Green transition is inevitable

In the EU, climate policy is being mostly shaped today by the European Green Deal. The Deal aims to make Europe climate neutral by 2050 in a way that renews the European economy without endangering biodiversity and to ensure that “no person and no place is left behind”.

According to the Forum’s keynote speaker, Marius Vaščega, Head of Cabinet of EU Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius, the biggest challenge of the Green Deal is to look at all environmental aspects together. In addition, it is also important to respond to challenges relatively quickly and across the sectors.

Kaja Tael, Ambassador at Large for Climate and Energy Policy, said the EU has a great opportunity to lead the green transition and thereby become a role model for other countries and regions in the world. According to Tael, the green transition requires a similar cross-cutting approach to that taken during the Estonian digital revolution, when it involved changes in all parts of society and economy

Marius Vaščega also emphasized that local governments have a key role to play in implementing the green transition at the local level.

The important role of the local governments

Representatives from most Estonian political parties participated in the Forum, in which discussions focused on the role and the potential of Estonian local governments in achieving climate neutrality goals.

All the party representatives underlined that the environment and/or climate are part of their parties’ action plans leading up to the local elections, which will be held in Estonia in October 2021. In this regard, the parties’ electoral platforms are already a work in progress and priorities are being set.

Discussions focused on mobility and energy – two topics that are most important for local authorities because they affect the vast majority of the population through transport options and the energy efficiency of buildings. It was also emphasized that local governments need to cooperate more closely with national government. Many measures need guidelines or regulations to be set at the national level before the local government can contribute. This was confirmed not only by the panellists, but also by the representatives of local government in the audience.

Another issue that was highlighted is that local governments in Estonia have uneven capacity to deal with environmental issues, and it became clear that larger cities are able to set bolder goals. For example, Tartu wants to become the “green flagship” among other Estonian local governments, and Tallinn is also moving strongly towards greener decisions as it’s aspiring to hold the title of the European Green Capital. At the same time, however, the discussions stressed that one should not forget the smaller local governments in Estonia, which may not always have sufficient resources to plan or implement such vast changes despite their desire to do so. Closer cooperation between different local governments as well as between the state and local governments would also be of help.

 Good examples of sustainability efforts can be found both in Estonia and in neighbouring countries

Nevertheless, Estonia already has some great examples to show. For the first time in Estonia, the title of Environmentally Friendly Local Government 2020 was announced at the Forum. The competition, organized by the Ministry of the Environment and the Environmental Investment Centre, declared the parish of Saaremaa island as the first Environmentally Friendly Local Government 2020. The city of Rakvere and the city of Tartu were also nominated as outstanding examples.

Keskkonnasõbralik omavalitsus 2020 - Saaremaa vald. Foto: Aron Urb
Handing over the Climate Friendly Local Government 2020 award to the representative of Saaremaa municipality. Photo: Aron Urb

Key activities initiated by Saaremaa municipality include the restoration of species-rich landscapes, the use of energy-efficient solutions, environmentally friendly public procurements, projects to improve conditions for fish migration, support for public events linked to waste collection, and the establishment of drinking water and wastewater treatment systems compliant with environmental regulations.

In addition to the inspiring local examples, the Forum also introduced best practices and experiences from Lahti (the European Green Capital in 2021), Stockholm and Tallinn. All speakers emphasized the importance of involving local people in improving the environmental conditions in cities and taking their suggestions into account during the environmental planning.

According to Kaja Peterson, organizer of the Sustainable Development Forum and senior expert at SEI Tallinn, the Forum provided a very good opportunity to combine the most important goals of the EU’s climate policy with Estonia’s local challenges, and encouraged politicians to work towards meaningful election programmes for the local government elections in 2021.

The Forum was organized by SEI Tallinn in cooperation with the Ministry of the Environment , European Commission Representation in Estonia, Sustainable Development Commission at the Government Office  and the Environmental Committee of the Estonian Parliament .