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Is Budapest “Sustainability Expo” Just Public Relations Greenwashing?

picture of János Áder

The first day of Planet Budapest 2021, a “sustainability expo and world meeting,” was held at Hungexpo on Tuesday, featuring a number of political speeches.

In his speech to the expo, Hungarian President János Áder, the chief patron of the event (pictured), talked about issues related to sustainability and climate change. He did not detail what actions he expected the state or specific industries to take, but he did praise the Orbán government for its environmental achievements.

The President said that carbon dioxide emissions in Hungary had decreased by 32% since 1990, which is higher than the EU average. Meanwhile, 70% of Hungary’s electricity is carbon-free, while the country’s land devoted to forests has doubled over the past 100 years, President Áder said.

Other speakers at the conference, which continues until December 5, included Polish President Andrzej Duda, OECD Secretary-General Mathias Cormann, video messages from Slovak President Zuzana Caputová and UN Secretary-General António Guterres, plus a number of Hungarian ministers and officials, who all emphasized green-friendly themes in their speeches.

However, Greenpeace was apparently not impressed by the pomp and fancy speeches of the sustainability summit. The environmental action organization said that when János Áder stated the need for “action instead of PR stunts” at the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, it could apply to the Hungarian government itself.

The Orbán government is trying to prove its commitment to the environment and nature with the Sustainability Expo, they said, while in practice it has acted in exactly the opposite manner over the past decade. The group even set up a separate informational website to call the government to account for its actions.

Greenpeace claims that shutting down the Ministry of the Environment in 2010 and gradually eliminating the independence of environmental and wildlife protection authorities have led to publicly-funded destruction of the environment at Lake Fertő.

The group lists other issues it has with Hungary’s commitment to sustainability: carbon dioxide emissions from transportation increased by 46% between 2013-2019, the government repurchased the climate-killing Mátra Power Plant for many tens of billions of forints, Hungary is far behind the rest of Europe in terms of air quality, area devoted to organic farming is far lower than in Slovakia, Slovenia, and Austria, and the government is a major sponsor of MOL’s plastics factory while promoting the steps it takes against plastic pollution.

Greenpeace campaign manager Katalin Rodics notes that the vast majority of the Hungarian population wants a truly environmentally-friendly government from 2022 onwards, acccording to the group’s research, and is looking forward to seeing environmental issues addressed in Viktor Orbán’s post-2022 platform.

[Népszava]

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