Estonian Green Movement: protect the environment in Estonia and beyond

  • 2023-07-21
  • Johanna Kuld

Estonian Green Movement (EGM), one of the oldest grassroots environmental organisations in Estonia, celebrates its 35th anniversary this year. Initially started as a citizens’ movement against Soviet phosphorite mining in 1988, EGM has now grown into one of the main environmental organisations in Estonia, focusing on economic models, energy and climate policy. EGM is also part of larger environmental NGO networks in Europe, namely Friends of the Earth and CEE Bankwatch Network. Working with partners across Europe allows EGM’s national work to have an international impact. 


EGM’s aim is to protect the environment in Estonia and beyond, to limit further destruction of nature and to find alternatives to unsustainable technologies and business-as-usual policymaking. For this purpose, a wide variety of strategies have been employed throughout its history, including awareness-raising campaigns, lawsuits, participation in consultations, stakeholder meetings, advocacy meetings with decision-makers on various levels, street protests and petitions. 

In the age of green transition and energy transformation, Estonian Green Movement is advocating for climate justice and sustainability within planetary boundaries. Overarchingly, EGM is working towards a future with strong EU laws that protect human rights, the environment and the climate from corporate exploitation, being one of the hundreds of civil society organisations demanding a strong due diligence directive.


EGM has long advocated for Estonia’s exit from the use of oil shale, an extremely polluting fossil fuel comparable to coal, which is the main source of electricity generation in Estonia. In 2018, EGM introduced the topic in the Estonian parliament with the support of colleagues working on climate and energy; the proposal was met with considerable resistance but the political conversation has rapidly accelerated since. Today, Estonia is among the fastest-moving European Union countries to execute a just transition for workers in carbon-intensive regions, and the current coalition agreement emphasises the need for a green transition. In October 2022, the government implemented a law mandating that 100% of Estonia’s electricity consumption will be provided by renewable energy by 2030, accelerating the ongoing phase-out of oil shale in electricity production. 

In 2021, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) awarded outstanding climate projects that demonstrate the commitment of civil society to a just and green transition. EGM, in cooperation with the Estonian Fund for Nature and Environmental Law Centre organisations, won 5th place - the project focused on communicating about the energy transition in carbon intensive north-east Estonia and created a platform for dialogue between all stakeholders, including the government. The project raised awareness of climate issues among the public and launched a nationwide petition calling for climate neutrality. 

Current challenges

One of the key problems that EGM is now focusing on is the prospect of building a small modular reactor (SMR) nuclear power plant in Estonia. Although a recent study of transitioning to climate-neutral electricity generation found that nuclear is the least favourable option for the decarbonisation of the Estonian power system, the government’s targeted nuclear working group is still assessing this option. SMR is justified as a “political choice”, thereby undermining the results of the independent study. 

The analysis highlights multiple limitations and threats related to nuclear pathways, including regulation issues, technological delays and citizen opposition to nuclear development. The preliminary evidence warns of:  

(1) over reliance on a technology that is still underdeveloped with no history of use in Estonia;  

(2) cost overruns (nuclear energy is far more expensive than sustainable alternatives like wind and solar for which Estonia has huge untapped potential);  

(3) hold-ups with the deployment of SMRs (climate neutrality could be achieved faster on its current trajectory);  

(4) safety risks; and  

(5) the unresolved issue of permanent waste disposal.  

Introducing nuclear energy to Estonia would complicate the energy system further, and distracts us from the need to create a renewable, resilient and decentralised energy system, for which Estonia has a lot of untapped potential. EGM continues to advocate against false solutions and relentlessly emphasises that our energy system must be built on principles of efficiency, sufficiency, and democratisation, coupled with evidence-based and forward-looking visions. Otherwise, we will miss out on the opportunity to transform our societies in a socially inclusive manner to thrive in a post-carbon world.

Johanna Kuld

Gas Campaigner at Estonian Green Movement