Climate Protection Is New Sexy: How Green is Hungary?

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„Hungary accounts for 0.137% of the world’s carbon dioxide emission output! Only 1% of the European Union. (..) So when we talk about different measures to be taken in Hungary to protect the climate, we are right to say that, but it is good to see (…) that our responsibility for the planet is much smaller.” - János Áder, President of Hungary stated on Kossuth Radio

In some respects, Hungary occupies a strange position on this issue. We can see that if we stop all our emissions by tomorrow, it would not stop global warming at all. In contrast, our vote in the European Union, could prevent, for example, the adoption of the motion for total carbon neutrality planned for 2050 by the Council of the European Union. Not to mention that nowadays the responsibility of the individual is increasingly emphasized on the issue of climate protection.

So can the liability of a 10 million “individuals” be a debate? Or could János Áder’s statement be true, and do we really have less responsibility? What does Hungary do to improve what experts say is an increasingly desperate situation? And beyond that, what can smaller communities do locally?

Question of the Climate Change in the European Union

Climate protection is a liberal value, even though liberalism is often mocked for caring more for the individual rather than the community. 

Meanwhile, a tendency may be observed among European right-wing parties: they do not appear to be interested in climate change, or even try to pretend that it’s made up.

For example, a German far-right party, AfD, tried to argue that by pushing for measures to tackle the climate crisis, the Greens  really just wanted to abolish private property.

Nevertheless, the EU elections brought the spectacular strengthening of the Greens in May, so it is visible that this topic is really important to the European voters (especially for Western Europeans).

In several countries, the Green Party achieved the best result in its history in the EP elections, for example in Germany (Die Grünen), Finland, and France (Europe Écologie-Les Verts).

In Hungary and Austria, however, the Green parties lost seats.

Position of the Hungarian Government

Despite the fact that climate change is a fundamentally left-wing topic, a research by index.hu, Závecz Research, and Demnet Foundation reveals that there is no climate skepticism among right-wing voters in Hungary, although they are more cautious than opposition voters.

Therefore, even though Viktor Orbán doesn’t really want to deal with the issue, or calls the fight against climate change the “prank of rich countries”, he is forced to pick up this theme from time to time if he doesn’t want his opponents to use it against him.

At the same time, the Hungarian PM is trying to disregard the issue as much as possible – by stating that, currently, it is not worth dealing with – neither politically, nor economically.

However, in his earlier statement he talked about the government’s current goal of meeting Hungary’s electricity needs from two green sources (solar and nuclear), so that in this way most of Hungary’s electricity production could be carbon-free.

In addition, Hungary is delivering on its promises to the EU, the Prime Minister added. Needless to say, the set commitments are just the expected minimum, nothing more, and not only the experts of the oppositon state that, but even the relevant Minister of State is of the same mind.

Hungarian Climate Protection in the EU

According to the EU rules, Hungary had to submit its National Energy and Climate Plan at the beginning of the year. This program has also been the subject of a lot of criticism from Brussels, including, among other things, the incomplete drafting of about 40 to 50 points out of the 110 obligatory points.

Noteworthy, the lack of resources needed to achieve the results of the project are probably the greatest shortcoming on the side of Hungary. Other than that, the government has not really committed itself to climate action. 

In many respects, Hungary set out only the minimum level (set by the EU) as an achievement, such as raising the share of renewable energy to 20% by 2030. This part was already achieved in 2016 – as regards the share of renewable energy sources in the production of heating (20.76%).

However, it is important to note that the Hungarian government has been very lucky in this area, since firewood is also a renewable source of energy (it can be replanted), and thus it have been able to raise our numbers recounting the firewood consumption instead of building wind or solar power plants.

What Can We Do Locally?

As may be observed on the basis of climate change trends, action at the local level is becoming more and more important, especially in big cities.

This phenomenon is a positive development in many aspects, as 55% of the Earth’s population lives in cities, and big cities are responsible for two thirds of global carbon emissions.

In recent years, several big cities have come together to work for a healthier and more sustainable future. Budapest is also a member of such a partnership (the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy), although it has not benefited it so far.

Even one city can do a lot for preventing climate change. Local governments could support and encourage selective waste collection, energy saving, cycling, or public transport instead of cars.

Green space management is also key to climate protection, as plants remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. They also have a positive effect on the microclimate, so we can reduce the increasing number of air conditioners.

However, on closer inspection, this is not an irrelevant question to Budapest neither. For example, for the upcoming Mayor’s election in the Hungarian capital, two out of four candidates have made the green, liveable city the centerpiece of their campaign.

Gergely Karácsony and Róbert Puzsér consider modernizing public transport, expanding green areas, and protecting existing ones, as well as reducing the number of cars in the capital as most important issues.

The Mayoral election on October 13, 2019, will therefore show, among others, how well this topic can move voters in Budapest.

Fanni Stroban
Republikon Institute