CrisisWatch

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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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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The quest for oil threatens Spanish marine reserve

As the economic crisis is driving crisis-hit Mediterranean states to a frantic quest for new oil and gas deposits, areas of exceptional ecological significance are placed under serious threat.

In Spain, the pristine marine and coastal environment of the Columbretes islands (Castellón) is about to host a new oil exploration survey. Early in January 2013, the Ministry of Industry, Energy and Tourism gave its initial consent for the project, which will have to obtain an environmental permit from the Ministry of Environment, before the final approval is signed. 

If finally approved, the exploration survey will begin in 2015.

The Columbretes islands enjoy protection status at the level of the Autonomous Region (Natural Park and Natural Reserve), at the national level (Marine Fisheries Reserve), at the EU level (SCI and SPA) and at the international level (Specially Protected Area of Mediterranean Importance).

 

Sources: WWF Spain, Diario de Ibiza, Observario petrolero sur (all in Spanish)

 

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Parliament of Greece approves oil & gas deals

On September 18th, the Parliament ratified three concession contracts for blocks between the Hellenic Republic and a) Energean Oil & Gas/Petra Petroleum, b) Energean Oil & Gas /Trajan Oil & Gas LTD, and c) Hellenic Petroleum / Edison / Petroceltic. The areas where hydrocarbon exploration and drilling has been approved are the onshore block of Ioannina, in the Region of Epirus, the offshore block of Patraikos, and Katakolo, in W. Peloponnese. Also ratified by parliamentary law was a fourth contract with Kavala Oil S.A./Energean Oil and Gas/Hellenic Petroleum S.A., which modifies a 1999 contract for the offshore area of the Thracian Sea. Despite the Minister’s expressed concerns about the possibility of shale gas extraction in Greece, on environmental grounds, the ratified contracts for onshore exploration do not exclude fracking. 

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NGOs contest Spain’s approval for oil exploration offshore the Canaries

A coalition of Spain’s five largest environmental groups is taking legal action against the official authorisation granted by the Ministry of Industry, Energy and Tourism to oil giant Repsol for hydrocarbon exploration offshore the Canary islands.

Despite massive protests against the planned project, the Spanish Government gave Repsol an “all-clear” licence for offshore exploration in three marine plots close to the islands of Fuerteventura and Lanzarote. A series of appeals were heard at the Supreme Tribunal and were rejected in June.  

In a joint statement, environmental groups WWF, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, Ecologistas en Accion and SEO Birdlife announced their intention to take European legal action against this decision.

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July-August 2014 editorial

As Europe’s response to the economic crisis is now having a clear impact on environmental and social policies across most of Europe and the EU at large, overexploiting the natural environment is seen by troubled member states as a quick-fix solution for rapid economic recovery. The oil & gas frenzy that dominates the development agenda in many Mediterranean states and threatens natural treasures of global significance, environmental deregulation, backsliding of the EU from its own forward-looking green policies, are signs of these dire times of austerity and political paralysis in facing the dismal reality of the non-ending economic crisis.

WWF knows that the EU is wasting a crisis that signals the need for good change.

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Over 90,000 sign pledge to save the Canaries from new oil & gas

Since the wake of the economic crisis, debt ridden states are promoting heavy footprint investments in resource extraction as the spearhead of their economic recovery strategies. Iconic and ecologically sensitive areas in the Mediterranean are at serious risk, due to oil and gas projects in Spain, Italy and Greece. Particularly at risk are the Canary Islands, Pantelleria in Sicily and the area of the Hellenic Trench, extending from Southern Crete to the Ionian Sea. 

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Soft recommendations, but no rules for fracking…

In retreat from its initial position and disregarding the European Parliament’s vote for the inclusion of shale gas operations under mandatory EIA rules (CrisisWatch 21), the European Commission will only be proposing a set of ‘soft’ recommendations for this environmentally hazardous hydrocarbon extraction technique.

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