The EU Taxonomy Regulation lays out the 6 environmental objectives that Cohesion Policy is required to follow. Operational Programmes under this Regulation should support activities that would respect the climate and environmental standards and priorities of the European Union and would do no significant harm to these environmental objectives. How does the Hungarian HRDOP Plus Programme meet these criteria?
- EU sustainable development policy
Sustainable development has long been at the heart of European thinking. The EU is committed to a development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
On 11 December 2019, the European Commission published its Communication on The European Green Deal (1), that aims to transform the EU into a fair and prosperous society, with a modern, resource-efficient and competitive economy where there are no net emissions of greenhouse gases in 2050 and where economic growth is decoupled from resource use.
The principle of “Do no significant harm” (DNSH) was introduced by the Taxonomy Regulation (2) to meet the objectives of The European Green Deal, which aims to establish a categorisation system (i.e. taxonomy) to determine of what is an environmentally sustainable economic activity.
Article 9 of the Taxonomic Regulation defines the 6 environmental objectives as follows:
a) Climate change mitigation;
b) Climate change adaptation;
c) The sustainable use and protection of water and marine resources;
d) The transition to a circular economy;
e) Pollution prevention and control;
f) The protection and restoration of biodiversity and ecosystems.
Under the Common Provisions Regulation (CPR) (3), which lays down common provisions for several EU funds, the DNSH principle is also mandatory in Cohesion Policy, operational programmes under this regulation should support activities that would respect the climate and environmental standards and priorities of the European Union and would do no significant harm to these environmental objectives. Furthermore, the application of the DNSH principle should be ensured at programme level, i.e. a separate DNSH analysis should be prepared for each operational programme.
In addition to the DNSH analysis, a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) is also required for each operational programme for the development period 2021-2027. (4) The purpose of the SEA is to promote the integration of sustainability aspects into the decision-making process and the development of implementation systems from a sustainability perspective.
The logic of the two analyses is different, while the DNSH analysis is intended to answer the question of whether a given activity would do significant harm to the environmental objectives set out in the Taxonomy Regulation, the SEA process is more advisory, where SEA proposals are made to maximise positive impacts. The assessment criteria for DNSH and SEA analyses are overlapped, but are not exactly the same.
- Sustainability evaluation of the HRDOP Plus Programme
Hungary has developed 8 Operational Programmes for the 2021-2027 programming period, which include actions to build a sustainable ecosystem.
The Human Resources Development Operational Programme Plus (HRDOP Plus) is aiming at support social inclusion in Hungary. In the following, I will evaluate the implementation of sustainability aspects by presenting the priority axes of the HRDOP Plus.
2.1 Public education in 21st century, Teachers’ career model
The priority axis aims to develop pupils’ basic competences and improve their learning outcomes through a range of complementary activities. It is also planned to reform the system of teachers’ career model through improving teachers’ pay levels in line with performance evaluation (e.g. additional allowances for teachers working with disadvantaged pupils).
From the six objectives of the Taxonomy Regulation, the priority axis may have minimal impact on the Climate change mitigation, as the implementation of online teacher trainings may lead to an increase in electricity consumption, by increasing greenhouse gas emissions. However, this does not conflict with the objective of moving to a climate-neutral economy.
Pollution prevention and control objective may also be slightly compromised, as excursions and camps complementing various educational activities will increase transport demand, but this will typically implemented by using of public transport, so there is no significant increase in air pollutant emissions.
With regard to the SEA aspect, the development of public education indirectly serves to educate young people about the environment and sustainability and to shape their attitudes. The environmental and sustainability training and motivation of teachers can have a positive impact on the environmental awareness of pupils.
2.2 Developments for social inclusion
Within this priority axis, infrastructural improvements are made to help disadvantaged people and families. It is also planned to provide learning opportunities for the low-skilled, integrating them into the labour market, furthermore to promote the social reintegration of prisoners.
Climate change mitigation objective may be compromised, as the implementation and operation of new facilities may result in increased material and energy inputs. In order to minimise this, the use of renewable energy sources (wind and solar) are planned.
The transition to a circular economy objective may also be compromised, as the infrastructural improvements may generate waste if the modernisation involves the demolition of old buildings. In line with the EU waste hierarchy, recycling and reprocessing should be prioritised, serving the implementation of the circular economy.
The objective of pollution prevention and reduction is also compromised, as developments in segregated, less developed locations may contribute to increase wastewater. At the same time, the interventions to improve energy efficiency (typically solar energy) can be expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The SEA aspect shows that social improvements reduce material deprivation, furthermore the protection of values and social inclusion can be achieved together.
2.3 Social developments
This priority axis aims to provide practical training and work experience for people with disabilities or reduced working capacity, in order to find jobs and work in the open labour market. It is also planned to include the development of services for elderly and homeless people, such as temporary accommodation, moreover support for children in need.
The climate change mitigation objective may be compromised, however, a number of interventions with smaller positive impacts are also included, such as the purchase of bicycles or the creation and renovation of green spaces.
