Hungarians protest at looser logging rules to tackle energy crunch

Climate activists protest against Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban's decision to waive rules protecting native forests from logging, in Budapest, Hungary, August 12, 2022. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Thousands of Hungarians protested outside parliament on Friday against an easing of logging rules to meet increased demand for firewood as a result of surging gas and electricity prices.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban's cabinet, citing the effects of the war in neighbouring Ukraine, loosened regulations on logging earlier this month, a move activists and opposition parties say could accelerate deforestation and harm the environment.

Hungary is reliant on Russia for most of its energy and Orban has lobbied hard to secure an exemption from European Union sanctions on Russian crude oil imports, while banning the export of fuels, including firewood, from Hungary.

"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.

The rally was called by the green liberal LMP party, which has five opposition lawmakers in the 199-member parliament.

The government says Hungary can produce 3.5 million cubic 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. However, some environmental groups have already sounded the alarm.

"The loosening of regulations in the government decree is so substantial, which is on a par only with those implemented in the 20th century under even more critical circumstances," Laszlo Galhidy, a WWF Hungary official, said in a statement.

"Hungarian forests have yet to fully recover from those consequences."

(Reporting by Krisztina Fenyo; Writing by Gergely Szakacs; Editing by Alexander Smith)

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