Estonia’s Responsibility for the Global Environment
Ladies and Gentlemen
At the outset I would like to commend the organizers of today’s event for holding this conference dedicated to the World Day and for raising a most challenging and relevant question: is it possible to go green and still make a profit? This question emphasizes the pragmatism that is very characteristic of the earthy Estonians, reflecting our view on the issues of development cooperation and climate change. The pragmatic answer to this question will be ‘yes’, but for arguments’ sake, I will now address some thoughts on the opportunities for green growth in Estonia, trying to remove this question mark.
Humankind has been enjoying a long period of economic growth and scientific development by harnessing vast fossil energy sources. To a large extent, this has been done at the expense of the environment. During recent years, greening the economy has became an issue of increasing importance, often being regarded as the way forward in addressing climate change and supporting sustainable development. However, this is only one part of the economy becoming green. There is no doubt that today a green economy serves as a prerequisite for the economic competitiveness of any country.
Although it came under the spotlight of global attention just recently, predominantly due to the global economic crisis, the greening of the economy has been going on for quite some time. The signing of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development in 1992, or the adoption of the Millennium Development Goals ten years ago, are some significant milestones in this process.
Ensuring sustainable development and environmental safety is often described as an immense challenge. I have to agree with this, but at the same time I believe that it also offers a great opportunity to become less dependent on exhaustible fossil fuels, while increasing our competitiveness and security at the same time. The sooner we realise this, the better. Our policy is to pursue sustainable development and environmental safety, and for that goal, ambitious targets have been set. Let me give you few examples:
- In the framework of the Kyoto protocol, Estonia has decreased its greenhouse gas emissions by more than 50% since 1990 and we aim at reaching 60% by 2020;
- During the last 10 years the energy intensity of the Estonian economy has decreased more than two-fold (that is the energy consumption for producing one GDP unit);
- By 2020, 25% of total energy consumption and 15% of electricity in Estonia will originate from renewable sources. This target for renewable energy is higher than the EU average (21%). Considering that only a few years ago the share of renewables in our power generation was almost non-existent, this is remarkable progress;
- Last year a Climate and Energy Agency was established in Estonia to help consumers save on energy expenditures and to support the building of energy-efficient homes.
The abovementioned efforts form just a part of our pursuit to green the economy and trigger new growth.
Innovation is essential in this regard, particularly the wider usage of new technologies and solutions. It might not be very well known that Estonia is a major producer of wind turbines. Even less known is the fact that Tallinn University of Technology has made some breakthrough inventions in the field of developing energy-efficient solar panels. Even in using our unique energy source, oil shale, we have implemented a number of cleaner and greener solutions without sacrificing energy security and sustainable development.
It goes without saying that the adaptation of new technologies and solutions has a positive impact on our economy, promoting growth, creating jobs–including green jobs–and increasing our efficiency. At the energy forum in Tallinn earlier this week, the same issue was under discussion. At the outcome, some very advanced ideas on how to minimise environmental impact by applying innovative solutions were brought out. I truly believe the future is brighter for those entrepreneurs who are able to successfully combine the greening and the growth.
In conclusion, allow me to highlight some issues regarding climate change. First we must comprehend the magnitude of our task. I believe we have started to realise that without stepping up and making coordinated actions to reduce the carbon footprint, we may face dire consequences. Inter alia, we may confront frequent and abnormally violent natural disasters, shortages of clean water and arable land, deforestation, and possibly even social repercussions.
Therefore, it is crucial to reach an ambitious and binding global agreement on cutting greenhouse gas emissions – an agreement that will include all major polluters. In this respect, the role of the European Commission as a driving force is irreplaceable.
Thus I am truly happy that the European Commissioner for Climate Action Connie Hedegaard is with us today, sharing her valuable insight and advice on this matter.