International Treaties

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Environmental Law

Case Studies


Environmental Crime Legal Framework in Estonia

Estonia gained independence in 1991 during the dissolution of the Soviet Union and joined the European Union in 2004. The Ministry of Environment manages an integrated system of environmental protection, which covers the entire country, and ensures the preservation of the environment and sustainable use of natural resources.

There are provisions for the protection of the environment in the Constitution. Article 34 states: “Everyone who is legally in Estonia has the right to freedom of movement and to choice of residence. The right to freedom of movement may be restricted in the cases and pursuant to procedure provided by law to protect the rights and freedoms of others, in the case of a natural disaster or a catastrophe, to prevent the spread of an infectious disease, to protect the natural environment”.

Article 53 reads: “Everyone has a duty to preserve the human and natural environment and to compensate for damage caused to the environment by him or her. The procedure for compensation shall be provided by law”.

Featured Legislation

1990: The Environmental Protection Law was adopted, providing the framework for further environmental legislation. It defines the principles and objectives of Estonian environmental policy. The legislation regulated the use of Levies for the use of natural resources and for environmental pollution. They were payable for the use of oil, natural construction materials, peat and water. Environmental pollution levies were also payable for the discharge of harmful substances into water or into the air and for the dumping of waste matter.

1992: The Waste Law was passed, setting out the principles and objectives of Estonian waste policy, which are broadly in line with EU legislation in this field.

1994: The Estonian Parliament adopted a new water law which satisfied the requirements of the Helsinki Convention and adapted EU legislation.

1995: The Law on Sustainable Development was enacted, creating a framework for the country’s environmental compatibility procedures and environmental policy.

1997: The Radiation Law was adopted in 1997. The legislation aimed to achieve full harmonization with corresponding Community directives.

1998: Estonia adopted a framework directive on clean air policy which is identical to Directive 96/62/EEC (ambient air quality assessment and management).

1998: A regulation corresponding to Decision 88/609/EEC on emissions from large combustion plants was adopted, ensuring that existing plants are able to comply with the standards laid down in the relevant EU directives.

2005: Environmental Charges Act.This Act provides the grounds for determining the natural resource charges, the rates of the pollution charge, the procedure for calculation and payment thereof, and the grounds and specific purposes for using state budget revenue obtained from environmental use. Environmental charges are established and imposed based on the need for environmental protection, the economic and social situation of the state and, in the events specified in this Act, also based on the value created by natural resources subject to the charge. A mineral resource extraction charge that exceeds the minimum rates provided for in this Act is established based on the state’s goal of earning revenue. In the case of an energy mineral resource, the added value generated by the energy mineral resource is relied upon in addition to the goal of earning revenue. For the purposes of this Act, ‘environmental charge’ means the price of the right of use of the environment. For the purposes of this Act, ‘environmental use’ means extraction of a mineral resource; water abstraction; fishing; hunting; emission of pollutants into ambient air, water bodies, groundwater or soil; and waste disposal by way of depositing in landfills or other activities that result in the emission of waste into the environment.

2005: The Environmental Impact Assessment and Environmental Management System Act was signed, providing legal grounds and procedures for the assessment of environmental impacts, environmental management and audit schemes and legal grounds for awarding the eco-labels in order to prevent environmental damage.

2017: Estonia launched the TAIEX-EIR peer-to-peer instrument (EIR P2P) as a new practical tool allowing peer-to-peer learning among environmental authorities. Estonia participated in workshops on air quality and on exchanging experiences and good practices related to reducing air pollution

2019: Water Act. This Act provides for grounds for planning and organising the use and protection of water, the implementation of which will promote sustainable water use; water protection requirements which will ensure protection of water resources in the long term; rights, obligations and liability of persons in water use; state supervision over compliance with the requirements for the use and protection of water; and liability for an infringement of the requirements provided for in this Act. The provisions regarding protection of water and construction activity in public water bodies as provided for in Chapter 8 of this Act extend also to the exclusive economic zone, and the provisions regarding protection of the marine environment extend also to the ships and aircraft which have been registered in Estonia outside the marine area of Estonia. The Act further provides for planning and organising water use and protection; requirements for drinking water, natural mineral water and bathing areas; organisation of wastewater collection and treatment; assessment and management of flood risks; requirements for water use and protection; assessment and approval of groundwater resources and performance of hydrogeological work; encumbering public water bodies with construction works; contributions to international hazardous and noxious substances fund; water investigation and drinking water investigation; marine scientific research permit; state supervision; and liability.

Featured Case Studies: Transnational Environmental Crime, Human Security, and Biosecurity

  • Estonia produces a large amount of waste including hazardous waste from the oil shale industry. Despite the adoption of the European Union’s Environmental Crime Directive in 2008: Authorities lament a number of deficiencies in the Directive which may compromise its effective implementation and enforcement. For example, the Directive does not define specific types and levels of penalties or any rules on prosecution or jurisdiction. Illegal waste management and trafficking offences in Estonia require stricter enforcement, but the government’s new waste management plan for 2014–2020 focuses less on legal compliance with laws and more on modern product design, clean resource-saving production and the recycling of already produced materials. The best solution is avoiding the production of waste, whereas recycling is considered a lower priority solution. New and better solutions for reducing and recycling waste are also being explored in oil shale extraction; the power industry; and the wood and cement industries.

References and Further Reading


Ministry of Environment: