share of renewables has also increased during recent years. Environmental groups see the oilshale industry as a mote in the eye, while politicians and other decision-makers uphold it as a source of income to the state budget, and local communities welcome the industry as their main employer. The conflicting interests make it even more important for us, the Estonian Fund for Nature and Estonian Green Movement to make the decision-makers understand and admit that, although the oil shale industry will soon be history, Estonia urgently needs a plan for the transfer to renewables in the least harmful way for all parties and shareholders.
From citizen initiative to the Parliament
The first real action in favour of phasing out fossil fuels in Estonia started in Spring 2018 when eNGOs Estonian Green Movement, the Estonian Fund for Nature and the Estonian Environmental Law Center, in cooperation with NGO Estonian Roundtable for Development Cooperation, started campaigning in the Citizen Initiative Portal for a “POXIT” (“Estonia needs a strategy for exiting shale oil”) proposal. The proposal was signed by 1079 people and submitted to the Parliament of Estonia in April 2018. The first public meeting about the proposal was held in June 2018. The main emphasis of the discussion was the negative impacts of shale oil mining and processing. But, as the shale oil industry also has a strong social and economic impact, discussions about the proposal were diverted to different commissions of the Parliament over the next months. The discussions culminated on the 23rd of October when the proposal was scheduled on the plenary agenda of the Parliament of Estonia. The topic was addressed from the viewpoint of environmental organizations, the Environment Committee of the Parliament of Estonia, Ida-Viru county Unemployment Insurance Fund and Estonian Academy of Sciences. Oil shale energy is an issue that, in addition to environmental and economic issues, also involves serious social issues. The main emphasis of the discussion was whether or not the current development plans are sufficient, or if there is need for a specific plan directly aimed at the current topic. The result of the discussion was vague - the need for the plan was evident but was overshadowed by the fact that Estonia already has many differing development plans that answer questions about Estonia’s energy policy and its future.
The campaign helped to gather 1079 votes to get the issue to the Parliament, and also managed to create awareness about climate and energy concerns. Many articles about the existing shale industry appeared at the end of the year,- some asking for more ambitious plans for exiting the shale oil industrial era, others trying to maintain the industry for as long as possible for our own (mainly) economic benefits and to energy security.
Building a coalition and putting pressure on parties before the election
Simultaneously with the “POXIT” proposal, we also started building a coalition to strategically approach the issue of Estonia’s energy future. Today we have a working coalition including the Estonian Green Movement, the Estonian Fund for Nature and us - the Estonian Environmental Law Center. The main emphasis of the work is aimed at politicians and the Estonian energy policy in general; we are building meaningful dialogue about future energy scenarios in Estonia. The topic will be widely discussed and all relevant stakeholders will be included. The first roundtable to bring together different NGOs and build an even wider circle of action-takers was held at the end of January 2019. The next milestone is a political pre-election climate debate to be held in February 2019. The General Elections to the Estonian Parliament take place in March 2019, so it is the perfect time to gauge the focus of the positions of Estonian politicians and the public, while also trying to set and shape the focus.
What about Estonian NECP?
Estonian NECP until 2030 was mainly put together from two strategic documents on Estonian climate and energy policy; there wasn't much discussion on what new info to add to the final document. The main info was gathered from the General Principles of Climate Policy until 2050 and the Estonian Energy Development Plan until 2030. These documents were approved on the national level in 2017. The first version of Estonia’s NECP was published in September 2018. In October the document was introduced to stakeholders and NGOs, who had the first opportunity to submit comments about the document in December. The first comments of our coalition (Estonian Green Movement, Estonian Fund for Nature and Estonian Environmental Law Center) pointed out the shortcomings of both the content of the NECP and the public participation process. The public engagement process started at a very late stage, which is not in compliance with the principle of effective inclusion under Article 6 and 7 of the Aarhus Convention. In addition, criticism was expressed in terms of the substance and objectives presented (mainly in terms of the ambition of the objectives) and the measures (or their lack of accuracy) stated in the NECP. The first draft was forwarded to the European Commission; a new round of public consultation (on the national level) is open until the 6th February 2019.
The story was first published in J&E Newsletter Network News, Issue 2019/1, 4th February 2019.
Read also previous Network News.
 You can submit a proposal to the Parliament of Estonia on how to amend existing regulations or improve the society. In order to do that you should have at least 1000 signatures in support.
 Specific information from that county is needed because shale oil industry is mainly located in that area.