It is our God-given task and duty to preserve the created world. Let us recall God’s words to human beings in the Bible: ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over every living creature that creeps upon the earth.’1 While the Bible calls on man to rule, the ruler must also be accountable to the one from whom the power comes. In this understanding, then, man’s rule is not tyrannical despotism, but responsible care.2 We are therefore responsible for our environment, for the whole earth. This is ‘the biblical command to protect the created world’.3
For a long time we have managed to live in balance with nature. But this harmony seems to be breaking down. Climate change has happened before, and our climate is changing all the time. As many scientific analyses confirm, the increasing frequency of extreme weather events, the impact of unsustainable human activity, and the destabilization of the Earth’s environmental systems should serve as a warning to us all.
Within the ever-changing international and European legislative framework, the government of Hungary is committed to protecting our natural treasures and the created world
All responsible governments, the European Union and international organizations, including the United Nations as a pioneer, are looking for the right response to the challenges posed by climate change. Within the ever-changing international and European legislative framework, the government of Hungary is also committed to protecting our natural treasures and the created world. So there is little doubt that action is needed. The ultimate goal is also becoming a matter of public consensus, as the commitment to create a climate-neutral society is being undertaken by more and more countries. The difference mostly concerns the methods. As right-wing thinkers, we see a conservative climate policy as the way forward. At the same time, we need to shape the conservative climate policy that Hungary represents within the international framework and in line with the EU’s climate policy.
Whet Does a Conservative Climate Policy Mean for Hungary?
First and foremost, it means protecting the world we have created, which is not only the home of humanity, but a whole of which mankind is an integral part. Humans are an inseparable part of the ecosystem, and we cannot be independent of nature. We shape our environment, so we must provide the key to the solution.
Many people associate ecological thinking and green movements with progressive, left-wing thinking and politics, but according to the British philosopher Sir Roger Scruton, oikophilia (attachment to home, to the self, to the local, to the family, to the landscape) is a conservative value. The central idea of his philosophy of nature, the love of home, can be a motivation for us to protect the environment, which includes our deepest attachment to the world around us. In Scruton’s words, ‘oikophilia is a call to responsibility that disapproves of calculating behaviour. It calls us to love, not to exploit; to respect, not to exploit.’4
Many progressive voices are using alarmism and intimidation to try to make people aware of the risks of climate change. In the long term, fear-mongering can lead to a loss of confidence in society about the need to take action to protect the environment, resulting in a loss of hope and a failure to achieve the goals set. In contrast, a conservative approach takes concrete action on the basis of a strong, realistic, and well-thought-out set of objectives based on a rational, scientific, and economically sound basis and technology-neutral solutions, in line with national policy strategies. Integration of environmental policy measures into other national public policy processes is essential.
The Hungarian government’s economic policy shows that we are also aware that by strengthening the domestic market and encouraging locally produced and consumed goods and services, we can reduce our country’s carbon footprint and ensure a path to sustainable economic development.
Another important precondition for a successful climate policy is the implementation of the principle of fair and proportionate burden sharing. Pollution must be stopped at the source, with the polluter, and we call for the ‘polluter pays’ principle to be implemented. It is not acceptable that Hungarian residents should pay for environmental damage caused not by them but by polluting companies.
Our view is that a green transition can be ensured through measures designed and implemented within a credible and realistic framework. Our courses of action must not be aligned with vague expectations, but rather with real and achievable goals. It is by building on these foundations that we can tackle climate change. That is why we are striving to integrate all these aspects intoclimate policy as defined by international and European guidelines.
On the Green Road
The Hungarian government not only talks about the importance of climate protection, but is also taking concrete action. Nothing is better proof of this than the fact that in June 2020, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the Hungarian Parliament passed a law to make Hungary climate neutral by 2050, making it the first country in the region to do so. And last year, the National Clean Development Strategy, including a possible ‘roadmap’ leading to this goal, was given the green light, followed by the National Hydrogen Strategy and the National Battery Industry Strategy.
But it is also important to consider how these targets are achieved. Energy and climate change policies that are well thought through and aligned with sustainable economic development goals can deliver significant results: improving access to clean energy, strengthening energy security, improving air quality and people’s health, reducing the risk of climate-related natural disasters, and creating quality jobs through increased green investment.
