CrisisWatch

Hydrocarbon frenzy in Greece

Iconic and ecologically sensitive marine and coastal areas are at serious risk by the ongoing oil and gas exploitation frenzy currently pushed by the Greek Government.

Last week, Environment and Energy Minister Giorgos Stathakis submitted to Parliament for approval three bills ratifying contracts for hydrocarbon research and extraction in the offshore block 2 of the Ionian Sea, and the onshore blocks of Aetoloarkanania, Arta-Preveza and NW Peloponnese.

In 2014, the Parliament ratified another round of contracts for hydrocarbon exploration and drilling in the onshore block of Ioannina, (Epirus region), and the offshore blocks of Patraikos, and Katakolo.

Since the wake of the economic crisis, cash strapped Greece has promoted oil and gas as the spearhead of its economic recovery strategy, claiming that significant revenues can be gained and dependency on hydrocarbon imports will be reduced. In addition to the impact of burning fossil fuels as the main cause of climate change, oil drilling causes severe impacts on the areas of concern and undermines the potential of local economies for sustainable development.

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EU pushes Greece towards longer coal dependence

In a letter to the representatives of the institutions supervising Greece’s economy, WWF Greece raises serious concerns that the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund push the cash-strapped country towards further expanding its dependency on lignite. In the letter dated 10 November 2017, WWF Greece’s CEO Demetres Karavellas expresses “deep concern about the obligatory sale of the 40% of the Public Power Corporation’s (PPC) lignite capacity, along with the persistence on building new lignite units, both of which will have severe impacts on Greece’s energy future and on the company’s viability”.

The inclusion in Greece’s Third Economic Adjustment Programme of the obligation to sell 40% of PPC’s lignite assets is already negatively influencing Greece’s position regarding new EU legislation. For example, in the context of the Electricity Market Regulation reform process Greece has been persistently fighting against the European Commission’s proposal to exclude coal plants from capacity mechanisms, in order to render Greek lignite plants artificially “attractive” for potential investors. Should the Greek effort be successful, billions of euros will flow towards coal infrastructure not just in Greece but all over the EU, thus impeding the EU’s progress towards meeting its climate commitments and goals.  

“The Institutions should remove the stranglehold they imposed on Greece’s energy future through the sale of 40% of PPC’s lignite assets, which, if materialized, will bankroll lignite dependency in Greece for decades to come”, stated Nikos Mantzaris, WWF Greece’s energy and climate policy officer, in Euractiv.

Τhe institutions should remove the obligation of PPC to sell 40% of its lignite assets, as it suffocates Greece’s energy future. The EU must necessarily encourage the Greek government to commit to phasing out lignite by 2030 as most EU member states are already in the process of decarbonisation.

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Survey: Europeans want more EU action on environmental protection

Two-thirds of EU citizens would like the European Union to intervene more than at present in order to protect the environment, according to a Eurobarometer Survey for the European Parliament issued in April 2017. In this survey, the environment ranks third in the list of areas calling for more EU action, after terrorism and unemployment. In the same survey of 2016, the environment featured in the sixth position.  

Despite the economic crisis and against fears that environmental concerns would regress, this year’s survey saw an 8% increase in the opinion that more EU action is needed in protecting the environment.

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Dangerous illegal landfill in the sea turtle National Marine Park of Zakynthos island opens again

The streets of Zakynthos are filled with garbage, as local authority tries to bury municipal waste in landfill illegally operating within the sea turtle Caretta caretta national park and ignores the need for a new and safe sanitary waste disposal site. 

Zakynthos is a popular tourist destination in Greece with thousands of tourists arriving to enjoy the beautiful sandy beaches of the Ionian Sea island. These same beaches also host the most important nesting sites of the Loggerhead turtle in the Mediterranean. The nesting season of the turtles has just begun. This is Zakynthos’ prime season, but this year the situation is bleak. 

For the past several months the island has been faced with an unprecedented crisis. Piles of municipal waste have been accumulated in the streets. No solutions has been given to the island’s waste management, since the European Court of Justice ruled in 2014 that the old landfill located within the National Marine Park of Zakynthos that malfunctioned but continued to operate since 2006 was illegal. Indeed, while the old landfill has been officially closed since 2014, it has continued to operate illegally. 

The illegal and polluting landfill overlooks the sea turtle nesting beaches of the National Marine Park of Zakynthos

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Green laws are good for EU economies

On February 3rd, the European Commission published its environmental law review, highlighting the importance of full implementation for healthy and sustainable economic development.

