Is the Greek Economic Crisis a Threat Against Global Climate Change?

The effects of the debt crisis in Greece are beginning to show. Not only has the economy been damaged, but Greece’s environmental future could now be at stake too. Bella Papadopoulou Dobrowolska and Morgan Pettersson report.

At a time when the world has come face-to-face with the realities of climate change, individual state policies on environmental issues are becoming more critical than ever.

On the 15th of March, the Greek Government voted in a new law protecting the country’s biodiversity. Speaking to local media, the Minister of the Environment, Energy and Climate Change, Tina Birbili, said that she is confident the new law will help address issues of unlawful development and environmental degradation.

“The new legal framework will be Greece’s tool for the protection of its fauna, flora and its habitats, combined always with the sustainable development of local communities,” she said.

Before Greece became synonymous with the word ”crisis”, the country was admired for its environmental treasures. Though the crisis itself may now be the factor that signals the end of the Greece’s green paradise.

Earlier this year, the government allowed environmental planning to take a back seat to overseas investment when they failed to follow guidelines for a green area within the concrete jungle of Athens.

The original proposal was to transform the former Hellinikon International Airport of Athens into a green space that would be known as Metropolitan Green Park. The airport site is the only large-scale, open area left in Athens and turning it into a park would help address the dramatic shortage of green, public spaces in the capital.

A collaboration between the Greek Government and the Government of the State of Qatar, the project’s
 400-700 million euro budget was originally aimed at green investment and the development of the park. Changes to the plan have now given way to the possibility of the park becoming a commercial venture that includes casinos and resorts.

Dr Christos Frangonikolopoulos, professor of Political Sciences at the School of Journalism and Mass Communications at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, sees the altered plan as a direct consequence of the financial crisis because the potential commercial centre would help boost the economy.

Dr Frangonikolopoulos finds it only natural that the Greek government’s environmental priorities have shifted in the wake of the debt crisis.

“When the crisis happened the government encouraged the people to buy new cars, not the bio fuel ones which are environmentally friendly,” he said.

The European Union (EU) imposes environmental guidelines that all member countries are expected to implement. These guidelines refer to issues ranging from air quality and waste management to biodiversity protection.

Babis Papaiouannou assistant to Kritonas Arsenis, a member for the National Council of the European Union, says that Greece has been unable to meet the high standards expected by the EU in regards to environmental policies.

“Unfortunately, Greece is one of the lower ranking countries when it comes to the instructions that the EU sets. We have not done anything,” Babis said.

For those Greeks who want to minimise their carbon footprint there is a severe shortage of adequate facilities to make living green possible.

In Thessaloniki, the second largest city in Greece, there are only a handful of recycling stations to provide for a population of over 2 million.

Those who wish to recycle their plastic bottles are forced to carry them into the city’s central square and place them in a 4m2 green box.

Recycling can’t be done from home, but rather is carried out in front of a passing parade of shoppers, workers and tourists. And a consequence of the Government’s failure to take the recycling issue seriously, is that there is little motivation to join the green movement.

Carolin Erikson, a German environmental science exchange student, was struck by how a European country can be so backwards in its almost non-existent recycling strategy.

“The Government doesn’t do anything green, and this discourages the youth to get active in problems concerning the waste problem, water consumption and recycling,” she said.

George Blionis, is concerned about the lack of interest being shown by the youth in regards to the environmental future of Greece.  As Professor of the School of Biology at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and member of the Greek Green Party, Blionis does acknowledge a growing environmental awareness amongst the youth.

“Young people in Greece better understand the connection of economic crisis with the environmental and social crisis. They are not willing to see the wonderful environment of Greece being undermined and destroyed by huge unsustainable development projects,” he said.

Although Greece is suffering from what may be one of the worst economic crises in European history, there are still attempts being made to re-focus on environmental issues.

A new and innovative environmental exhibition, aimed at promoting a more sustainable future for Greece in the face of the crisis, has been brought to Thessaloniki by Non-Governmental Organisation, “Act Now”. The president of Act Now, Noredin Mokassabi, acknowledges that the economic circumstances have had a negative effect on the green movement in Greece.

“I think that they do desire to be green, but at the moment with the financial crisis the Greeks simply can’t,” he says.

Only the future will tell what is going to happen with the Greek environment, but for now it is certainly undergoing a crisis of it’s own.

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