Exclusive interview with Mr. István Joó, Deputy State Secretary for Export Development

Mr. István Joó, Deputy State Secretary for Export Development and Government Commissioner responsible for the Planet Budapest 2021 Sustainability Expo and Summit, talks about the importance of green innovations and the goals of the Hungarian government regarding sustainability.

1. Investments related to e-mobility, renewable energy production and environmentally friendly technologies receive significant state support. Where does Hungary stand in its sustainability efforts and innovations internationally?

To mitigate and curb the effects of climate change, a renewable energy transition is crucial. We are proud to say that by 2019 we have reached a nearly 32 percent decrease in domestic greenhouse gas emissions compared to 1990 levels. The newly adopted National Clean Development Strategy, however, has an even more ambitious target: a 40 percent decrease in GHG levels by 2030. Moreover, Hungary has enacted a law to achieve full climate neutrality by 2050, in addition to increasing the share of renewables in the country’s gross energy consumption to 90 percent. We are among the 21 countries in the world where GDP has grown since 2000 while improving climate neutrality, decreasing carbon dioxide emissions by 32 percent and energy consumption by 15 percent. Furthermore, I am especially proud of our recent and critically important step toward sustainability: the government decree banning all forms of single-use plastic, which came into force this July. All things considered, it is safe to say that Hungary is at the forefront of economic growth in Europe while also providing exemplary practices in the field of climate protection.

As for innovation, we are witnessing several pioneering companies, startups, and SMEs emerging due to investments, state support and their respective know-how. As Deputy State Secretary for Export Development, I have the opportunity to observe these success stories through my work. Based on Hungarian technology and knowledge, companies are building photovoltaic power plants and solar panel parks around the world. The Hungarian Export Agency has also partnered with companies that, for example, provide advanced water-cleaning technologies or recycle precious metals extracted from electronic waste. All these endeavors are export-based, international businesses. E-mobility is also an up-and-coming sector with enormous potential, with more and more international firms in this industry choosing to move their production to Hungary.

I strongly believe sustainable technologies and environmental protection solutions will become the pillar of export expansion in the next decade. Between November 29 and December 5, Planet Budapest 2021 Sustainability Expo and Summit will showcase the latest innovations as the largest international event dedicated to sustainable development in the Central European region. Planet Budapest will provide an exceptional opportunity for business networking and knowledge sharing, focusing on the fields with the highest ecological risk and largest economic potential, such as waste and water management, energy, transportation, food and smart cities.

2. Why did the government decide to organize a Sustainability Expo and Summit in Budapest?

Sustainability and climate change are among the most important economic, social, and environmental issues of the 21st century. We need to address various aspects of this topic and act immediately since it is essential to provide tangible, accessible and cost-effective solutions to the challenges of sustainability. This initiative requires dialogue and cooperation between governmental and financial decision-makers as well as representatives from the business and scientific worlds.

Climate change and sustainability are global challenges that will determine our opportunities, humankind’s direction of development, and our daily lives for many decades to come. At the same time, it is an economic opportunity for Hungarian companies. Governments and companies that succeed in sustainable development can gain a competitive advantage, fundamentally defining the economic recovery after the coronavirus crisis as well. With this in mind, organizing Planet Budapest 2021 Sustainability Expo and Summit is a high priority. This event is a social and economic investment that determines Hungary’s long-term competitiveness and from which – we hope – all Hungarians will directly or indirectly benefit.

Planet Budapest 2021 Sustainability Expo and Summit also aims to raise public awareness of harmful environmental, social and economic practices and show sustainable alternatives, proving that the damage is reversible. As the largest sustainability event in Central Europe, Planet Budapest 2021 will serve as the leading scientific and business forum of the Visegrad Countries focusing on sustainable living and economic growth. The mission of Planet Budapest 2021 is to advance international scientific discourse and establish new collaborations and cross-border business agreements while boosting Hungary’s export capacity.

3. What is the main target audience of Planet Budapest 2021?

Planet Budapest 2021 is designed for vastly different audiences, addressing all stakeholders and communities at the forefront of a sustainable transition. These different focal points are segmented into four individual yet interconnected events.

At the Universe of Sustainability – Summit, heads of state and government, decision-makers, well-known experts from international organizations, and representatives from the scientific and business worlds will discuss topics concerning sustainable water management, food production, transport, energy and waste management. The Summit provides applicable solutions to the challenges of sustainability.

Through Your Planet – Interactive Public Programmes, visitors and families can gain insights into the everyday life of a sustainable future. Visitors will have the chance to discover the home, school and city of the coming decades, as well as the food we will consume. This memorable experience will outline a positive future based on sustainable development, contributing to a change of perspective on our daily lives.

