It is high time to talk about the details of creating a climate-neutral Hungary
Author: Huszár András

On 3 June last year, the Hungarian Parliament adopted Act XLIV of 2020 on Climate Protection. This legislation stipulated at the legal level that Hungary would reach the state of climate neutrality by 2050. With this, Hungary was among the first countries in the world to set this important goal in legislation, making it mandatory for all Hungarian stakeholders. Of course, many people do not even understand why climate neutrality is important and what does it actually mean for them.

Climate neutrality is very simply the state in which the amount of greenhouse gases (GHG) from human activity does not exceed the amount that nature (or possibly artificial absorption capacities) can neutralise. Its significance is that this way the amount of GHG gases in the atmosphere does not increase further, so climate change can be significantly mitigated. This climate neutrality target was already included in the Paris Agreement itself (although it uses a different terminology: it prescribes a balance between emissions and removals), however, it was not tied to a well-defined date. It was the IPCC who has said basically that if we want to keep climate change under control, we need to achieve climate neutrality globally by 2050, at the latest. But we know that the global goal can only be a set of combined nation-state efforts. Fortunately, more and more countries have set themselves the goal of achieving this climate-neutral state by 2050 at the latest, including the largest emitters. However, this is still enshrined in law in only a relatively few places. Therefore, the significance of this move by Hungary is difficult to overestimate, however, as the saying goes: it is not the end but the beginning of an important process.

The Hungarian climate law is extremely concise on how Hungary will achieve climate neutrality. But as we know the devil lies in the details and the GHG emission reduction trajectories. But that’s not all. Climate neutrality is an ambitious goal, comparable to the implementation of the lunar landing planned in the early 1960s. No one really knew how it was going to happen, but they did know that it had to be done and that it would cost a lot of money. Achieving climate neutrality, however, is a process in which everyone will have a role to play. Both society and the economy are going to change, they need to change. This process will have both positive and negative effects. The goal is to maximise the positives, minimise the negatives. In the meantime, we have to adapt to the inevitable effects of climate change, but avoid those that can still be avoided.

Hungary is not alone in this process, but the starting point and problems/national circumstances of each country are unique. That’s why we also need to talk to each other at the national level about what and how we want to achieve. How do we ensure that the transition leaves no one behind, how do we ensure that the economic sphere is not only a sufferer but also a catalyst for the process and invests exclusively in it? What is the situation in our narrower region, how could the V4/CEE countries work more closely together than before to take advantage of potential synergies and facilitate each other’s transition while creating win-win situations? And last but not least, what is the role of civil society in all this. How they can most effectively contribute to the changes needed.

These are the dilemmas that prompted the Equilibrium Institute (Egyensúly Intézet) and the Green Policy Center, Hungary’s two young non-partisan think tanks, to host a large-scale all-day conference. Our goal is not only to bring together key players once but also to meet at least year after year on the anniversary of the adoption of the Hungarian Climate Act and see where we stand in this thirty-year process on which so much depends. So, we set ourselves four main priorities for the online event on 3 June:

  • to strengthen the social, economic and political consensus on the 2050 climate neutrality target and maintain the momentum;
  • to discuss key issues of the just transition;
  • to bring together actors to think together;
  • and to contribute to the development of a framework for regular cooperation/dialogue.

By implication, not everyone affected by or playing a key role in the climate neutrality transition can be there. However, the conference will be a unique one as our speakers will include the representatives of both the government and the opposition, members of the parliament, representatives of the municipality of Budapest, the banking sector, the automotive industry, trade unions, churches, insurance companies, science, NGOs, chambers of commerce and so on. The event will also feature opportunities to address questions to those present and members of the press are also welcomed.

The intention of the two think tanks is indeed to support a process in which everyone is interested, but there are still many issues to be discussed. We hope the conference can provide answers to a couple of such questions. Achieving climate neutrality is not just an opportunity, but a duty for future and present generations. And achieving the 2050 goal begins today. We look forward to seeing you all online on 3 June at 9 am.

Mr Tamás Boros, head of Equilibrium Institute co-authored this article.

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The sense of urgency has not yet entered the room – taking stock of the first week of COP27

The sense of urgency has not yet entered the room – taking stock of the first week of COP27

Just before midnight on Saturday evening, the technical negotiations of the UN COP27 climate conference currently taking place in Egypt have ended, giving the opportunity to the ministers arriving in the second week to reach political agreements. Although we have seen some progress and the positions of developed and developing countries have converged, there is still a lot of work ahead of the negotiators in the second week of the conference in order to be able to talk about real results in Egypt. A quick analysis by a colleague of the Green Policy Center on site.

