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Journey to Zero: sustainability as a business opportunity

Clean energy, circular economy, mobility and sustainable finance were brought into focus at the Journey to Zero, AmCham Sustainability Conference in Budapest where experts from business, government, academia and NGO sectors took a closer look at how companies and leaders navigate the complexity that the EU Green Deal and its Fit for 55 Package bring.

Obligations under the EU wide Green Deal framework will have a fundamental impact on all sectors in the Member States of the European Union, including in Hungary. Together with multiple measures, Hungary will have to take to increase carbon sequestration and emissions reduction; the country will also need to strengthen support of such sectors like research and development and innovation to meet national climate targets by 2030.

“We need new technologies as early as possible and of course, education of professionals capable of deploying and applying these technologies to adapt to inevitable effects of climate change”, Barbara Botos, Deputy Minister of State for Climate Policy, Ministry for Innovation and Technology of Hungary said at a panel discussion moderated by Thomas Narbeshuber, Vice President Central & South East Europe at BASF.

Stressing the role of environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) reporting in driving Hungary’s private sector towards sustainability, she also noted, that “investors look at ESG reports. It can direct investors’ priorities if you are really sustainable […]. We have to take it [ESG reporting] seriously because authorities will supervise it and it might be an enabling condition for getting EU funding too.”

The new energy efficiency obligation scheme which was introduced in Hungary in 2021 for the electricity, natural gas and transport fuel sector is another investment opportunity for the private sector, according to Ms Botos. The scheme was designed to stimulate annual end-use energy savings, and based on it, profitable energy efficiency deals can be made between businesses and their electricity or gas providers, she told attendees.

István Bart who is the Founder and Director of the Climate Strategy Institute 2050 pointed out at the conference that although Hungary has a climate strategy in which national goals and emissions reduction targets are set by 2030, the document is unclear about how the country is going to reach its objectives.

Journey to Zero
Courtesy of AmCham. From the left, Barbara Botos, István Bart and Endre Ascsillán.

“It does not have any fixed targets, it does not have legal power, it does not require the government to do certain things by a particular deadline,” he said.

For the strategy to prove effective, the country needs “an institutional framework and actual policy to get there”, Mr Bart emphasised.

ExxonMobil‘s EU Affairs Manager, Antonella Sopranzetti told the attendees that ExxonMobil plans to spend 15 billion US dollars in the next six-year period on low emissions technology.

“There are sectors that are particularly important to be addressed […],” she said. “If you look at commercial transportation, power generation, industry, those sectors together represent 80 per cent of total emissions coming from energy. That is where we want to focus, with investments in carbon capture and storage, hydrogen and biofuels.”

While cutting-edge low carbon energy technologies were the focus of ExxonMobil, Vice President of GE Global, Endre Ascsillán advocated for more mainstream energy sources at the conference. He underlined the significance of gas and nuclear on the path to emissions reduction from the energy sector.

“Hungarian and Central European governments are realistic”, he said, referring to the taxonomy debates, adding that “the door has opened and we have a chance to talk about gas and nuclear. Coal to gas transition could reduce 60 per cent of CO2 but the mixture of gas that can keep the stability of the grid and the renewables on top of that, it’s 70-80 per cent carbon reduction. All these technologies are here now.”

Journey to Zero is the first conference organised by the European Green Deal Working Group of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hungary. Its goal is to help member companies of the Chamber of Commerce get a better understanding of the European Green Deal, related EU and Hungarian legislation, available financing and innovative corporate best practices.

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