Central and Eastern Europe’s commitments to the Paris Agreement’s goals are promising and Hungary could lead the region setting a good example.
During the Budapest Climate Summit, held in Budapest on 9 October, the Minister for Innovation and Technology László Palkovics reminded how, compared to other countries, Hungary is among those that reduced CO2 emissions the most.
“And we were able to achieve this result while also making the economy grow,” he underlined.
In 2018, Hungary’s GDP grew 4.9 per cent alongside a 0.7 per cent drop in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, outperforming the European Union average on GHG reduction by more than 9 per cent.
“There is a long road ahead, but I believe that we can achieve both the 2030 and 2050 goals,” continued the Minister.
Indeed, Hungary has backed the Commission’s proposal to increase the 2030 emission reduction target from 40 to 55 per cent.
“While we keep fighting the coronavirus the clock hasn’t stopped and we also need to address climate change,” said the Commission’s Executive Vice President Frans Timmermans during his keynote speech. “We only have one planet and we need to take care of it. That’s why we are increasing the emission reduction target. We made an impact assessment and we know we can reach this goal. The transition cannot happen if we cannot afford it, so the transition is for those that want change but they don’t know where to start.”
Minister Palkovics reminded that in the case of Hungary the goal is to make the electricity production carbon-free while at the same time including the existing 6 gigawatts (GW) of solar installation into the grid so that they can be used in the future.
“This doesn’t mean we are going to close the Matra power plant, but transforming it,” he emphasised.
Nevertheless, Hungary seems to be performing pretty well. John Murton, COP26 Envoy of the UK Government, defined Hungary’s actions as a strong signal for neighbouring countries and the region.
“Net-zero 2050 is very achievable and it can rely on renewable energy sources as costs are getting even cheaper than we anticipated,” he said. “Countries need to step up and it is very positive that Hungary has already a plan to phase-out coal and it passed a law that confirms climate-neutrality as a legally binding obligation.”
Although a coal phase-out is already planned, Hungary keeps relying on nuclear power, which today accounts for 48 per cent of the energy mix.
Csaba Kiss, Chief Technical Officer at MVM Hungarian Electricity, defined nuclear as a controversial topic for the country. However, he believes that responsible and safer use of nuclear energy can help Hungary achieve its goals while ensuring the security of electricity supply.
“Hungary can fulfil the climate goals only if new nuclear power plants are built,” highlighted Pál Kovács, State Secretary for the maintenance of capacity of the Paks Nuclear Power Plant. “Nuclear-generated energy without depending on the climate conditions, like the heatwave that hit everybody in August. Electricity consumption is a sign of the higher and increased living standards of Hungarians, although we are behind other countries like Austria. The modernisation will not slow us down but helping in the directions of new technologies like hydrogen. The new plant will save millions of tonnes of carbon emissions as well as helping the transport sector.”
Hungary, and the region, are performing well also in other sectors. Matt Simister, CEO of TESCO Central Europe, revealed that the company in 2017 was responsible for 3.5 million tonnes of CO2. Today, the Group has reduced emissions by 35 per cent in CEE while also reducing food waste by 66 per cent.
A widespread point that emerged during the Budapest Climate Summit is that customers and people are playing an important part in the energy transition. It was underlined by the CEO of electric utility company E.ON Hungary Attila Kiss, according to which in order to support the energy transition, we have to change the idea that climate protection and profitability are contradictory.
Robert Kubinsky, CEO of real estate firm HB Reavis Hungary, underlined how people are demanding environmentally-friendly solutions when renting office space.
“After a research, we conducted in the region, we can say that is more about the mindset than the costs,” he said. “Paying more for each square metre is an added value for the well-being of the people. But a more consistent approach from stakeholders is needed.”
Finally, Péter Kaderják, Minister of State for Energy and Climate Policy mentioned the non-refundable support system for residential solar power systems as one of the main contributions to delivering on the goals of the Climate and Nature Protection Action Plan. Again a people-centric topic.
“It is already certain that people living in disadvantaged regions and smaller settlements will be able to apply with preferential conditions.”