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UN climate change talks EU must push for UN deal to avoid dangerous climate change say MEPs

The European Parliament today adopted a resolution, setting out its position on the UN climate change negotiations ahead of the forthcoming UN climate summit in Paris (COP21). Commenting after the vote, Green MEP Benedek Javor said:

“The European Parliament has today underlined the need for the EU to push for a binding UN climate deal that aims to avoid dangerous climate change by limiting global warming to below 2 degrees.

“Beyond the general goals in today’s resolution, it is clear that the EU will need to seriously up its ambition if it is to play a constructive and proactive role in shaping the UN talks to this end. As Greens, we are concerned that the EU risks being a bystander at COP21 if it does not up its game.

“The EU’s 2030 climate change targets are acknowledged to be low on ambition. The headline figure of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 40% is already far below what is necessary, both to limit global warming to 2 degrees and to spur the green economy. A positive signal from the EU that it is willing to increase this ambition depending on an agreement at the COP21 would provide some momentum and impetus for the Paris talks.

“Long-term emissions goals will be a key issue at the COP21. We need to be phasing out carbon globally by 2050 and moving to zero emissions to prevent dangerous climate change. The EU should join the other countries calling for this in the UN negotiations. Simply aligning the EU’s position with that of the G7 (a global reduction of emissions between 40-70% by 2050) is out of sync with the EU’s goal of limiting the global increase in temperature to below 2°C. 

“Finance for assisting developing countries most affected by climate change will be a crucial factor in agreement at the COP21. If the EU is to try and positively influence the outcome, we need to both deliver on commitments up to 2020 but also commit to fair and predictable scale of public climate aid beyond 2020.

“It is important that any climate change agreement is binding and its implementation will not be subject to challenge by corporations in private tribunals. We welcome support from MEPs for a Green amendment to this end today.”

Lessons learnt 5 years after the Hungarian red mud disaster

The red mud case in the Hungary 5 year ago was one of the worst European environmental accidents causing 10 deaths and leaving hundreds injured and over 300 houses destroyed. It was the first „major case” where the Environmental Liability Directive 2004/35/EC (ELD) was applied. Our conference held on October 5th 2015 examined what lessons have been learnt from the accident and how European legislation and implementation could be further improved to ensure the prevention or best remediation of similar accidents.

In the opening we shortly spoke of our visit to Kolontár and Devecser with Ulrike Lunacek on 2nd of October and presented a video that you can watch here: https://youtu.be/QOT_f3fHz90

In the first session speakers described what exactly happened in Kolontár, Hungary and what the underlying reasons to the disaster were. Mr György Bakondi described the events in detail and outlined the actions taken by the relevant authorities firstly to stop the sludge reaching the natural waters and secondly to restore the damages caused by the red sludge as far as possible and thirdly to prevent further spills from the reservoir. Zoltán Ferencz researcher from the Hungarian Academy of Sciences detailed the social impacts of the crisis on the towns it affected. Furthermore, the recovery process following the disaster included several categories of damages: property damage, environmental damage, economic damage, and damages to the physical and mental health of the affected communities. Infrastructural repairs were done and financed by the Hungarian Relief Fund and contributed to new schools, health centres, and public spaces. However, more relief is still needed in the affected towns including local economic development, ongoing psychological assistance, air pollution control. Ferencz suggested that regular health screening, community development programmes and capacity building of local stakeholderswould be advisable steps to take to continue aid the towns in need. More than anything, he emphasized the necessity of clarifying responsibilities and ensuring increased transparency and communication between private donors and government relief efforts.

At the end of the first session Mr Gergely Simon held a presentation about the lack of proper risk assessment, the authorities’ failure to identify the instability of the dam and take action accordingly. Through frequent (geological) monitoring the catastrophe could have been prevented, however, the mining authority was not involved in the permitting either. Another grim fact he faced the audience with was that red mud was not classified as hazardous waste after 2002, easing requirements both for monitoring and waste disposal. Amongst additional causes of the disaster he mentioned the lack of mandatory financial security deposits, no proper information on the composition of the sludge, the site operator not fulfilling remediation obligations set in the privatisation contact and the lack of independent and strong Hungarian authorities. Had laws been interpreted and applied well or politics had been stronger and included environmental guarantees in the privatization contracts, the impact could have been not so severe. Finally, he drew the attention on other similar cases still unsolved and the consequences at a national level.

