As wildfires ravage Greece and other Southern European countries, Dr Konstantinos Aravosis, Secretary General for Forests at the Greek Ministry for Environment and Energy, highlights the importance of European collective action to combat climate change.
When discussing the climate crisis, I often emphasise that it’s an issue we must resolve yesterday, not today. Rhetoric aside, it is clear that if we fail to act now, we’ll not only lose unique ecosystems but also the very living standards we currently enjoy. In simple English, the urgency of the issue cannot be overstated.
The scale of the climate crisis easily surpasses that of the COVID-19 pandemic, as its implications go well beyond the simple rising of temperatures. For Greece, my country, climate change alone means, for example, an increase in mega-fires, as we have witnessed in the last few weeks.
Wildfires erupted this July just outside Athens when the heat wave, accompanied by intense and unpredictable winds, fuelled the fires in the countryside, forcing thousands of people to flee settlements and seaside resorts. This is something no longer exclusive to Southern Europe, as droughts have also caused a spike in wildfires in Germany this summer.
Thankfully, as a society, there are measures we can take together. For starters, addressing the climate crisis requires action from all societal actors, from governments to industries to NGOs and individuals. The responsibility for our future lies with all ‘stakeholders’.
For companies, in particular, the challenge comes from gradually transitioning to a model based on modern circular economy principles, prioritising sustainability, and adopting new regulations. The opportunity to positively influence consumer behaviour will motivate them to follow these new rules. However, there will also be financial motives for a rapid green conversion – especially if they want to access grants from the EU. Companies must embrace this change, as failure to do so will leave them at a competitive disadvantage, nationally and internationally. We are already seeing this trend emerge.
From a political standpoint, the current Greek government–which I have been part of through the Ministry for Environment and Energy–has already created legislations to tackle climate change head-on. We currently have a new national climate law that contains mitigation and adaptation measures. For example, the government plans to produce at least 70% of Greece’s electricity from renewable sources by 2030, resulting in a 55% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
However, achieving these goals first requires transforming our energy mix. Currently, oil, coal and natural gas represent, unfortunately, 80% of the country’s energy mix; while renewable accounts for just 20%.
However, the trend is steadily inverting. Ten years ago, fossil fuels supplied around 92% of our energy needs, against a modest 8% from renewables. In absolute terms, renewables saw an increase of 114% in generated power, while fossil fuels shrunk by 21%. The pace may be slow, but progress is definitely being made, even despite recent challenges, such as the energy crisis brought on by Russia’s aggression in Ukraine.
Moreover, our new National Circular Economy Plan already contains 72 concrete actions and a timetable of four years for its implementation. Such measures include various aspects of the circular economy, including sustainability in production and consumption, waste management and the administration of specific raw materials.
Public awareness and information campaigns are also part of the plan, with EU-funded research projects playing a fundamental role. As the Ministry for Environment and Energy, I actively participate in initiatives like the project Impetus, which uses the European Space Agency satellite fleet to monitor the effects of climate change on the regional level.
Satellite monitoring will help us rehabilitate the local communities after natural disasters like fires and floods. At the moment, we are already implementing anti-flood measures to protect affected areas. Restoration and reforestation will also be essential components of these efforts. While these endeavours indeed incur costs, they should be considered an investment for future generations.
My background as a professor at the National Technical University of Athens, which has facilitated collaboration with the university’s laboratory. This partnership will further enhance our ability to address climate change.
Of course, much like during the pandemic, European cooperation and target consensus will also be essential. Working together is the key to ensuring that the next generation inherit a greener world with less erratic weather.
I am deeply concerned about the future that awaits my children and future generations. This matter cannot be postponed.
The climate crisis is already evident in our daily lives, and everyone has a role in combating it. Our government’s policies prioritise environmental management and actions. Still, these efforts will only be helpful if every citizen embraces the necessary behavioural changes and actively engages in this crucial endeavour.