Hungary backs 2050 climate neutrality goal, bringing EU total to 22

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban arrives at a special EU summit in Brussels, Belgium, 28 May 2019. [Photo: EPA-EFE/JOHN THYS / POOL]

Updated with news on Bulgaria and Slovakia’s decisions to support EU target

Hungary quietly lent its support to the EU’s 2050 carbon neutrality goal on Monday (17 June). It is now among 22 countries to do so, but its support comes with a caveat: Budapest sees nuclear power as the main way of meeting the target.

Innovation Minister László Palkovics told a launch event for a solar power station on Monday that Hungary will back an EU plan to go carbon neutral by 2050. He said the Central European country has already cut emissions by 32% since 1989 and the goal is 40% by the end of the next decade. 

“Without atomic energy, there is no climate neutrality,” Palkovics told reporters after inaugurating the build site of a 100MW solar power station, a joint project between the Hungarians and China.

Hungary gets more than 20% of its power from nuclear and 14% from renewable energy but plans to ratchet up its atom-smashing capacities in the coming years. Renewables are also projected to increase from 700MW to 2,700MW by 2022. 

Its sole nuclear plant at Paks is due for an upgrade but has stoked controversy due to the involvement of Russian financing. Two new reactors are expected to come online at the end of the 2020s.

Commission told Hungary how to win approval for Russia-backed nuclear plant   

The European Commission assisted Hungary in finding the right loophole in EU public procurement rules to get the green-light for the construction of the Russian-backed Paks II nuclear power plant, according to internal documents seen by EURACTIV.com.

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán also said on Monday, during an exchange in parliament, that “without Paks, we cannot have our climate protection”. It is unclear at this stage whether Hungary will update its national laws to go carbon neutral or stick to supporting the EU proposal.

Under the Commission’s plan for Europe’s economy to absorb more emissions than it creates, through cuts and carbon sinks, individual countries do not necessarily have to go climate neutral as it is the overall result that counts.

But reliance on nuclear is not universally popular in Europe. Greenpeace EU told EURACTIV that “Europe must get on track to full decarbonisation, and it must do so with 100% renewable energy”.

“Renewables are safe, clean, and increasingly the cheapest source of energy – nuclear is dangerous, expensive and unnecessary,” a Greenpeace spokesperson said.

Finland, the incoming rotating EU presidency holder, will aim to go completely green by 2035. The Nordic nation will also utilise nuclear to achieve its lofty ambitions although a new power plant is currently well over budget and deadline.

Due to come online next year, the Olkiluoto 3 nuclear reactor has been dubbed “the second most expensive building in the world”, as costs are estimated to have rocketed from a budgeted €3 billion to more than €5 billion.

Finland pledges carbon neutrality on eve of EU presidency

Finland’s new government said on Monday (4 June) the country will aim to cut its carbon emissions completely by 2035. The Nordic nation will take over the rotating EU presidency in July, with an ambitious pan-European climate deal still left on the negotiating table.

Bandwagon

Budapest’s change of heart on climate neutrality is not surprising, according to sources, given that Germany is now on board with slashing emissions to a net-zero level. Hungary has traditionally followed Berlin’s lead in such matters.

It also makes it more likely that an agreement on the EU’s 2050 strategy will be reached at this week’s European Council summit on Thursday (20 June).

Twenty-one countries now support it, after Ireland published an updated climate law yesterday, and Hungary’s stance is likely to affect its fellow Visegrad members.

18 EU countries now support 2050 carbon neutrality goal

Germany, Greece, Italy and Slovenia have added their names to a growing list of EU countries supporting a carbon neutrality objective for 2050, increasing the chances that a deal will be struck at an EU summit later this week, according to documents seen by EURACTIV.

The Czech Republic is still sceptical of the net-zero plan but the uncertain political position of Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, who has faced calls to resign due to alleged involvement in EU subsidies fraud, could limit its opposition.

That leaves Poland as the main hold-out after Slovakia swore in a new president who has prioritised fighting climate change.

In a press conference with the prime minister on Tuesday, Zuzana Čaputová pledged to support the 2050 target and revealed that Slovakia will phase out coal by 2023.

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov also said he is also in favour of the plan during a phone call with UN Sec-Gen Antonio Guterres on Tuesday.

For Poland, it is still a question of compensation and incentives to go green. Deputy Foreign Minister Konrad Szymanski told Polish media that the EU decision “must take into account social and economic costs, which look differently in different countries”.

“The decision should be based on a proper analysis of the National Climate and Energy Plans. The package must include compensation measures for the most vulnerable regions and countries. Therefore, today it is too early to take this step,” he added.

That adds fuel to the theory that Warsaw is indeed willing to sign up to the Commission’s plan, if it is given enough assurances on funding from the bloc’s budget. It remains to be seen if that will translate into a deal at this week’s summit or not.

Climate cash cow: Where EU countries can get their funding

Europe’s green ambitions will largely hinge on being able to finance a transition away from polluting energy sources. But where will the money actually come from?

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic and Frédéric Simon]

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