• 90% of Hungary's electricity production should be carbon-free by 2030
  • From 2022 onwards only electric buses will be available in Hungary
  • Hungary will remain committed to nuclear power

The government of Hungary said it will need about $165.4 billion to convert its entire economy to carbon-free status by the year 2050, in order to meet the European Union’s mandate of “climate neutrality.”

Hungary’s Innovation and Technology Minister Laszlo Palkovics said 90% of Hungary's electricity production should be carbon-free by 2030.

Palkovics added that the government expects the companies which are the biggest polluters across Europe to cover most of that massive cost – rather than EU subsidies or taxpayers’ contributions.

Palkovics said his ministry will develop a “national clean development strategy” by the end of the year.

Under other terms of the government's plan -- from 2022 onwards only electric buses will be available for sale in Hungarian cities with more than 25,000 people. Prime Minister Viktor Orban also declared that all illegal landfill sites will be eliminated and rivers cleared of plastic bottles.

With respect to the Matra coal-fired power plant in northern Hungary – the last of its kind in the country -- Palkovics noted the ministry will upgrade and clean up the plant by 2030 in order to eliminate its damaging environmental impact. The transformation of this plant will cost up to $1 billion, the majority of which will be covered by EU subsidies and the EU’s Modernization Fund. These changes will not endanger the 2,100 jobs at the plant, he assured.

Palkovics indicated that the state-owned national electricity company MVM will purchase the Matra plant from Opus Global Nyrt, a Hungarian industrial conglomerate owned by billionaire Lorinc Meszaros, an ally of Viktor Orban. Starting in 2029, the Matra plant will cease using lignite, a soft brown coal.

Matra currently supplies 17% of Hungary’s domestic energy demand.

Peter Kaderjak, the state secretary for energy affairs and climate policy, also said the government plans to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030 from 1990 levels. Renewable energy sources will account for at least 21% of Hungary’s total energy mix by 2030, up from the current 13% level.

However, Erzsebet Schmuck, an environmentalist and member of the opposition LMP party, said the government’s climate targets were inadequate. She noted that carbon emissions have been rising again for the past five years.

She further said her party wants the Matra coal-fired power plant shut down by 2025.

Some Hungarian leaders have linked saving the environment to Christian beliefs. Orban has said "the protection of the created environment and of nature just on a biblical basis is an especially Christian democratic policy.” Kaderjak added: "conserving nature for our children and grandchildren can be imagined as conserving something that was created by God. It's a general principle but the strategy's concrete objective is to create a clean sustainable country where you can have a good life.”

However, Orban’s ruling right-wing Fidesz party has not embraced climate activism in recent years.

Last year, one of Orban's senior ministers described Swedish environmentalist Greta Thunberg as “a sick child, exploited by some.”

But now it appears Orban is committed to environmental issues.

"Orban doesn't want climate change to be solely a leftist topic, either in Hungary or in Europe," said Agoston Mraz, an analyst with the Nezopont Institute in Budapest. "He is trying to build up conservative right-wing green politics as a counterbalance.”

Last year, Orban himself had initially rejected the EU's carbon neutrality goals for 2050, until he received assurances from Brussels that Hungary could continue to rely on nuclear energy.

“Without Paks [Hungary’s sole nuclear plant], we cannot have our climate protection,” Orban said at the time.

“Without atomic energy, there is no climate neutrality,” Palkovics added.

Hungary gets more than 20% of its power from nuclear energy and the Paks plant is due to build two more reactors.

Peter Szijjarto, Hungary’s foreign minister, also spoke up for nuclear energy as a means of achieving climate neutrality by 2050.

Szijjarto called on the EU to promote nuclear energy, and insisted that nuclear power plants can produce electricity safely and cheaply.

But some quarters in Hungary strongly oppose nuclear power.

The opposition LMP has even proposed referendums to ban nuclear energy in Hungary and to switch over completely to renewable energy sources.

Schmuck criticized the government for seeking to upgrade the Paks nuclear plant. Mate Kanasz-Nagy, a senior official of LMP, has called for the cancellation of any upgrades at Paks and a shutdown of the entire plant.