BRUSSELS - It's time for the Baltics to shed the final vestiges of its Soviet past and embrace a greener, more environmentally sustainable future, says the former mayor of Tallinn Juri Ratas.
The Baltics have lagged behind their European neighbors in adopting environmental best practice and cannot match the green investment of the larger Western nations.
The region is also facing energy supply issues.
"In Soviet times it wasn't [important] to have a waste water management system in place, but of course now it is. Now more and more thought is being put into how we can live greener in our everyday lives," Ratas told The Baltic Times.
Ratas, now Vice-President of the Riigikogu (Estonian parliament) was speaking in Brussels following the inaugural European Green Capital awards.
Ratas said there was growing awareness in the Baltics about environmental issues. Though there is still far to go, he did not rule out the possibility of seeing a Baltic city in line for the award by 2018.
The 2010 and 2011 winners of the award, which recognizes environmental innovation, were announced at a ceremony in Brussels on Feb. 23.
The initiative was the brainchild of Ratas 's who holds a Masters degree in waste and environmental management 's during his tenure as city mayor.
In 2006, 15 European cities and the Association of Estonian cities signed a joint memorandum in Tallinn proposing the establishment of the annual European Green Capital award scheme.
Currently, more than 40 major European cities, including 21 EU capitals, support the initiative, which encourages cities to give environmental considerations priority in urban planning at a local level.
Kaunus and Riga were among 35 applicant countries to take part, but missed the final cut for the coveted prize, which was eventually taken by Stockholm and Hamburg for 2010 and 2011, respectively.
Ratas said the Baltic governments and citizens had much to learn from their Nordic neighbors, who have been pioneers in the field of environmental best practice strategies.
"A lot can be taken from Stockholm and Hamburgâ€¦ Public transport, waste management, water and air quality, access to green areas will be the big issues facing the Baltic States," he said.
The Baltic nations have moved to a more Scandinavian model on environmental practice in recent years.
Lithuania scores higher than average in measures of agriculture, fisheries, irrigation, pesticide regulation and water purity.
Coveted membership to the European Union proved a powerful motivator, with the Baltics obligated to meet strict emissions codes prior to entry in 2004.
Scandinavian countries have also poured significant investment into Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia to spearhead a massive environmental cleanup.
Lithuania is due to receive 1 billion euro in funding between 2007 and 2013 from the EU to fund environmental cleanup projects including the closure of Soviet era Ignalina nuclear plant.
The plant produces 70 percent of the country's electricity as well as some of Latvia's.
Its closure, combined with ongoing delays in other energy related projects, has sparked major concerns over energy security in the future.