UN climate conference – Balancing between finance and ambition

UN climate conference – Balancing between finance and ambition

This week, the 27th annual climate conference of the United Nations the COP27 begins under the presidency of Egypt. The “African COP”, as the developing countries refer to the conference, faces serious challenges: it must simultaneously increase the ambition to reduce emissions in order to maintain the climate goals and preserve a ray of hope for small island states of survival, as well as meet the developing countries’ huge financial expectations. Will the Egyptian presidency manage to reach agreements acceptable to all parties and what role will the European Union play in all of this?
Although we are currently mostly occupied with the energy price crisis, we must not forget the challenges caused by climate change. That is why it is worth paying attention to Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt, where delegates from nearly 200 UN countries are expected to discuss the most burning issues of international climate policy in the next two weeks. And there are plenty of burning issues; this year we have all felt the negative effects of climate change on our own skins, just think of the summer droughts and forest fires, or the floods in Pakistan that claimed 1,500 lives and caused 30 billion dollars in damages.
One of the most controversial topics in the coming weeks will be related to these events; the so-called Loss and Damage negotiations. According to the IPCC, the climate change scientific advisory body of the UN, climate change threatens the lives and livelihoods of 3.3-3.6 billion people in the future. Climate change strongly affects the poorest strata of the population, as they are much less able to adapt to its negative effects; developing countries are therefore demanding a new financial fund to compensate for the damage caused by climate change. Since developing countries generally emit less greenhouse gases and they are still affected by climate change, they are calling upon developed countries to finance this new fund due to climate justice and the “historical responsibility” of developed countries. However, opinions differ as to what amount would be sufficient; calculations are about expected damage between 1-1.8 trillion and 5.6 trillion dollars by 2050.
The United States, as well as the European Union and its member states, have so far opposed the establishment of a separate financial fund, fearing that, if it is created, there will be no limit to the financial claims of developing countries. During the negotiations, the EU has also underlined that there are already an existing fora for the topic under the UN umbrella, and that developed countries have undertook to mobilize 100 billion dollars yearly to support the climate protection efforts of developing countries. Since we have not yet succeeded in achieving this goal, the developing countries are distrustful of the developed countries for the time being.
In order to rebuild trust, several European member states have already offered resources to deal with Loss and Damage, and developed countries have pledged to double the resources offered for adaptation action. Furthermore, developed countries are also developing a delivery plan on reaching the 100 billion dollar per year goal, and started negotiations to define the new long-term climate financing goal as well. However, according to the position of the EU and its member states, public resources alone will not be sufficient to curb climate change, so we recommend starting negotiations on how to bring global financial processes in line with the 2050 climate neutrality goals. It is still an open question whether this topic will be on the agenda or whether developing countries will only see it as a distraction from the immediate mobilization of finance.
The chance of survival of small island states is an open question at the moment as well. If we cannot keep the rise of the global average temperature below 1.5°C, several of these countries may drown in the sea, so it is really a matter of life and death for them to reduce emissions as ambitiously as possible. Last week, the UN environment and climate change organizations both published their assessments on how we are doing in the fight against climate change. While we could be optimistic after last year’s climate conference because of the new commitments announced there. according to these latest analyses, we are no longer doing so well in terms of implementation. Among the major emitters, only the EU and the USA have reduced their emissions, while the global GHG emissions have reached new all-time record high levels. Another cause for concern is the fact that even if the current commitments are fully fulfilled, we can still expect a warming of around 2.8°C by the end of our century – not aligned with the 1,5°C pathway recommended by science and necessary for the survival of small island states.
For the EU and its member states, the progress under the mitigation work program up to 2030 during COP27 is therefore of outstanding importance, so that the countries of the world can formulate more ambitious climate policy steps as soon as possible. This is not only important for the survival of small island states, but if we can keep climate change under control, its negative effects will cause less loss and damage, and the we need to mobilize less resources to compensate for those. As we can see, everything is connected with everything, which is why the Egyptian COP presidency will be in a difficult situation in the next two weeks. We can hope for all of our sake that they manage to deliver on the expectations of all sides, both on ambition and finance.