During the second session, Mr. Vito A. Buonsante gave a presentation reviewing the Environmental Liability Directive (ELD). The objective of the ELD is to establish a framework of environmental liability, to implement the polluter pays principle and to prevent and repair future environmental damage. He identified several problems with the directive, including its very limited scope (as set out in Annex III, failing to encompass fossil fuel infrastructure and many other activities covered in the Environmental Impact Assessment Directives), governance structure and vague and restrictive definitions of terms such as significant adverse effects and environmental damage. While recognizing that the ELD is positive because it creates a right to access justice for environmental issues, Buonsante also recommended that in order to improve, the scope of the ELD should be extended by phasing out exemptions and redefining environmental damage (to go beyong land, water and biodiversity aspects) and make operators of all occupational activities strictly liable for all environmental damage.

In Mr Simon’s second presentation he focused on the prevention of possible disasters in the future after Seveso III Directive was adopted in 2011. He stressed that red mud ponds are still not covered by the legistation and the objective of prevention cannot be fulfilled by the current legislation. Remaining gaps like the lack of requirement for compliance with Best Available Technologies and for elimination hazardous substances, introducing an adequate financial liability scheme, frequent and effective inspections, regular safety studies as well as transparency are to be solved.

Overall, the conference was informative and stimulating. While there was much reflection on the red mud disaster, there was also ample discussion of the future of environmental liability and conservation. Learning from the mistakes made before and after the red mud disaster and sharing ideas on how to improve future actions was the highlight of discussion.

You may find the presentations from the conference below.

Vito Buonsante Kolontar

Gergő Simon Kolontar Hungarian aspects

Gergő Simon Kolontar European aspects

Zoltan Ferencz Kolontar

ITCO intergroup pressures the European Parliament to ban salaried side jobs

The intergroup on Integrity, Transparency, Corruption and Organised crime calls for a revision of the Code of Conduct for Members of the European Parliament, in order to ban side jobs for MEPs. Under the current rules, MEPs can have various paid side jobs. The Volkswagen emission scandal, about which a debate in the European Parliament was held yesterday, illustrates that it is exactly the close bonds between the automobile industry and the European institutions that has enabled the widespread fraud with emissions.

The emission fraud scandal in the automobile industry should trigger a sharper focus on the tight relation between the car-industry and European institutions. So far, MEPs have been allowed to have side jobs, as long as they register these through their declarations of interest.

The code of conduct has a provision on conflicts of interest, which are defined as follows: a conflict of interest arises when a Member of the European Parliament has a personal interest that could improperly influence the performance of his or her duties as a Member. The Code of Conduct obliges members to disclose any actual or potential conflict of interest before speaking/voting in the plenary or when proposed as a rapporteur. Apart from that, MEPs can have as many side jobs as they want. This leads to the current situation that some MEP’s are involved in the car-industry. Currently the EP is revising its internal rules and, therefore, the ITCO intergroup proposes to ban paid salaried side jobs as soon as possible.

Dennis de Jong states in his capacity as co-chair of the intergroup: ”There is an urgent need to end the ties between the industry and members of the EP. We should start by implementing a ban on paid side jobs. This is the best possible guarantee against conflicts of interest arising”. Benedek Jávor as vice-chair of the intergroup highlights that: “Without transparent rules concerning the functioning of MEP-industry forums and a ban on paid side jobs for MEPs, European legislation will continue to be governed by industry priorities, even at the expense of the health of European citizens.”

5th anniversary of the Kolontár industrial catastrophe: we have not learnt our lessons, we are waiting for the next catastrophe

Five years ago, at its own expense, Hungary has learned that we live in the shadow of environmental catastrophes that result in the loss of human lives. Not much has happened in the last five years to reduce the possibility of industrial accidents happening.

The government has taken one small step towards risk reduction: with the amendment of the mining law it clarified the authorities responsibilities for the technical supervision of facilities, such as red sludge reservoirs; however, the government simultaneously increased risks, with light-speed: it eliminated the autonomy of supervision authorities like the environment protection authority and mining inspectorate, both became part of governmental offices under political guidance and mining has become part of the office for consumer protection. In addition, it further restricted supervision capacities by radically decreasing public funding and human resources of the authorities.

