CrisisWatch

Greece changes government and environmental policy 

The announcement of Greece’s new Government was followed by the surprising abolition of the Ministry for Environment, Energy and Climate Change and its merger with agriculture and industry under the title “Ministry for Productive Restructuring, Environment and Energy”. Panayiotis Lafazanis, an experienced MP, will head the ministry as Minister. Yiannis Tsironis, a member of the Ecologists-Greens party, was appointed as Alternate Minister in charge of the environmental sector of the new ministry.

Environmental groups reacted with disappointment at what they called a signal that the environment agenda will be further downgraded. They also stated that sustainable development requires checks and balances that ensure the clear distinction between environmental policy and administration and heavy footprint sectors, such as agriculture and industry. After years of campaigning for the separation of the policy domains of environment and public infrastructures, whose cohabitation led to the constant sidelining of the environment for over twenty years, the establishment in 2009 of the Ministry of Environment, Energy and Climate Change was cautiously welcomed as a positive step towards the modernisation of Greece’s environmental performance. However, an obvious lack of political will, accompanied by an unprecedented rollback in important laws and policies and weakening of its administrative capacity over the last three years, made the need for a robust and effective environmental ministry even stronger.

In a joint statement, the environmental groups ANIMA, Archelon, Arcturos, Mediterranean SOS Network, Hellenic Society for the Protection of Nature, HOS/Birdlife Greece, Callisto, MEDASSET and WWF Greece stated that they “would like to be in the pleasant position of simply offering their congratulations to the new Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and wishing him a term that will be positive for the environment, quality of life and the commons”, but instead they find themselves in the difficult position of asking the new government to reconsider the abolition of the environmental ministry.

In relation to specific construction plans that threaten ecologically sensitive areas, SYRIZA has on many occasions held a positive position. A few days before the January 25th national elections, SYRIZA tweeted to WWF Greece that it stands clearly against the “useless pharaonic project” of the Acheloos River diversion. The party has also taken a clear position against the controversial and environmentally harmful gold mining investment in Halkidiki. In addition, during the election campaign, Alexis Tsipras publicly reconfirmed the intentions of SYRIZA to abolish the Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund, whose portfolio includes the privatisation of lands protected under nature conservation law.

On the energy policy front, SYRIZA faces a crucial and urgent dilemma right from the start, as the construction of the new 660 MW lignite plant Ptolemaida V is scheduled to start in early 2015. On the one hand, soaring unemployment rates in the lignite centre of Western Macedonia (which increased when two lignite plants were destroyed by fire in early November and were closed down) is creating pressure to proceed with the construction. On the other hand, SYRIZA has expressed its commitment to an ‘ecological transformation’ of the energy model. Clearly, such a commitment cannot be met if Ptolemaida V, which is scheduled to operate between 2020-2050 (at least), is constructed, since it will maintain the dependence of Greece’s energy system on coal.

Read more: Joint NGO statement (in Greek), The Times of Change, The Guardian, Reporterre (in French).

 

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Public outcry stops Greek Parliament from voting anti-forest bill 

As environmental rollback on the pretence of economic development has become political routine in Greece, a new bill submitted to Parliament in early December aimed to sanction a new set of illegal land uses and buildings, declassify burnt forest lands from special reforestation status and essentially abolish the forest maps (currently most important forest protection legal tool). 

The bill titled “Acts for contribution in land and cash – Land expropriation and other provisions” was submitted to the Parliament by Alternate Environment Minister Nikos Tagaras just four months after the voting of the controversial Law 4280/2014 on housing development within forests and woodlands. According to WWF Greece, the bill constituted the latest in a series of blows to legal certainty and clarity, as it is filled with tailor-made provisions that serve particular interests and sanction illegal land developments, whereas at the same time it contravenes settled case-law by the Council of State. An avalanche of last-minute amendments completed the picture of a cronyistic and legally insecure bill that was loaded with favours and ignored the rights of all law-abiding citizens who respect the environmental commons. One specific amendment caused a storm of angry comments: three MPs from the region of Attica proposed the freezing of financial penalties and demolition acts for illegal buildings within forests. 

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Environment minister defoliates Greece’s forests of vital legal protection

Four months after the voting of the controversial Law 4280/2014 on housing development in forests and woodlands, Greece’s Ministry of Environment, Energy and Climate Change submitted to the Parliament a new bill, which further undermines the conservation value and clarity of forest legislation. Titled “Acts for contribution in land and cash – Land expropriation and other provisions” and submitted by Alternate Environment Minister Nikos Tagaras, it is expected to be voted before the December 17th parliamentary election for Greece’s new President of the Republic. 

 forest

Was the forest burnt? Patience!
In 5 years, you can do anything with it. (A kind donation by the Ministry of Environment).
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October 2014 editorial

The urgent and dramatic campaign of WWF Spain to avert the voting of a bill that severely weakens the conservation framework for national parks captures our hearts: the economic downturn is misused by many political leaders as an excuse to undermine basic environmental legislation and treat unique natural treasures as an infinite resource for quick and dirty financial gains. The reported decision of the Popular Party parliamentary group to freeze its legislative proposal is a sign of hope, as it proves that targeted and clearly articulated public outcry can halt the environmental overhaul. 

