Áder’s Call to Action at Budapest Climate Conference
Launched with an impassioned video address by János Áder, the President of Hungary, dozens of CEOs and professional specialists, either presenting individually or via panel discussions, delved and debated the many vexed issues around climate change at the Budapest Marriott Hotel on October 7 – 8.
“My grandchild says to me: Grandpa, I grew up to be an adult in a period when the impacts of climate change posed a direct threat to human civilization. I still have this nagging question, could you have stopped, in your own time, all that has happened by today? Why didn’t you listen to scientists? Why did you disregard scientific evidence?”
With these sobering words, describing a recurring dream he has with his as yet unborn grandchild 25 years hence, Áder set the mood for discussions at the second Budapest Climate Summit on October 7.
What followed over the next two days could fill a dozen issues of this paper with valid copy. Here, we highlight elements of just four speakers’ contributions from a wide range of disciplines.
Yvon Slingenberg, DG CLIMA
Yvon Slingenberg, Director of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Climate Action, arguably gave the most important presentation of the entire event in her keynote address, since she outlined the latest changes in legislation that will apply to all EU member states.
Critically for all former Soviet-bloc states, the new targets will be based on emission levels set in 2005 rather than 1990. This means that Hungary’s oft-quoted metric of “32% reductions in emissions” will no longer be the basis for comparison. This figure flatters the perceived national performance since it includes the huge effects resulting from the closure of energy-inefficient industries built up during the communist era, which would have been closed irrespective of climate change policies.
“For this system, we are also proposing to bring in new sectors, like maritime transport, which will cover all intra-EU trips, but also half of the trips going outside Europe. And, importantly, we propose also to cover fuels used in road transport and buildings, but this would be in a new, separate system,” Slingenberg said.
“This proposal is to also apply emissions trading to buildings and road transport, the purpose of which is really to provide an additional tool that ensures a higher certainty that we will reduce emissions from these sectors, because emissions from road transport have not [been] reduced in the EU since 1990, and, in fact, we have seen a considerable increase in Hungary, lately,” she pointed out.
“These two sectors will also remain part of another legal instrument which is called the Effort Sharing Regulation, and that applies to member states directly, and the purpose of that is to ensure that national policies will drive emission reductions.”
That is because the ESR proposes that member states “will be held accountable to reduce emissions in the sectors covered by at least 40% by 2030 compared to 2005 levels,” Slingenberg pointed out.
“And here we have proposed an increase in all the national emission reduction targets, which range from minus-10% to minus-50%. Why this range? Again, this is a reflection of fairness in how we set the national targets because this is based on a GDP per capita allocation method, which has been used before, and it has been agreed at the highest level in the European Council that this should again be followed,” she said.
“For Hungary, as I’m sure you are aware, the committee proposal means increasing the target from the current minus-7% to minus-18.7%. So, that is ambitious, but I’m very happy that you will be discussing today how to make that happen.”
Diána Ürge-Vorsatz, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
Diana Ürge-Vorsatz, the vice-chair of Working Group III of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said that the issue seemed far away when climate-related catastrophes were in Canada or Japan. But this summer, with 50ºC temperatures in Spain and Greece, deaths caused by floods in Germany and Belgium, along with a devastating tornado in the Czech Republic, climate-change effects are already life-threatening in central Europe.
“Recent changes in the climate are widespread, rapid and intensifying, and unprecedented in thousands of years [.…] CO2 emissions have not been so high for two million years; thus, there are already some circumstances unable to be stopped. Net-zero is not a question,” she said.
Matt Simister, Tesco Central Europe
Matt Simister, chief executive for Tesco Central Europe (and main sponsor of the summit), outlined his company’s extensive history in seeking emissions reductions and the drive to reduce waste in the food supply chain.
“In Hungary, this week, in partnership with Unilever and Waberer’s, we’ve launched the first fully electric heavy goods vehicle […], and on food waste, our CEE team were passionate before I arrived back in 2017. [...] We’ve reduced our food waste in Central Europe by 69% since 2016,” he told the conference.
“Some waste is natural in a business that’s trying to offer full availability to customers; we’ll donate it to humans first where we can and to animals where we can’t,” he explained.
Simister said the chain has become more innovative when coordinating charity collection of its food waste.
“We now have an app, developed in Ireland, that signals to the local charities when there is waste at the stores so that they can pick it up and take it to people in need.”
Gergő Lencsés, GE Gas Power
Gergő Lencsés, general manager of the gas turbines value chain for GE Gas Power, has a firm grasp of the technical challenges involved with the transformation to renewables. He also appeared frustrated at the ignorance of the politicians and activists driving that transformation.
“I think we should talk a little bit less about legislation and more about the technical challenges that we are facing. That will help us to grow faster. For us engineers, please, give us time! We talk a lot about the intermittency with renewables, and that’s a major problem, but also there are quality problems as we put more renewables into the system.”
He asked how many electrical engineers were in the room? Two people raised their hands; with two on the stage, that made four people who spoke the same language.
Lencsés sought to explain the problems of the power factor in electrical circuits in layman’s terms. But with just four electrical engineers present, it’s difficult to ascertain how many understood him and the issues involved.
“It’s not easy, but electrons follow Kirchoff’s laws rather than our laws and regulations,” he cautioned.
This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of October 22, 2021.
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