‘We created 3D printer using sawdust’: Estonian Minister of Environment tells WAM how his country has gone green

by Hatem Mohamed ABU DHABI, 17th April, 2018 (WAM) –There are 6.5 million people dying every year because of pollution, and sustainability is the watchword, Siim Kiisler, Estonian Minister of Environment, told Emirates News Agency (WAM).

“Huge amounts of waste are being dumped into oceans. We have to reuse our waste and reduce our impact on our climate. It all has to do with resource efficiency. We need to be more sustainable in the production chain and efficient in our consumption. If we address these issues properly, we would then address climate change in the right way,” Kiisler said.

The Estonian Minister is in the UAE for the first time to attend the Green Business Summit 2018, opening today in Abu Dhabi under the theme “Aligning the Environment and the Economy,” where he will be participating in a panel session.

Kiisler was elected next President of United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA), the world’s highest-level decision-making body on the environment, making him the first Estonian to lead a UN environmental body.

The Minister said he will be meeting with Dr. Thani bin Ahmed Al-Zeyoudi, Minister of Climate Change and Environment to explore ideas and discuss his views on what can be done internationally about eco-innovation. “I need to learn about his priorities during the coming meeting of the UN Environment Assembly in March next year. There is a wide scope of environment issues that are all internationally overlapping: climate, oceans, etc.; they influence each other more than any other issues. They are getting more universal and global. We are seeking to have constructive cooperation with the UAE Ministry of Climate Change and I’m looking forward to having plans and mutual agreements,” he said.

The next big UNEA assembly in March 2019 will be about sustainability and innovation and “my aim is to reach a ministerial declaration on these issues. Up to 193 countries will be participating and we seek to get them committed to introduce some change,” he noted, adding, “We hear a lot of talk about changes but we need to see change on ground. We need to see how the public sector and central governments can influence the introduction of change. I wish the Green Economy Conference being held in the UAE would give a message for further development of advanced climate change solutions that can change business models adopted in this field.”

Estonia has been using digital signature for around 17 years now and “I, as minister, sign all my documents and decrees digitally, not on paper” the minister said, demonstrating the paramount importance his “small country is attaching to the impact of climate change and pollution,” as he put it.

Kiisler explained, “In the beginning people wondered why we should use it (digital signature) because there were no enough services where it can be used. Then we started creating services. So people can use digital signature and then it started spreading and spreading. Banks were very helpful as they started to change their passports and codes to follow the digital signature style. By this way, we have created business to the ICT sector. We also in the same fashion facilitated green procurement, which also affected companies’ way in building their infrastructure, (therefore) offering ICT solutions to public sectors.”

Estonia has a strong ICT business solution model supported by the government to stimulate eco-innovation, which justifies the existence of a large number of successful ICT companies around the world, including the UAE, according to the minister.

“Our ministry arranged a hackathon recently, where circular economy experts, environmental specialists, software developers, marketers, project managers, designers, and visionary entrepreneurs from around the world were finding eco-innovative solutions – action towards the sustainable future and growth. The overall winner used sawdust to develop a 3D printer,” he said.

A couple of years ago UAE government representatives paid an official visit to Estonia to discuss e-government, digital identity schemes and other areas of possible collaboration. The minister believes that governments should take stock of modern technology to boost people’s awareness about the goods they are using in their daily life to mitigate “our impact on our environment”.

“You find people in a grocery ask about the vegetables they buy, but you rarely find this in a furniture house for example. There should be some way to enhance people’s awareness about, for instance, the chair they are buying. Which kind of wood it is made of? Is it eco-friendly or not? What kind of material does it consist of? What is the effect of this material on the environment over the long run, etc., etc.. This can be done by utilising state-of the-art technology and sending tips and recommendations to people’s smartphones and other digital devices to boost their awareness about the impact of negative lifestyles on the environment,” he said.

The financial sector can also chip in when it comes to addressing climate change challenges, the Minister noted. “Some financial institutions in Estonia for example ask for the environmental impact of the project before they finance it. The public sector in Estonia requests to see whether or not a loan applicant is using their resources efficiently.”

From 1991, when Estonia gained independence with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the country has focused on growing from one of the least technologically-developed in Europe to become a leader in e-government. Under the e-Estonia initiative, the country has implemented a number of smart government programs including i-Voting, e-Tax Board, e-Business, e-Banking, e-Ticket, e-School, University via internet, the e-Governance Academy, and has launched a number of mobile applications.

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