President Kersti Kaljulaid: Reducing ecological footprint requires close cooperation between university and entrepreneurs

At a meeting held in the main building of the University of Tartu on 28 February, Senior Research Fellow in Botany Aveliina Helm outlined to President Kersti Kaljulaid nature-based solutions for curbing biodiversity loss and the climate crisis and presented the prototype of the Rohemeeter or ‘Greenmeter’ app, which is due for completion shortly and which will help everyone assess the state of Estonia’s biodiversity.

During the meeting, Helm outlined the findings of a global report on the state of biodiversity and ecosystem services which was designed to strengthen ties between research and policy. The report, compiled by IPBES (the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services) operating under the UN, presents a worrying appraisal of the state of biodiversity in Europe: it is decreasing systematically in all of the continent’s ecosystems, and Europe’s ecological footprint now exceeds the threshold of the region’s biological tolerance.

Biodiversity loss is primarily attributed to pollution, climate change, invasive species, the overuse of natural resources and the loss of habitats (and the worsening of their quality) due to changes in land use. “Climate change and biodiversity loss reflect the same problem, which is the unsustainable use of the environment,” Helm explained. “That’s why solutions mitigating climate change have to go hand in hand with the restoration and preservation of biodiversity and everything nature gives us.”

Helm says that there is just as much need in Estonia as elsewhere to improve people’s awareness of the way in which biodiversity, the sustainability of food production and the mitigation of climate change are linked. Here too it is important that we maintain and restore the diversity of our landscapes and steer food production more skilfully towards making the most of what nature has to offer, preserving biodiversity and boosting the carbon reservoir of agricultural land. In order to raise the level of awareness among agricultural producers and people generally of the importance of biological and landscape diversity, researchers from the University of Tartu have devised an app, known as Rohemeeter or ‘Greenmeter’, to assess how environmentally friendly Estonia’s landscapes are and to offer people advice on nature protection. The app is due for completion shortly.

As part of the meeting, Vice-Rector for Research Kristjan Vassil provided an overview of the solutions being offered by researchers from the university to achieve the objectives set out in the state’s long-term development strategy, which is soon to be published, in global strategies and in the Green Deal recently struck by the European Commission.

Since Estonian entrepreneurs are also looking for more innovative and environmentally friendly ways to organise their operations so as to meet climate goals, President Kaljulaid recommended that the university work closely with business people in the country. “One of the things I took away from our conversation was the importance of ever broader-ranging cooperation,” the head of state said. “For instance, we need to be getting private operators involved more as well, alongside the state, and not necessarily in terms of obligations, but rather cooperation. Thankfully, entrepreneurs are often more interested in reducing their environmental footprint than you might think.”

The European Commission has made fulfilling the Green Deal its policy priority and has planned a trillion-euro budget for it up to 2050, representing 35% of the total budget of ‘Horizon Europe’. Four of Europe’s five planned missions are linked to the Green Deal.
In Estonia, cross-ministry management and financing of research and development orders will need to be achieved at the state level so as to avoid fragmentation within the country and to enable Estonia’s strongest fields of research to be developed and boosted. The University of Tartu has already submitted its proposals to the Research and Development Council for the long-term planning, management and funding of orders for research and development activities of importance to Estonia, including studies linked to environmental problems.

“We already have the technology and applications we need here in the university’s laboratories to directly help achieve the long-term goals that have been set, and testing and implementing them will have an immediate impact,” said Vassil. In this way, the work of researchers from the university in such fields as biodiversity restoration, renewable energy, the bioeconomy and gas fermentation technology, as well as in the digital innovation emerging from the cooperation model of the recently opened Delta Centre, will contribute to sustainable development.

During her three-day visit to Tartu County, President Kaljulaid also visited the University of Tartu’s Chemicum facility and Delta Centre and was given a tour of the university museum’s new permanent exhibition, entitled ‘The University of Our Lives’.

For further information please contact:
Aveliina Helm, Senior Research Fellow in Botany, University of Tartu, +372 5553 8679,
Kristjan Vassil, Vice-Rector for Research, University of Tartu, +372 737 5611,