At the other end of Mediterranean Europe, WWF Greece unveiled its road map for a living economy in the crisis-stricken country. At a conference held in Athens on October 15th, speakers from the areas of justice, public governance and economics stated out the need for clear rules and policies that provide transparency, legal certainty and environmental integration in the development, spatial planning and economic agendas. Experts from the sectors of tourism and rural policy-making stressed the need for Greece to build a living real economy based on its unique selling point: nature. The newly elected Mayor of Kozani, Greece’s lignite powerhouse, unfolded the region’s prospects for a sustainable and healthier post-coal era. Representatives from the banking sector, a model sustainable fisheries business initiative and social enterprises focusing on green energy and waste management demonstrated that the future for a living economy is out there and that Europe, not just Greece, needs to face it as a political priority. 

As the EU’s capital is preparing to house a new Commission of historically low environmental ambition, EU leaders failed to come up with the necessary urgent and forward-looking policy response to the unfolding climate crisis. The climate and energy package for 2030 sets low clean energy targets that keep the old and climate polluting economy alive and killing and does not harness all of Europe’s green potential and talent in developing and championing policies for a living planet. 

As Tony Long remarked at the conference in Athens, “…politicians are now in the unenviable position of having only a bag of growth indicators to sell to their increasingly skeptical and knowledgeable electorates who want and need to be presented with other indicators of well-being and progress”. It is high time that Europeans stand up and demand ecologically and socially sustainable ways out of the crisis.

Theodota Nantsou, WWF Greece, and Isabella Pratesi, WWF Italy

 

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Living economy in Greece

Intervention by Tony Long, Director of WWF EPO, at the conference organised by WWF Greece / Athens, 15 October 2014 

 

I start my intervention with a quotation from the then International President of WWF, Chief Anayaoku, at a major conference in Brussels in 2007:

Our way of living is not only threatening the health and diversity of our planet’s species, but has become a huge threat to human survival as well.

·     Societies cannot continue to operate as if the planet was a business in liquidation.

·     We cannot continue to turn our backs on pollution and call it someone else’s problem.

·    We cannot continue to call income what in reality is resource depletion.

·  We cannot claim economic success for development patterns that leave hundreds of millions of people marginalised and which stoke the fears of resentment and conflict.

We need to move beyond conventional economic accounting. We are calling for new ways to measure and record progress so that we can take the necessary corrective measures to set a more wise development path.” 

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Greece going into deep environmental recession

WWF Greece announced its tenth annual review of Greece’s environmental laws and policies. The period covered by this year's report (July 2013 -June 2014), documents the culmination of a systematic process of dismantling Greece’s already poor environmental acquis.

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Greek Parliament votes anti-forest law

A new forest law was voted at the Hellenic Parliament by a Government majority of 50-47 on August 5th.

The new law was heavily criticised by environmental organisations, citizens groups, individual citizens and part of the media, as it introduces a series of critical changes to forest legislation, essentially altering its conservation character. In response to a three-day urgent call by WWF Greece for public action, over 1,000 people personally addressed the ruling party MPs who participate in the 2nd Summer Recess Section. Through email messages and personal telephone calls, MPs were urged to vote against the draft law.

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To beach or not to beach? Greece legislates for rapid coastal development

In a draft law placed under public consultation on April 17th, the Greek Finance Ministry prepares to propose to the Hellenic Parliament a new legal framework that will:

  • restrict the longstanding public right to unhindered access to the coast;
  • restrict the number of lakes with a legally protected coastal ecosystem to those that are larger than 9,450 sq.m.(!);
  • legalise existing illegal developments on the coastline, upon payment to the public purse of its “objective value”;
  • facilitate beach concessions primarily for the benefit of bars, umbrellas and   summer beds (currently the allowable area for each concession is 500 sq.m., with a min. 100 m. of free land between concessions);
  • encourage permanent constructions on the beach for business purposes;
  • abolish the requirement of coastal zone delineation, as a prerequisite for the approval of private or public developments; 

According to George Chasiotis, Legal Coordinator at WWF Greece, “this draft law is a radical change for the worse of a long-standing, time-honored regime that protects the Mediterranean coast, both as a commons and a valuable, fragile ecosystem. Instead of moving towards the direction of the Integrated Coastal Management, Greece opts for a piecemeal, perfunctory and environmentally destructive approach, which will eventually not only degrade its natural heritage, but harm its tourist sector as well. ” 

Read more: Draft law (in Greek)

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