Our economic development and climate policies should not weaken but strengthen each other. Climate-friendly economic development can make our companies more efficient and productive, producing more and better goods using fewer natural resources. To ensure that our economic development and climate policy goals are mutually reinforcing, we must pay particular attention to programmes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and support technological innovation, but we must also work to build our resilience to climate change and to raise awareness in our society. Hungarian climate policy therefore affirms the possibility of climate-friendly economic development, where economic development is carried out in a sustainable manner in line with the requirements of climate protection.
We must pay particular attention to programmes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and support technological innovation
Few people know it, but Hungary is a real climate champion: we were among the first countries in the EU to ratify the Paris Agreement, and we have reduced our emissions by 32 per cent compared to the 1990 base year. Hungary has managed to achieve all this over the last thirty years, while its economic performance has been steadily improving. And in terms of climate-neutral energy production, Hungary has done better than most countries in the EU. Austria, Cyprus, Ireland, Portugal, and Spain have not only been unable to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 to 2018, but have actually increased them.
The Climate Action Plan and the Results Achieved
Although our country is responsible for only 1.5 per cent of total EU emissions, we cannot afford to shirk our responsibility. The commitment of the Hungarian government is also demonstrated by the Climate and Nature Action Plan, which was announced two years ago, on 16 February 2020, with the aim of preserving and passing on to our children and grandchildren Hungary and the Carpathian Basin as we know them today. The package of measures has already produced tangible results in the short time since its introduction.
So far, 34,000 tonnes of illegal waste have been removed under the ‘Let’s Clean Up the Country’ programme. For this project we have developed the WasteRadar app, which allows residents to report waste (almost 20,000 users have reported more than 24,000 cases so far).
We published the National Waste Management Plan for 2021–2027, which sets out the strategic foundations and action lines for waste management in Hungary, with the aim of gradually moving towards a circular economy and becoming a model for the waste management sector in Europe.
We have started preparing the modernization and technological transformation of the Mátra Power Plant. We will close down our last lignite-fired power plant by 2030, or even by 2025 if EU funding is available.
As of 1 July 2021, we have banned the marketing of certain single-use plastics and introduced other measures to reduce the environmental impact of single-use plastic products. A return system for glass and plastic beverage bottles and metal beverage cans is being developed.
A major step has been taken to promote solar energy. An unprecedented grant scheme of 201 billion HUF has been introduced to provide lower income households with access to cheap, self-generated electricity.
We are greening transport by supporting the purchase of electric vehicles and the development of charging infrastructure: in recent years we have supported the purchase of around 6,900 electric bicycles, 600 electric scooters and nearly 7,500 electric cars, as well as the installation of 171 electric vehicle chargers. In addition, the Green Bus Programme has been launched with the aim of replacing ageing and polluting vehicles by putting approximately 1,100 zero-emission buses into service between 2022 and 2025.
The tree planting programme has led to the planting of more than 1,100,000 trees, 10 for every newborn child. This will contribute to the increase of the country’s forest cover from 21 per cent to 27 per cent by 2030. Sofar, a total of 669 hectares of forest have been planted.
Drinking water is a national treasure, so the process of cleaning the rivers Danube and Tisza of plastics and pollutants has begun.
Hungary has issued €1.5 billion of green government bonds to institutional investors in 2020, as well as ¥20 billion on the Japanese market. In response to this great success, a forint bond was launched on 22 April 2021, on Earth Day, and most recently, in February 2022, Hungary’s largest-ever issue of foreign currency bonds, again predominantly in yen, was launched.
Energy Policy and Conservative Responses to Climate Change
One of the most important strategic challenges of the twenty-first century is to ensure a sustainable energy supply, not least given the evolution of energy prices. The coming period will be one of structural and paradigm shifts in the energy sector, both on the consumer and supplier side. Humanity is still under the illusion that energy is cheap and infinitely available, but the present consumption patterns will not be sustainable in the future. A fundamental change of approach in the energy sector is urgently needed to meet the needs of our own and future generations, and to preserve a liveable environment.