Inside Hungexpo’s pavilion “C”, the most innovative sustainable firms of the region will gather to exhibit game-changing products and solutions within the framework of the Nature Friendly Development – Sustainability Expo. From startups to large companies, businesses, professional organizations, and educational institutions — all will have the opportunity to showcase their contribution to the green transition.

I believe we need to empower younger generations to encourage positive change. Heroes of the Future, Planet Budapest’s Interactive Youth Programme is designed for 10–16-year-old students. Our young guests will become real-life actors of a fictional future that is directly affected by their decisions. Planet Budapest 2021 offers a defining experience with the possibility of changing one’s perspective on nature, development and personal responsibility.

4. To what extent is green industry expected to increase in the upcoming years and what are its implications regarding employment?

Green industry is expected to grow significantly in the upcoming decade. The market size of Global Green Technology and Sustainability is predicted to grow to USD 36.6 billion by 2025, at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 26.6 percent. Innovation breeds innovation; companies working on green solutions will multiply, further accelerated by decreasing prices in the sector. For example, the capacity of solar power plants installed in Hungary is increasing at a higher rate than ever before and is now set to reach the target set in the National Energy Strategy for 2030 much earlier. Naturally, this rapid growth of the industry ensures stronger labor demand.

According to the International Labour Organization, if the right policies are put in place, the shift to a greener economy could create 24 million new jobs globally by 2030. This further illustrates that sustainability can be defined as both a necessity and a market opportunity. Companies need to consider that the majority of millennial and Gen Z employees take sustainability into account when looking for a job, so firms with strong sustainability strategies and goals are increasingly popular, while going against the trend could easily mean a loss of profit and prestige.

5. Which industries are playing a key role in creating a sustainability turnaround?

Sustainable development is vital in every industry. To maintain growth, development and customer satisfaction, it is inevitable that companies will have to invest in sustainable innovations. Today, some industries are undoubtedly more advanced in this regard than others. For example, the production of electric cars has developed rapidly, as it is directly linked to renewable energy management. The appearance of new solutions for water purification and management, measurement technology, logistics, and waste management are less evident but equally essential. Large sectors such as energy, agriculture or heavy industry have a key role to play in transitioning to a sustainable economy, but at the same time, they are facing greater challenges along the way. Technology and innovation can make a major contribution to sustainable development. Industries and companies that are manufacturing products or offering services closely linked to sustainability have a greater responsibility.

6. Could you give a few examples of Hungarian companies that are particularly successful in the field of sustainable solutions? What resources are available for these businesses to assist their expansion?

Despite the crisis caused by the pandemic, Hungarian export performance remained above EUR 100 billion in 2020. This could not have been achieved without the government’s economic protection measures, including loans and support programs of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its background institutions. Among other initiatives, the External Market Growth Support Program encourages projects that comply with the investment guidelines of high-potential markets set out in the National Export Strategy and the policy strategy for Hungary’s international development cooperation. Many of the applicants to this program are active in the field of sustainability and climate protection. For example, a Hungarian company is currently designing a high-capacity solar-based power plant in Bulgaria, while another is setting up a solar park in Albania. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade considers the expansion of Hungarian companies abroad to be of strategic importance and has been supporting this for many years through various programs. As part of its investment strategy, the Western Balkans Investment Scheme was announced two years ago to strengthen the regional presence of Hungarian companies. The Scheme provides financial support to companies in Hungary through non-refundable grants for investments in the renewable energy sector in the target countries.

7. How does Hungary promote sustainable economic growth?

Experts suggest that sustainable development shows a huge potential for businesses. Hungary is a leading example of sustainable economic growth. However, to further encourage growth and development, the government needs to help Hungarian companies to adapt easily to the rapidly changing market and environmental conditions and to take advantage of new opportunities. The annual value of environmental expenditures of companies, households and state institutions in Hungary has exceeded HUF 735 billion. Research conducted by Planet Budapest 2021 found that 43 percent of Hungarians would be willing to spend more on environmentally friendly products to encourage the growth of sectors dealing with sustainable technology.

8. What are the medium- and long-term goals of the Hungarian government regarding sustainability?

The government’s current environmental expenditure equals 1.5 percent of our annual GDP. The exploitable potential of Hungarian environmental exports is worth focusing on, as the number of business transactions can easily be multiplied within a few years through innovation and investor capital.

The Hungarian government has made an ambitious commitment to reduce environmental damage. The National Clean Development Strategy has set a target to increase the share of carbon-neutral electricity production to 90 percent and the share of renewable energy sources to 21 percent by 2030. Furthermore, in the next seven years, the Hungarian government will channel a total of HUF 1.6 trillion from the funds available from the European Union to the Environmental and Energy Efficiency Operational Plus Fund.

We would like the Hungarian business sector to see that a sustainable transition is not only a challenge but also a great opportunity. It is important to see where the world is headed. Hungary is capable of not only following the positive trends but of being at the forefront of change at both the governmental and corporate levels.

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