NGOs urge European Commission to intervene as Greece flouts EU law for benefit of oil and gas activities

Posted on 14 December 2023

  • Greece gives free pass to offshore oil and gas projects which threaten protected marine sites and endangered species, including whales, dolphins and Loggerhead turtles
  • The European Commission is being asked to hold Greece to account to ensure it safeguards the protected sites and the area’s biodiversity
  • The country’s support for oil and gas contradicts Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ speech at COP28 last week presenting Greece as a climate leader

Three environmental organisations have filed a formal complaint to the European Commission against Greece for systematically giving a free pass to oil and gas drilling off Greece’s coasts, in breach of EU and national laws.

ClientEarth, WWF Greece and Greenpeace Greece are urging the European Commission to launch immediate action against Greece as such practices heavily affect protected marine sites and threaten iconic marine species.

EU nature laws require Greek authorities to fully assess the impact that such activities will have on threatened marine life in protected areas, known as Natura 2000 sites, before giving them the green light. However, the environmental groups say that the Greek government, backed by its Parliament and Council of State, persistently allows offshore oil and gas exploration and exploitation activities to go ahead without the proper assessments.

Scientific evidence shows that such harmful practices, which include generating loud seismic waves, drilling and an increase in the number of vessels, are likely to jeopardise protected marine areas and threaten endangered species such as whales, dolphins, Monk seals and Loggerhead turtles. These species are found across the Hellenic Trench, a critical habitat and marine biodiversity hotspot of global ecological importance, that extends from the northern Ionian Sea to south of Crete.

Meanwhile the potential for extensive pollution and possible accidents will extend across the region as far as Italy. In addition to the direct impacts on marine life, any accidents could also have serious economic impacts across the area.

In a speech last week at the 28th Conference of Parties (COP28), Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis presented an image of Greece as a climate leader. He referred to positive aspects of the country's performance in accelerating the growth of renewable energy, yet failed to mention Greece’s continued and unchecked support for oil and gas.

The European Commission is now being asked to hold Greece to account and ensure it safeguards the protected sites and the biodiversity that lives across Greek waters.

ClientEarth marine and Mediterranean lawyer, Francesco Maletto said: “The European Commission cannot sit idly by while Greece systematically breaches EU and national laws for the benefit of oil and gas activities. The Greek state is failing its obligation to protect its natural heritage. It is unacceptable to wave through oil and gas activities without assessing the impacts they will have on protected sites and iconic endangered species. The Greek state has a legal obligation to safeguard these sites and the marine biodiversity across its seas – it’s time for the Commission to hold Greece to account.”

Anna Vafeiadou, Legal sector leader of WWF Greece, said: “The licensing of the exploration and exploitation of hydrocarbons is granted under lenient terms and conditions in Greece, therefore  endangering precious biodiversity hotspots, such as the Hellenic Trench. As the Eastern Mediterranean is fast becoming a climate hell-zone, there's absolutely no room for new oil and gas. We urge the European Commission to uphold its role as guardian of the EU Treaties and pursue a high level of environmental protection and mitigation of the climate crisis. We also strongly encourage the Greek government to embrace a forward-looking approach, through phasing out fossil fuels and inviting all neighbouring countries to work together for a sustainable shared future.”

Kostis Grimanis, Climate & Energy campaigner from Greenpeace Greece said: "Science could not be any clearer today: if we want to avert the devastating impacts of the climate crisis no new oil and gas projects should commence from here on out. Protecting and restoring our natural world is crucial to addressing climate change and this is contrary to Greece’s current conduct of oil and gas drilling projects. We urge the European Commission to put a stop to this madness. We cannot afford to lose one more inch of marine ecosystems and biodiversity to the plans of the fossil fuel industry. Our life depends on it."

Notes to editors

  • ClientEarth, WWF Greece and Greenpeace Greece are asking the European Commission to launch infringement proceedings against Greece. An infringement procedure is initiated when the European Commission finds that an EU Member State has failed to fulfil its obligations under EU law. EU countries are found to be in breach of EU laws if they either fail to implement them, or if countries adopt national laws or an administrative practice that are inconsistent with EU laws.
  • Natura 2000 is a network of protected areas covering Europe's most valuable and threatened species and habitats. It is the largest coordinated network of protected areas in the world, extending across all 27 EU Member States, both on land and at sea. The sites within Natura 2000 are designated under the Habitats and Birds Directives.
  • Hydrocarbon exploration and exploitation programmes may cause several harmful consequences such as the destruction and deterioration of marine and coastal habitats, pollution, oil spills, vessel traffic increase, the possibility of strikes and collisions of vessels with protected species, underwater noise, capping and abandonment of any wells. Additionally, there is the possibility of a blowout with disastrous consequences on a large scale.
  • The Hellenic Trench hosts seven marine mammal species and in particular six cetaceans and the Mediterranean Monk seal. Ιt is a core habitat for Loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta) and endangered Mediterranean Sperm whale. The Hellenic Trench is also the largest among the five high-density areas for the vulnerable Cuvier’s beaked whale in the Mediterranean. Fin whales, Bottlenose, common, Risso’s, Striped and Rough-toothed dolphins, but also sea turtles are found in the Hellenic Trench. The paramount ecological significance of the Hellenic Trench has been recognised by international agreements, such as the Agreement for the Conservation of Cetaceans in the Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea and Contiguous Atlantic Area (ACCOBAMS).
  • A summary of the complaint to the European Commission is available upon request.

About ClientEarth

ClientEarth is a non-profit organisation that uses the law to create systemic change that protects the Earth for – and with – its inhabitants. We are tackling climate change, protecting nature and stopping pollution, with partners and citizens around the globe. We hold industry and governments to account, and defend everyone’s right to a healthy world. From our offices in Europe, Asia and the USA we shape, implement and enforce the law, to build a future for our planet in which people and nature can thrive together. www.clientearth.org

About WWF Greece

WWF Greece is a national organization of the WWF network, founded in the early 90’s. We are actively building and promoting solutions for people, the environment and the climate, with the ultimate goal of coexisting in harmony with nature. In the course of three decades, WWF Greece has worked together with many other partners to design and implement a series of initiatives, ranging from: the establishment and management of protected areas in many parts of the country, the conservation of endangered species, applied conservation research in the field, key policy and governance proposals to the government and the EU, and international collaboration. It has an annual budget of 5 million euros, with a team of 60 people and with head offices in Athens, and project offices in Crete, Zakynthos and Syros. WWF Greece operates as a public welfare foundation. For further information, please visit https://www.wwf.gr/

About Greenpeace Greece

Greenpeace Greece is part of the network of 25 independent national/regional organisations in over 55 countries across Europe, the Americas, Africa, Asia and the Pacific, as well as a co-ordinating body, Greenpeace International. It is an independent campaigning organisation, which uses peaceful, creative confrontation to expose global environmental problems, and develop solutions for a green and peaceful future. Our work is based on a number of principles which are reflected in all our campaigns and guide whatever we do, wherever we do it. https://www.greenpeace.org/greece/

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