A year marked by Greece’s addiction to fossil fuels has resulted in seriously undermining the country’s system of environmental protection, according to WWF Greece.
The 14th annual report of WWF Greece “Environmental law in Greece”, which was published in December 2018 (in Greek), highlights a number of serious shortcomings and rollbacks on environmental legislation, but also important wins that spark hope for 2019.
Alarm for environmental rollback in 2018
Environmental impact assessment: The year is marked by the favouritist and intransparent licensing framework for the oil and gas drilling programmes now happening in onshore and offshore areas covering almost the entire western part of Greece. A major matter is the tailor-made exemption of extensive and potentially impactful seismic research operations from the obligation to perform an environmental impact assessment, even within protected areas.
Oil and gas in protected areas: The approved hydrocarbon extraction programmes cover entirely or partially many protected areas. The onshore concession block of Ioannina includes 20 Natura 2000 sites and parts of the N. Pindos National Park; the concession block of NW Peloponnese includes 11 Natura 2000 sites, among which the Kotychi-Strofilia National Park; the concession block of Aetoloakarnania includes 15 Natura 2000 sites, two national parks and two wetlands protected under the international Ramsar Convention.
Forests: The deadly wildfire in Mati revealed the catastrophic impacts of forest neglect and unplanned housing.
Energy: 2018 was marked by the opening to divestment of 40% of PPC’s coal assets and the subsequent licensing of the construction of a new lignite power plant (SES Meliti II). This development threatens to lock Greece’s energy future in lignite for decades to come.
Waste: It is estimated that almost 160.000 tons of solid urban waste is still buried in illegal landfills. Since 2015, Greece has paid over 104 million euros in financial penalties, following rulings of the EU Court of Justice. This however is not enough to stop the catastrophic practice of illegal landfilling. Iconic places, such as the caldera in Santorini, are heavily impacted by illegal waste disposal.
Environmental inspection: Greece’s system of environmental control is constantly weakened, due to understaffing and the Inspectorate's lack of independence from the political leadership of the Ministry of Environment and Energy.
Signs of hope for 2019
Nature and biodiversity: Expansion of the Natura 2000 network and new law on protected areas management.
Energy: Establishment by law of the framework for the National Just Transition Fund, which will be financed by public CO2 auctioning revenues. This act makes Greece the first EU country to leverage public revenues from CO2 auctions to finance the transition of lignite regions to the post-coal era.
Energy: The adoption of a new law on energy communities opens the way for social engagement in the production of energy.
Spatial planning: The transposition of the marine spatial planning directive was a notable legal development. At the same time, the non-ratification of the protocol of the Barcelona Convention on the integrated coastal zone management remains a serious institutional deficit.
The environmental law review is published annually by WWF Greece since 2005, as a contribution to the cause for a strong and solutions-oriented civil society, founded on solid and reliable environmental information. It also constitutes the only source of information on the quality and effectiveness of the existing framework of environmental law and governance.
A few days before the publication of WWF Greece’s 14th annual environmental law review, an opinion research conducted in the framework of the LIFE-IP4Natura project clearly shows that the public in Greece is very concerned about the protection of the environment, as a vitally significant common good: nine out ten respondents say that the damage to the natural environment and the extinction of species is a serious risk, whereas only 7% say that concerns are exaggerated. Also, 8 out of 10 strongly support stricter environmental laws.