Thousands demonstrated in Budapest yesterday after Hungary’s government eased rules protecting native forests against logging amid energy supply concerns.
A government decree, which took effect last week, suspends previous nature protection rules in order to speed up logging and build access roads.
Thousands gathered in downtown Budapest near parliament, according to an AFP photographer, carrying posters that read “Leave our forests alone!” and “Keep your dirty hands off our woods”.
“This is nuts. They want to make sure that there is enough wood to burn in the winter when heating gas prices will explode, but the freshly cut wood is so humid that it’s no good for that purpose. It will never burn,” Ignac Tahi, 48, told AFP.
“This is our common future. We all feel the effects of the climate change on our skins and cutting down trees will only make it worse,” said protester Fanni Fodor.
Hungary, which largely depends on Russian oil and gas, in July declared a “state of danger” over the energy crisis triggered by the war in Ukraine.
The government of nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban has said the decree aims to “renew” the forests rather than cutting them down.
“The government is working to ensure that no Hungarian household suffers from a lack of energy,” official Balazs Orban wrote on Facebook on Thursday. “Today, nearly a quarter of households heat with wood, increasing the supply will also help their situation.”
The government says Hungary can produce 3.5mn cu metres of firewood per year and the loosening of rules was needed amid an increase in demand, driven in part by Orban curbing his policy of subsidising household utility bills.
Demand for stoves using solid fuels, including coal and firewood, has risen to nearly 12 times last July’s levels after the utility bill subsidies were tightened, online retailer eMAG said earlier this month.
The government says logging would be ramped up only in case of a supply emergency.
WWF called the decree “seriously worrying”, saying the wildlife of the entire region may suffer “irreparable damage”.
“There has been no precedent for such a decision in our country for decades,” it said.
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