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In memoriam: Kaja Peterson (14 April 1963–22 March 2022)

With great sadness, we must inform you that our dear colleague in SEI Tallinn Kaja Peterson has passed away. She was a biologist, environmental scientist and head of the SEI Tallinn Sustainable Development Programme for several decades.

Published on 6 April 2022
Kaja Peterson

Photo: SEI Tallinn.

Kaja was born and raised in Tallinn. Thanks to her parents who were involved in nature education, her desire to become a biologist was also nurtured. She graduated from the University of Tartu as a biologist and completed her master’s degree in environmental sciences at the University of Manchester in 1992. For most of her adult life, Kaja worked at SEI Tallinn, starting as a project manager and becoming the head and senior expert of SEI Tallinn’s Sustainable Development Programme in 1998.

Kaja’s contributions to environmental protection in Estonia have been invaluable. In recognition of this, she was awarded the Estonian Nature Conservation Silver Badge in 2013. Her multifaceted view of the relationship between the natural environment and society and her mission-led nature led her to a number of social positions. Kaja was a member of the Estonian Naturalists’ Society and the Estonian Ornithological Society. She was also one of the founding members of the Tallinn Bird Club.

One of the most important areas in which she is considered a pioneer is the development and introduction of an environmental impact assessment method in Estonia in the early 1990s. At the time, not much was known about the importance of environmental impact assessments in Estonia. Kaja was one of the first experts in the field and she has been deservedly called the “mother of environmental impact assessment” in Estonia. In 2011, she defended her doctoral dissertation at Tallinn University on “Drivers of Effectiveness of Environmental Assessment”. The total volume of Kaja’s research is impressive, with 148 publications, including several monographs and articles in international journals. She also supervised three master’s theses.

In addition, Kaja played a very important role in the early days of promoting sustainable development issues, which culminated in 1995 with the development and entry into force of the relevant law in Estonia. She published a number of guidance materials in this field, as well as dozens of internationally recognized publications. It was always important for Kaja to improve her professional skills, motivate her colleagues and learn about new ideas and initiatives. Kaja was active in several international professional networks, which provided an opportunity to learn from colleagues in other countries and bring fresh ideas to Estonia that can be adapted to local conditions.

Kaja always reminded everyone that humans are a part of nature and that nature provides the basis and framework for human activity in every field. Her principle was that nature conservation and economic activity should not be opposed, but that we should think about how to accommodate the needs of humanity within the limits of the Earth’s ecosystems so that it would be good for future generations to live here.

Kaja’s sincere interest in nature and especially in birds also accompanied her in her daily work. Exploring the natural surroundings was a necessary part of the day when going on trips, seminars or conferences abroad with colleagues. She believed that one of the key elements of changing people’s attitudes towards nature and the environment is being in nature and experiencing it directly. Kaja cared for nature not only in words, but also in practice, setting an example for many. She was a good and warm companion to all of us and always ready to provide advice or any other help.

Kaja’s current and former colleagues at SEI Tallinn

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