CrisisWatch

Oil and gas frenzy threatens Greek nature

Imagine a world where drilling thousands of shotholes for the use of explosives in protected areas, vegetation clearing, opening of roads, and near lethal disturbance of protected animals at sea is not subject to the appropriate assessment of environmental impacts. This is modern day Greece, allowing an unprecedented rollback on established legal protections, in favour of drilling for oil and gas.
During the economic crisis, cash strapped Greece has promoted hydrocarbon extraction as the spearhead of its economic recovery strategy, on the grounds that significant revenues will be gained and dependency on hydrocarbon imports will be reduced.

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WWF: International effort to halt oil and gas drilling in Greek seas

GLAND, Switzerland, 11th February 2019 – WWF today published a report on the ‘Economic impacts of hydrocarbon exploitation in Greece’ as part of the launch of its international campaign to halt oil and gas drilling plans in the country. The study, commissioned by WWF and conducted by eftec, finds that a major oil spill in Greece would devastate the country’s tourism and fishing industries, and cost the Greek economy more than 7.5 billion euros. 

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EU Commission pushes Greece for new coal

WWF & Greenpeace address EU Commissioners on the opening of Greece’s lignite market

The big lignite sale now happening in Greece, under supervision and pressure by the European Commission, prolongs the country’s dependence on dirty coal and negates the EU’s policies for coal phase-out.

Under the umbrella of antitrust EU rules, the European Commission has been pushing Greece to regulate the sale of PPC coal plants and mines, a process now in its final stages, instead of allowing other viable options leading to rapid coal phase-out. In reality, the Commission’s position leads to new dirty coal, according to terms especially attractive to investors: license for a new 450MW lignite power plant (Meliti II), favourable licensing conditions for operating plants (Megalopoli, supplied by the lowest thermal quality lignite deposits in the EU, and Meliti I).

Through its catalytic role in the big coal sale, the Commission essentially pushes for the revival of an economically dying market, which is also subject to specific environmental regulations as heavily polluting and climate catastrophic. In particular, new investments in coal will seriously undermine Greece’s prospects of meeting its climate obligations under the Paris Climate Agreement.

In a common letter addressed to Commissioners Pierre Moscovici (Economic and Financial Affairs), Margrethe Vestager (Competition), Karmenu Vella (Environment), Miguel Arias Cañete (Energy) and Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič (Energy Union), the Greek and EU offices of WWF and Greenpeace call for:

  • an urgent climate evaluation of the divestment of 40% of PPC’s coal assets,
  • a thorough reconsideration of the sale, in view of the target of achieving net zero emissions by 2040 and meeting Paris Climate Agreement objectives.

Greece should be encouraged to follow the lignite phase-out route which, one after another, its EU counterparts are following, while at the same time financially supporting the just transition of the lignite regions of Greece towards sustainable economic activities.

Read the letter.

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Greece: Report reveals environmental signals of rollback and signs of hope

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.

Read the English summary of WWF’s 14th environmental law review in Greece.

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Greece’s “dirty” secret plan for growth

At the May 24th Eurogroup meeting, Euclid Tsakalotos presented Greece’s growth strategy to his fellow finance ministers of the euro area. A national development strategy covering the major economic sectors, which has so far eluded the public eye.

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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.  

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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