The sustainability and greening of the energy we use is of paramount importance in mitigating the effects of climate change. Most of the reduction in emissions can be achieved, for example, through greening transport and modernizing cooling and heating systems. These projects require extensive electrification, for which grid upgrades are essential to maintain security of supply. The decarbonization of electricity sources is also a priority. Today, this is ensured by the use of nuclear and renewable energy sources. Our country is also committed to increasing the share of carbon-free electricity to 90 per cent by 2030.
As verified by the International Energy Agency, Hungary’s average annual temperature has increased by 1.15°C between 1907 and 2017, exceeding the global average temperature change (+1°C). We are aware that energy policy is an important tool to gradually reduce and ultimately prevent further temperature increases.5
Increasing energy efficiency and reducing greenhouse gas emissions are also priority cost-effectiveness issues for industry and agriculture. We therefore support the development and widespread deployment of low-carbon technologies throughout the life- cycle, rather than pollution management-focused solutions.
It is important to look at biomass and waste not only as a source of energy, but also as potential industrial raw materials that can be used in many areas of the rapidly developing bio-based economy. They can be used to produce pharmaceutical and fine chemicals through biotechnological processes that can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions from industrial manufacturing processes and products.
Recession Cuts and Rising Energy Prices in Europe
Hungary is placing great emphasis on achieving the central objective of the Energy Strategy—to provide clean, smart, affordable energy to consumers. To this end, the government introduced its policy of reducing overhead costs in 2013.
Without this policy, the average Hungarian family would pay an estimated HUF 480,000 more per year for electricity and gas, a significant amount compared to average Hungarian incomes
In the period before the measure, residential gas prices in Hungary tripled and electricity prices doubled. Recognizing the severity of the situation, the government eased the burden on household consumers by significantly reducing the level of household energy prices. The government has been applying this policy effectively for about ten years, including in the current extreme market situation. This is an economic policy achievement6 which, unlike in the rest of the EU, has prevented energy suppliers from passing on the costs of energy price rises to household consumers without any restrictions. Without this policy, the average Hungarian family would pay an estimated HUF 480,000 more per year for electricity and gas, a significant amount compared to average Hungarian incomes. According to an international price comparison study by the Hungarian Energy and Utility Regulatory Office, the average price of natural gas and electricity in Budapest was the lowest in the EU in January 2022.7
While regulated prices in Hungary have been successful in protecting the population from extreme price shocks, the energy price crisis has left households and businesses in other member states facing higher energy bills at a time when many have been and are still being burdened by the loss of revenue caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ensuring affordable prices for raw materials and energy for households and guaranteeing the social acceptance of climate protection efforts at the European level are of paramount importance. It should be noted that the EU’s ‘Fit for 55!’ package of measures could lead to significant increases in energy prices. It is important to stress that the green turnaround can only be successful if the measures taken to implement it are fair, cost-effective, proportionate between member states, and do not jeopardize the competitiveness of member states or the EU as a whole.
As already mentioned in the introduction, it should also be noted here that we believe the costs of measures to combat climate change should be borne by the major emitters, not by citizens. The present package of EU proposals would make heating and transport unaffordable for the average household, while at the same time increasing energy poverty, and is therefore unacceptable for Hungary.
Renewable Energy Capacities
A diverse and balanced energy mix is key for a country. Hungary is well on track to meet its commitments, but it is now recognized at the EU level that this will not be possible without nuclear energy and renewable sources such as solar power plants. We plan to achieve this through a pre-planned strategy that will enable us to improve the quality of life of our citizens without making ill-considered decisions, and providing clean, secure, and affordable energy.
Paks provides around 40 per cent of our country’s electricity, and Paks II will be of great use in this respect, in line with strict EU regulations and the criteria set out in the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre report.
One of the basic preconditions for slowing down climate change is to meet our energy needs from renewable energies as much as possible, and Hungary set a target in 2020 of increasing its installed photovoltaic capacity to more than 6,000 MW by 2030 and to nearly 12,000 MW by 2040.