According to the report:

“The EU's environmental policy and legislation bring undeniable benefits: they protect, preserve and improve the environment for present and future generations, and preserve the quality of life of EU citizens. Weak implementation generates high societal, economic and environmental costs and it creates an uneven playing field for businesses. The importance of the correct implementation of the EU's environmental acquis is also reflected in the Seventh Environmental Action Programme.”

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A year in #NatureAlert & hope for our living planet

Recounting a year full of political heartbreaks, environmental and humanitarian threats, hopes and action, is quite a challenging task. As Europe’s economy shows little political hope for sustainable recovery, one would reasonably expect a rise in environmental pressures, widespread concern and fear for the future, even anger at the lack of leadership for a restart towards a stronger and better Europe. 

The ease with which demagogic rhetoric gains political ground is proof of the void left by the traditional political parties and their inability to address the unprecedented challenges of our times. Europe’s inefficient response to the humanitarian refugee crisis, the continued austerity recipe to the never-ending economic crisis, and the EU’s reluctance to uphold and honour its own global leadership in forward-looking green policies are indeed factors that contribute to public discontent.

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Less debt more Earth

WWF opens dialogue on green debt relief for a living economy in Greece

Seven years of crisis and austerity in Europe are placing great strain on the European project. In Europe’s nature, life goes on: Greece hosts a unique ecological treasury, which is threatened by increasing pressures for rapid but unsustainable growth and environmental deregulation. Greece’s debt can hardly be deemed sustainable and is crippling for the prospects of the country’s economy, environment and social well-being. This condition also prolongs the economic uncertainty of the entire euro-area. Debt relief seems inevitable. A green debt relief agreement, under the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, can offer a long lasting solution to this European crisis.

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Crisis deters industry from investing in waste management

In its recent judgment on the C-584/14 case “European Commission v Hellenic Republic”, the European Court of Justice ruled that Greece has violated key EU laws on hazardous waste management. The Court imposed heavy financial sanctions on the Hellenic Republic: a lump sum of 10 million euros, plus a penalty payment of 30,000 for every day of delay in complying with the decision.

In the arguments put forward by the parties, the Commission notes that the dire situation of the Greek economy does not allow investors and waste producing industries to invest in proper hazardous waste management. For this reason, the Commission has proposed that the Greek authorities undertake the responsibility for the establishment of the necessary landfills for hazardous waste. The Court decided that member states cannot use fiscal or political problems as a legal excuse and that Greece had simply and unjustifiably missed the deadline to comply with its judgment of 10 September 2009 in Commission v Greece (C‑286/08).

The necessary funding for the construction of the hazardous waste landfills in Greece had been secured since the 1990’s through the EU’s Structural Funds. According to the arguments of the parties, 33% of the hazardous waste produced in the country is not managed appropriately and in compliance with the rules set out in the directives 2006/12/EC, 91/689/EEC and 1999/31/EC.

According to the Court, “in the first place,  the importance of the rules of EU law which have been infringed, in the second place, the consequences of that infringement for public and private interests, such as, in particular, the high risk environmental pollution, the detrimental effects for health and the proper functioning of economic activity of the country, in the third place, the attenuating circumstance consisting in the creation of specific criteria for the selection of appropriate sites and of the annual inventory of hazardous waste, but also of the aggravating circumstance relating to the small amount of progress made so far and to the hazardousness of the waste, in the fourth place, the clarity of the provisions infringed and, in the last place, the repeated unlawful conduct of the Hellenic Republic concerning compliance with EU rules in the area of waste, a coefficient for seriousness of 10 is appropriate”.

 

 

Read more: Case C-584-14 Judgment of the Court, CrisisWatch

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Will the EU still be a green leader after the crisis?

By Dr Viviane Gravey*

When thinking about the impacts of the crisis on environmental policy, we need to think about all the different steps and institutions involved in making and applying policy. Each of these may be weakened by the crisis, undermining green policies overall.

In the EU, most environmental policies start as EU directives and regulations, which are then implemented (often quite differently) in each member states. How well the member states implement these depends on many factors such as, for example, the number of environmental inspectors. Implementation is then controlled by both national courts and EU institutions: the European Commission and the European Court of Justice. A weak implementation system will fail to deliver positive changes to environmental quality, irrespective of how ambitious new environmental laws are, and conversely, a lack of ambition at the decision-making stage will undermine ambition at the implementation stage.

 ©  European Commission
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Greece’s forests threatened under new austerity law

LATEST: In response to the political outcry caused by the exception of illegal housing agglomerations from the forest maps, Alternate Environment Minister Yiannis Tsironis submited to Parliament a legal rephrasing that clearly does not allow the declassification of illegally built forests and woodlands.

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