As to the functioning of this authority system – it is clearly shown by the mismanagement of the poison-case at the Illatos road in Budapest

This time, however, it is not about the capital, but Kolontár, Devecser, Ajka and all the other areas affected by the red sludge catastrophe. The dam of the red sludge reservoir, located between Ajka and Kolontár, collapsed five years ago on October 4, 2010, as a result of which the escaping mass of thick alkaline sludge caused almost immeasurable and certainly unprecedented damages: ten people died and hundreds more were hurt either physically and or psychologically; the life of thousands has changed irreversibly. The sludge flooded an area of 40 square-kilometres and the government spent nearly 40 billion forints (approx. 130 million EUR) on renovation – as it later turned out, the money went to the then still important Simicska-Nyergest interest group, but larger amounts were pumped in the quarry of the Orbán-family as well.

Since then, houses have been either renovated or rebuilt, the land has more or less been cleared, the collapsed dam and the remaining sludge have been stabilized. Much less was spent on stitching damaged social ties in the region (many have moved away permanently, new rural areas were developed, traditional human relationships have loosened), mitigating psychological harm, and the long-term assessment of health damages, which would have been well-reasoned after such a shocking incident.

In addition, no measures have been taken towards the prevention of similar incidents, even though the task is not even remotely unfeasible: previously, together with environment protection NGOs and scientific think thanks we published a series of proposals from which, despite the almost unanimous consensus among relevant experts. Only the ones about short-term, emergency interventions were implemented.

  • We initiated that the EU send an independent committee with a wide scope of effect on location, which would help Hungarian authorities (following the assessment method used in the case of the cyanide pollution in the Tisza river) in assessing environmental damages, in exploring the causes of the incident; the Orbán-government did not want to hear about this.
  • No person within the authority and state administration responsible for the incident was identified, efforts were not to significant either.
  • We requested the supervision of the emergency plans of national hazardous industrial facilities, mines, reservoirs – whether they address reality and whether the expectable consequences of a possible incident are adequately modelled. To this day no such supervision has taken place despite the fact that the catastrophe in Kolontár had such a destructive outcome precisely because the facility’s emergency plan was flawed.
  • We suggested the development of a compulsory assurance system that guarantees responsibility with an adequate amount of insurance. The development of such a system, by the by, has already been prescribed by the environment protection law for twenty years now Such an assurance framework would make factory owners interested in the prevention of incidents; the insurance would cover the expenses of any possible damage done, so that it is not always tax-payers who are charged with compensation. The government, again, ignored this proposal.
  • We urged the establishment of an EU-level safety foundation for hazardous facilities, which would be funded by payments coming from facilities with large environmental risks and would financially compensate for damages that could not be covered otherwise or that have no one to hold accountable. The Orbán-administration was not partner in this either; however, recently, the European Parliament is discussing the question.


The majority effort from the government’s part was put into shepherding towards Fidesz-friendly circles the assets and production capacity of the Mal Ltd., the owner of the Ajka alumina plant. This is obviously connected to the fact that the above-mentioned corporation is the biggest employer in Ajka and the neighbouring areas, none of which brought much success to Fidesz in recent elections. However, the basic question is still not answered, namely, the question of how the Central Transdanubian Inspectorate for Environment Protection could release a permit to MAL for regular waste-disposal, when the pH level of red mud is 13-13.5, i.e. it is high in alkali. This means that even according to the rules then in effect, the disposal was related to tailings undoubtedly categorised as hazardous waste.

No one, who could truly be held responsible, was ever found, and, naturally, all expenses had to be covered by the budget, that is, from tax-payer’s money. There is still no regulation that could effectively prevent similar catastrophes from happening and guarantee that companies, which, unless a problem occurs, produce profit, would not transfer expenses to tax-payers when, precisely because of “cost-effective operation” a problem does occur. It was not five years ago when Hungary first experienced such a problem. Fifteen years ago, the tailings dam in the Aurul gold-mine in Nagybánya, Romania, collapsed and flooded almost the entire Hungarian territory of the Tisza River with cyanide. The Hungarian state could not realise any compensation claims from the company or Romania in connection with a 29-billion-forint damage. It was also paid by us, Hungarian tax-payers.

The basis of the EU environmental policy follows the “polluter pays” principle. Well, in reality, it is valid in a slightly different way when it comes to industrial catastrophes: the polluted pays. The harm is caused in our societies and communities. And they are the ones paying for their own poisoning afterwards. This is unacceptable. It has to be changed and this is exactly what we are working on in the European Parliament on the fifth anniversary of the Kolontár catastrophe.


Furthermore you can read a report on the details here: