Estonians provide summit example

  • 2002-08-29
  • Sara Toth

An Estonian delegation says it will act as an example to other nations at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg because it represents a country that has used actions instead of words to improve its environment.

Since the first global summit on sustainable development in Rio de Janeiro a decade ago, Estonia has lowered its emission of greenhouse gases, cut its consumption of water and increased the area of protected forests.

Soon after independence the rate of greenhouse gas emissions dropped with the country's gross domestic product. But as the GDP began its current rise in 1995, industrial air pollution has continued to decrease, according a government report.

"It's not that these improvements just happened, but they happened because the people who were and are leading the country created rules and tools for sustaining the environment," said Environment Ministry official Ulle Vaht, who also serves as directing secretary of the Estonian Commission of Sustainable Development.

Vaht is one of four ministry officials who will attend the summit, organized by the United Nations. Estonia's other three delegates are from the Economy Ministry.

Even the country's reliance on energy from oil-shale production has become more environmentally friendly, Vaht said. The emissions of sulfur-dioxide from this process are still the highest in Europe, but they have fallen from 275,000 tons in 1980 to 91,500 tons in 2000, according to ministry figures.

"This is because of regulations and investments by the energy company," Vaht said.

But some environmental groups recently criticized Estonia's agreement with the European Union that allows the Baltic state to continue using energy from oil-shale. Activists said the country should look for a renewable source of energy.

Environment Ministry officials said they would discuss renewable energy at the conference, along with water management and methods of educationg people about preservation.

Vaht said Estonia was able to easily implement environmental regulations after the Rio summit because at that time, the country was reorganizing itself after the collapse of communism. Estonia has also been active on environmental matters in an effort to meet EU standards.

"And as far as regional cooperation, we are very lucky here to have the Nordic countries as our neighbors because they place a big priority on the environment," Vaht said.

Although its environmental reforms have helped improve part of Estonia's future, the picture looses some of its brightness when economic and especially social factors are added.

A growing number of people have been diagnosed with HIV and more people have become drug addicts. At the same time, the population has decreased and the employment rate has dropped, especially among youth. The delegation also hopes to get ideas at the conference to help improve general public health, said Andres Kratovits, director general of the Environment Ministry's international cooperation department.

"Of course it's logical that the concentration in the last 10 years has been on the environmental and economic sectors," Kratovits said.