As mentioned above, in recent years Hungary has made significant progress in greening the country, and has also adopted a number of rules in this regard. In 2020, the share of renewable energy was close to 13.9 per cent, exceeding the 13 per cent target set under the Renewable Energy Directive, and we aim to increase this to 21 per cent by 2030. (And with the modernization of our last coal-fired power plant, the Mátra Power Plant, carbon emissions will also be drastically reduced—a huge step towards climate neutrality.)
It can be said that the provision of an appropriate support and regulatory environment in recent years has had a positive impact on the promotion and wider uptake of renewable energy. As a result, a total of 2,850 MW8 of solar PV capacity now provides carbon-free electricity generation, and more than 110,000 solar panels can now be seen on the roofs of houses, businesses, and public institutions.
The 80 per cent share of natural gas in the supply of district-heated homes will be reduced to 50 per cent by 2030, mainly by promoting the use of geothermal energy and biomass.
In the transport sector, our climate policy will focus on increasing the use of biofuels, introducing hydrogen-based transport (in particular in the heavy vehicle and bus segments), and greening local public transport, in addition to strengthening public transport and developing electromobility.
Hungary Also Performs Well Internationally on Climate Protection
KPMG’s ‘Net Zero Readiness Index’ report9 analysed 32 countries according to 103 indicators in October 2021. The study assessed countries’ greenhouse gas emission reduction performance and their ability to achieve climate neutrality.
It ranks Hungary10 thirteenth overall in terms of carbon reduction measures, ahead of the US, Singapore, and Australia. This ranking is the result of considerable efforts, say KPMG experts, and is particularly commendable given that Poland, a state in the same region, was also included in the survey and came 19th. In addition, Hungary is among the five countries with the highest score for its ability to contribute to climate neutrality, thanks to its legislative track record.
The most important task for the government will continue to be standing up for the interests of the Hungarian people. To do this effectively, the government has launched an online dialogue on green issues in October 2021 to better listen to public opinion.
In the survey, participants were able to express their views on issues such as waste recycling, state support for solar panels and electric transport, the continuation of the tree-planting programme, the environmentally conscious education of children, and the payment of climate protection costs by large polluting companies.
More than 70,000 people filled in the questionnaire ‘Hungary is Going Green!’. From the high level of interest and feedback, it was clear that the questions asked were definitely of concern to people. Sustainability was identified as an important issue by almost 97 per cent, and the vast majority also support meeting climate targets, but 81 per cent believe it should only be achieved in a way that does not jeopardize energy security.
In the coming period, we must work to ensure the adoption of a truly balanced and broadly supported EU package of measures, taking into account public opinion, making sure that the EU’s climate policy is rational, sustainable, fair, and equitable, and that it guarantees security of supply and the competitiveness of the continent, so that we can move forward on the greening path within this new framework.
1 Gen. 1:27–28.
2 Dr István Pásztori-Kupán, ‘A teremtett világ védelmének bibliai parancsa’ (The Biblical Command to Protect the Created World) (2013), http://real.mtak.hu/28695/1/PKI_2013_A%20teremtett%20vilag%20vedelmenek%20bibliai%20parancsa.pdf.
3 Delivered at the III Cluj Conference on Applied Ethics, 8 June 2013.
4 Sir Roger Scruton, ‘Conservatism and the Environment’, www.roger-scruton.com/articles/281-conservatism-and-the-environment, accessed 24 February 2022.
5 For more, see: www.iea.org/articles/hungary-climate-resilience-policy-indicator.
6 Tamás Szőke, Olivér Hortay and Richárd Farkas, ‘Price Regulation and Supplier Margins in the Hungarian Electricity Markets’, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/ S0140988321000037?via%3Dihub, accessed 16 February 2022.
7 For more, see: www.mekh.hu/download/6/df/01000/ HEPI%202022_januar.pdf.
8 MAVIR ZRt., www.mavir.hu/documents/10258/240293410/PV+STATISZTIKA_HU_20211231_ig.pdf/76a82478-4a8c-dae0-b965- 939a83961ff5?t=1642080075568, accessed 16 February 2022.
9 For more, see: https://home.kpmg/xx/en/home/ insights/2021/09/net-zero-readiness-index.html.
10 Profile of Hungary, https://home.kpmg/hu/hu/home/ tanulmanyok/2021/10/net-zero-readiness-index-2021. html.