Reflections: Hungarian EUKI Community Conference 2022
The recent gathering of EUKI members and EUKI-affiliated project leaders in Budapest generated important discussions around the way forward for energy and climate.
Energy and climate are often at the forefront of the conversation at present, and this is no different for high-level actors in Hungary and the EU. Last week’s Hungarian EUKI Community Conference, held over October 5 and 6, brought together stakeholders from government, civil society and industry in Budapest for two days of discussion around possibilities for the Hungarian green transition. With a variety of keynote talks, panel discussions, participatory workshops, and even a ‘walk-shop’ tour around the city, the event offered wide-ranging angles of insight into the present policy climate and future trajectories of sustainability in Hungary.
The EUKI Community refers to a set of actors in government and civil society organisations working within the European Climate Initiative (Europäische Klimainitiative – EUKI), a programme working to generate effective EU policy and funding to deliver on the Union’s climate commitments. Specifically, this conference brought together relevant actors for delivering Hungarian contributions to EU climate targets: including members of Hungarian and German government ministries, Budapest municipal governors, and civil society organisation representatives. Shared across attendees was an interest in advancing climate action in the country. Nevertheless, given the complexity of effective climate response and enormous range of actors in society that will need to be involved, discussion about the logistical and political requirements to deliver this effective response is crucial. An underlying thread throughout the conference therefore was building the knowledge and network capacities for a meaningful and socially just energy transition. As Peter Olajos, President of CEEweb and former Hungarian government minister and MEP, stated:
the technology and the money is available. The players, the people, they are ready and financially interested to act. […] The only question is how we should do that, […] how we should act together.
This is a project which of course involves the participation of wider publics, and the opening panel discussion was therefore open to all in a hybrid format. The session, moderated by Mr Olajos, brought together important decision-makers in policy and climate research:
- Barbara Kovács: Head of Unit for International Climate Policy, Hungarian Ministry of Industry and Technology
- Noémi Dálnoky: Head of International Relations Unit, Prime Minister’s Office (Hungary)
- Matthias Casper: German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action (BMWK)
- László Szabó, director of the REKK Foundation for Regional Policy Cooperation in Energy and Infrastructure.
Across several questions addressing each individual’s representative institutional direction with regards to sustainability, the need for widened cooperation was stressed, as well as the urgency with which the climate problem had to be tackled. Matthias Casper stressed the ethical and security imperative of this shift, particularly within the present energy crisis:
We are buying gas from abroad, where we cannot say how cruel and catastrophic the environmental impacts of these sources are going to be, and so we have to be very quick with the transition to renewables.
Yet it was also emphasised that there were persistent constraints on the institutional and economic capacities to both move away from fossil energy and deliver new ‘cleaner’ energies. This was a problem for implementation across mitigation and adaptation strategies, stressed particularly for Hungary and its relationship with coal energy. Barbara Kovács for instance pointed to the difficulties for Hungary phasing out energy production from the lignite element at the Mátra power plant, responsible for up to 50% of the country’s emissions, due to energy security needs within the present crisis. She noted though that the “short-term plans and long-term plans are not the same”, and that greening the Hungarian energy mix remained “important for us”. Noémi Dálkony noted that these were not straightforward choices between security and sustainability, but rather all were related:
We also know that if biodiversity is collapsing, climate change affects it negatively, then this has an impact on security, on affordability. So everything is linked to everything, in fact.
In this light, panellists noted the need for measures to minimise the impact of the present energy crisis on the speed of the green energy transition. It was thus agreed that alongside technological research and political will, there remains a practical need for financing to create the capacities for energy transition without major social costs. László Szabó highlighted home renovations as an important step toward this, stating plainly that “energy which you don’t consume is the best energy”, and that reduced domestic heating requirements could achieve large reductions in energy demand. Crucially, though, again, he recognised that Hungary was “starting from a position which is very bad” in terms of building energy efficiency, and that investment should be found as soon as possible to improve this situation. Throughout the discussion, for which a text summary and video highlight series are available, these kinds of opportunities and constraints were laid out on the table, resulting in a highly productive session for participants seeking to orientate themselves for their focus on climate action.
Other highlight speeches included that from Ada Ámon, Head of Department for Climate and Environmental Affairs at the Municipality of Budapest, who discussed ongoing action and financial needs for solar development in the city, as well as that from Adam Harmat of WWF Hungary, who highlighted the unsustainability of much biomass energy production in Hungary despite being categorised as renewable. A process of meaningful knowledge transfer was visible in these talks, as Q&A participants noted intentions to implement some of the insights shared into their own work and departments.
What set the conference apart, however, was an innovative set of workshops which composed the remainder of the agenda, offering mechanisms for networking and cooperation beyond the traditional format of speaker and audience. A ‘ConverStations’ session allowed small numbers at a time to speak with representatives from civil society organisation projects, providing more tailored, intimate knowledge-sharing which allowed greater freedom to discuss the intricacies of projects. This session also allowed for participants with mutual interest to discuss their particular areas of crossover, to a far greater extent than typical presentation. A constructive atmosphere was undoubtedly facilitated by this session, which produced real connections between actors; this was an atmosphere carried into the following session, which had participants act as stakeholder groups for a global climate policy meeting using the En-ROADS climate simulator. Feedback from attendees indicated that these kinds of sessions which facilitated targeted collaboration were especially effective elements of the conference.
The conference culminated with a compelling ‘walk-shop’ led by Levegő Munkacsoport (Clean Air Action Group), guiding participants on a tour around the city via important sites of actual EU and national investment. The exercise highlighted the possibilities and dangers of implementation of funding beyond abstract discussion. By pointing out how the construction of car parks and new roads using EU and national funds had a long-term infrastructural legacy, for instance, the urgency with which municipal attention had to turn to greener infrastructure became yet clearer. By doing so in the city, led by people knowledgeable about the projects they discussed, there was a chance to explore not just how funds were implemented, but also how they came to life and were received by people in the city. As a result, a far more vivid picture of the complexities of sustainability in practice was presented than would be possible in a conference-room talk. Ultimately, this ‘walk-shop’ format enabled a participatory, spirited culmination to the programme in which all participants were engaged and debating enthusiastically, despite following a busy agenda.
Reflecting on the array of conversations, talks, and activities, this gathering of the Hungarian EUKI Community was ultimately a fruitful experience involving much positive collaboration. With several crucial take-home messages across the range of stakeholders in attendance, the conference undoubtedly presented new ways to think and act together in pursuit of Hungary’s green transition.