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22nd Jul 2018

Towns lead the way in creating eco-friendly solutions

  • Towns are leading the way with eco-friendly initiatives (Photo: EUobserver)

In 2006, impatient with international foot-dragging over opting for sustainable energy use and a green economy, 14 Hungarian towns decided to seize the initiative.

They created the climate-friendly Towns Movement which emphasises local initiatives and solutions to help achieve an eco-efficient lifestyle.

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Their idea has since become the fashion across many other cities in Europe. Since 2009, more than 1,700 European towns have joined to the Covenant of Mayors - an initiative to take action at the local level to tackle climate change. However, a lot remains to be done to reach the Covenant's common goal of a 20 percent emission reduction by 2020.

"Protest is not the only weapon in the hands of citizens to call for action against climate change. With constructive programmes and solutions, we all can do something to keep our town livable," said László Sólyom, president of Hungary and a long-time supporter of green growth.

The founder of the movement, Zoltan Z. Antal, sold his car five years ago, inspired by a visit to Tony Blair's Britain. Mr Blair, then UK prime minister, argued that without the support of the citizens the government had little chance of improving climate consciousness. Back in Hungary, Mr Antal launched a public campaign, first by organising cycling trips and later by calling on local government to engage in initiatives for climate protection. This turned into the Towns Movement.

Among the movement's participants are cities that once had poor air quality due to the local industry. The host of this year's conference, Tatabánya, adopted an air quality action plan back in 2004, and a climate action plan in 2007. Since then, such towns have acted to convince more eco-minded companies to move in.

Besides air quality measures, Tatabánya has heat- and UV-alarm action plans. The local authorities managed to buy 51 percent of the shares of the local distance heating provider, which they use to control energy efficiency and prices.

Tatabánya also plans to reuse the methane gas released by the regional landfill, and to provide public schools and sport facilities with hot water from renewable sources. The town's climate councilor admits, however, that the biggest challenge is to fight car use. The local authorities promote car-sharing and have built cycling paths in the city, as well as to villages in the area.

Some towns have joined the "green movement" due to their negative experience wit pollution such qas Vác, a town near Hungary's capital Budapest and once one of the country's "12 dirtiest cities."

Pomáz, another small town near the suburbs of Budapest, decided to be climate conscious after a massive flood eleven years ago. Since then, the town has a strategy to manage its water resources and avoid floods.

Supporters of the movement have organised joint initiatives as well. In the Pilis mountains area, for instance, they arranged to compost the organic waste from local shops, and to build a system to collect rainwater for agricultural use. They have also launched education programmes for children in kindergarten and elementary school on preventing and reacting to climate change.

Business operators are also getting involved. Of the 150 shops in the Pilis mountain region, 25 have taken steps to comply with the "green ethical code" of the city. They can choose between recycling packages, promoting local products, separate trash collection, planting trees or building bicycle parks.

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