May 7, 2024

An Edifying Tale of Keeping the Lights On: Societal Resilience in an Energy Crisis – the Case of Estonia

Denis Shlenduhhov, via
Summer night view to Tallinn, Estonia.
Summer night view to Tallinn, Estonia.

In 2021–23, Europe experienced a major energy shock due to a number of significant factors in the energy market. As a result of Russia’s strategy to take advantage of Europe’s dependency on its energy supply and coerce the EU into acquiescence to Russia’s geopolitical demands, the most important course-changing trigger has been the Russian war against Ukraine.

A raft of urgent policy measures passed at the EU and national levels, quick adaptation of the consumers to the price signals, the availability of LNG from the US, suppressed demand in China, and a mild winter meant that a full-scale disaster was averted. However, the previous crisis being less severe than anticipated does not mean the next one will be less challenging. Estonian society’s resilience to future energy crises may determine not only the country’s internal political dynamics but also its relations with key partners, its reputation in the EU, and even the country’s long-term geopolitical prospects.

In order to understand how well-prepared Estonian society is for such future crises, this study identifies and analyses the key public narratives that emerged during the 2021–23 energy crisis and investigates how they reflected on Estonian society’s perceptions and actions. The narrative analysis is complemented by survey data, which indicates how the Estonian public viewed various aspects of the crisis and its resolution, as well as the extent to which public sentiment echoes or runs counter to the identified narratives.

The study highlights several key shortcomings in Estonian society’s resilience capabilities. Firstly, the lack of constructive responsiveness to warnings about plausible severe risks (i.e., power cuts) and low scores on preparedness for future energy crises show that the Estonian society does not have a mindset of crisis preparedness. Secondly, society’s lack of confidence in the government’s ability to successfully navigate such crises has the potential to undermine the relationship of trust and cooperation in similar episodes in the future. Another breakdown in resilience in the response to the energy crisis was related to the failure to maintain a just and equal distribution of risk, vulnerability, and cost. As the narrative related to the profits of the energy companies—especially state-owned ones—shows, the sense of unfair distribution of costs and benefits was pervasive and highly antagonising.

As the survey showed, a responsible and competent media, effective government, and an impartial expert community were the most trusted sources of information with respect to coping with the energy crisis. These actors will have to play an important role in rebuilding the confidence lost during the energy crisis, shaping the narratives that inspire steadfast action for forging a better future for energy and climate security, and improving Estonia’s resilience.

Download and read: An Edifying Tale of Keeping the Lights On: Societal Resilience in an Energy Crisis – the Case of Estonia (PDF)