We, 5.10.2022

Kaja Tael: Estonia visible in Glasgow

Merili Arjakas
Kaja Tael: Estonia visible in Glasgow
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Extension Rebellion activists protest in front of JP Morgan premises as they take part in a demonstration against 'Greenwashing' near the COP26 U.N. Climate Summit in Glasgow, Scotland, Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021.
Extension Rebellion activists protest in front of JP Morgan premises as they take part in a demonstration against 'Greenwashing' near the COP26 U.N. Climate Summit in Glasgow, Scotland, Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021. Photo: Alastair Grant / AP / Scanpix

Estonia can stand out in climate diplomacy by proposing an alliance for streamlined collection of environmental data and participating in EU initiatives, Kaja Tael, ambassador at large for climate and energy policy, said on the second day of the Glasgow conference.

Kaja Tael. 
Kaja Tael. Photo: Riigikogu

How has Estonia fared at the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow?

The prime minister managed to put Estonia on the map at several events today. COP26 is more than negotiations or speeches by leaders, it also introduces a number of initiatives. The PM participated in the creation of the new forests and land use alliance initiated by her British colleague Boris Johnson, as well as the global methane emissions event hosted by the EU and USA.

Last but not least, Estonia had its own event in the pavilion area today where we talked about a new initiative as part of the UN Environmental Program that has been spearheaded by Estonia. It is called DEAL for short or Data for the Environment Alliance.

PM Kaja Kallas said that the room was full of people and there was considerable interest from states, regions, companies and academics. Were you also left with the impression of a successful event?

Indeed. Side events do not have prior registration and we had no idea how many listeners there would be. We shared information about the event through our network of contacts that already constitutes event and content advertising. But we did not know who would come and how many. People also just kind of wonder in in a fair-type situation.

The room really was packed. Questions revealed an international and diverse audience but one of people with a keen interest.

DEAL will officially be launched next January as part of the UN Environmental Assembly. But the COP26 introductory event served its purpose and Estonia appeared in a good light.

In short, DEAL is aimed at getting better data that makes it possible to make better decisions to protect the environment and climate. Are there any concrete ways states will be applying DEAL?

The event today was beneficial in that we already have a pilot project in Kenya before the coalition is even launched. It is a sizeable project where decent data can help monitor activities and boost quality.

We have managed to bring together Estonian digital forest processor Timbeter and the interest of the Kenyan government in considerably boosting the forest area of the country. Their interests align very nicely. It is meant as a test project and we will have to wait and see what comes of it.

DEAL has ambitious goals in all areas of use of data. We cannot hope they will all be realized right away, while data should become more readily available and we should learn to make better use of it.

Are there significant differences between Estonian and EU positions in Glasgow?

That is a trick question as Estonia is part of the EU. Estonia is not represented independently in COP26 negotiations where we want to enforce the Paris agreement and its rules. The EU delegation and its negotiators represent all member states. Estonian negotiators have daily coordination meetings with them to make sure EU representatives have a strong mandate and support.

Talking about global agreements, the Paris agreement and the accompanying legal nuances, Estonia’s interests are clearly expressed through the EU. We have no national interests here. However, availability of data is also being discussed at COP26 and that clearly coincides with Estonia’s national interests and DEAL goals.

What is the European Union’s expectation for the climate conference?

We mostly hope the rest of the world will follow the EU’s example. [European Commission President] Ursula von der Leyen launched the green turn in Europe when she became president almost two years ago. It is something the world had never seen before.

The EU has gotten further than the initial goal of having climate neutrality by 2050 in under two years. We now want to reduce carbon emissions by 55 percent by the year 2030. These are extremely progressive goals as is, while we have gone a step further.

We have climate legislation, it is all legally inevitable. We are presently negotiating concrete legal acts for reaching the targets. Nothing of the sort has been done anywhere else in the world.

The Commission has put forward its proposals in the “Fit for 55” package. These proposals cover all areas, from agriculture to taxation of energy. Member states are currently in the process of discussing them.

The process has gotten quite far in the Estonian government. Officials have formulated their proposals. However, it is very likely the EU will not be able to pass the package this year and that it will go to France (the EU presidency for the first half of 2022 – ed.). It is evident member states will need more time for legal analyses as legislative proposals are comprehensive.

The European Union, as a major economic bloc, will introduce some mechanisms of putting pressure on other countries for more ambitious climate goals in the COP26 context. Looking at what has brought us to COP26, more important than the conference itself is how other countries have joined in with more ambitious goals than previously.

What can Estonian diplomats, who represent a very small country, do in Glasgow and Brussels to help better protect the environment?

Climate diplomacy has been in development for decades, while it has picked up speed in recent years. For example, John Kerry is the U.S. administration’s official climate envoy. Few countries have members of government as these special representatives. Kerry’s appointment shows how serious the U.S. is about the green turn. The EU has Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans as its climate diplomat. They really are high-level representatives.

The EU has special climate envoys on the level of officials. We have considerably developed climate diplomacy in recent years. Estonia has participated in EU delegations for all manner of environmentally beneficial events. If we cannot offer physical or financial assistance, we can offer moral support. But Estonia has opportunities in more than a few countries. For example, Ukraine where we have a solid presence and concrete plans.

What are those plans?

We want to see whether we can launch specific environmental projects through the Eastern Partnership Center and as part of development cooperation programs. We have discussed joining forces with Sweden. We have some ideas of what could be done, while they haven’t yet matured into something more.

Development cooperation has always had specific priorities and I hope adjusting to climate change and combating it can soon be added to them.