In terms of the SEA aspect, if sustainability and environmental knowledge is integrated into trainings and programmes, a positive impact can be achieved, either among people with disabilities, with reduced working capacity or among social professionals.
2.4 Support of people in need
The aim of this priority axis is to support people at high risk of poverty or social exclusion by providing sustainable food packages on a regular basis, while respecting their dignity. It is also planned to provide basic material support (clothing, school and nursery equipment, firewood) and related accompanying measures (prevention, educational counselling, mental health and addiction treatment, in particular for homeless people).
The transition to a circular economy objective could be compromised, as harmful practices such as using the clothing for heating purposes or spending money on unnecessary products could be spread among the target group.
In terms of the SEA aspect, all these problems can be prevented by teaching basic financial and life skills, as well as basic knowledge on waste management.
2.5 Family and youth developments
The priority axis is aiming at provide crèche services in the workplaces to encourage parents’ participation in the labour market. It is also planned to include training for professionals providing early childhood care and scholarship support for early childhood educators.
Climate change mitigation objective may be compromised by infrastructure investments, while on the other hand, the development of day-care centres, locally accessible and mobile services will reduce transport demand and transport emissions.
With regard to the SEA aspect, a broader positive impact would be achieved if nursery workers received sustainability and environmental education.
2.6 Emerging Settlements Programme
Within the priority axis, social integration of people at risk of poverty or social exclusion is promoted, including the most deprived persons and children, furthermore health services (mobile clinics, screening programmes) and infrastucture development are implemented.
Climate change mitigation may be compromised by infrastructure investments, while certain interventions (e.g. replacement of windows and doors) may also contribute to energy saving while improving housing conditions.
In terms of the SEA aspect, the implementation of social inclusion improvements increases the competence of the target group, so that the environmental impacts can have a lasting positive effect.
None of the priority axes in the HRDOP Plus Programme have a significant negative impact on the environmental objectives of the Taxonomy Regulation, but they have possibilities from an environmental point of view.
Most of the priority axes have no significant negative impact on Climate change mitigation, The transition to a circular economy and Pollution prevention and control objectives, but the positive benefits are far bigger, than any potential disadvantages.
The sustainable use and protection of water and marine resources objective is not compromised in this Operational Programme, as there are fewer interventions that affect water consumption.
The HRDOP Plus operational programme could do much to strengthen social and institutional resilience, i.e. crisis resilience, through knowledge development and sectoral cooperation in the face of emergencies caused by climate change and environmental problems.
More focus should be given to sustainability in public education, teacher training and in the social, family and youth sectors.
The network of schools and kindergartens – such as eco-schools, forest schools and green kindergartens – that implement sustainability thinking and values should be strengthened.
Instead of the traditional “subject-textbook-teacher-classroom” system of public education, much more space should be given to complex (non-subject) forms of learning (e.g. learning projects, theme days and theme weeks).
It would be necessary to support the creation of model gardens, community and social gardens, moreover promote the dissemination and networking of good examples.
In the future, sustainability will become more and more important in people’s lives, and it is a necessity to reflect on these aspects in the HRDOP Plus Programme through education, training and awareness-raising tools.
Author information:Diana Kun works as an EU project evaluator at Prime Minister’s Office. The views expressed in this article are the personal view of the author and should not be understood to reflect the views of the Prime Minister’s Office in Hungary.
- The European Green Deal https://eur-lex.europa.eu/resource.html?uri=cellar:b828d165-1c22-11ea-8c1f-01aa75ed71a1.0002.02/DOC_1&format=PDF
- Taxonomy Regulation, REGULATION (EU) 2020/852 OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL of 18 June 2020 on the establishment of a framework to facilitate sustainable investment, and amending Regulation (EU) 2019/2088 https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:32020R0852&from=HU
- CPR https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:32021R1060&from=EN
- Strategic Environmental Assessment, Directive 2001/42/EC https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:32001L0042&from=HU and Government Decree 2/2005 (11.I.) https://net.jogtar.hu/jogszabaly?docid=a0500002.kor
HRDOP Plus Programme https://www.palyazat.gov.hu/emberi_eroforras_fejlesztesi_operativ_program_plusz EFOP Plus DNSH APPLICATION OF THE “DO NOT APPLY” (DNSH) PROVISION IN OPERATIONAL PROGRAMMES | Széchenyi Plan Plus (gov.hu)EFOP Plus SEA https://www.palyazat.gov.hu/operativ-programok-strategiai-kornyezeti-vizsgalati-jelentesei
Proposals for the Hungarian Partnership Agreement on the European structural and investment funds 2021-2027 and the National Recovery and Resilience Plan for contributing to a climate-neutral EU https://www.levego.hu/sites/default/files/Hungarian%20Partnership%20Agreement%20proposal%20Climate%202021apr21.pdf
Marco Lopriore, Maureen Cossalter: Taking into account the Taxonomy: acting without harm in Structural Funds and recovery plans https://www.eipa.eu/publications/briefing/taking-into-account-the-taxonomy/