2019 is certainly marked by the government’s commitment to lignite the country by 2028 and the ban on disposable plastics by the end of 2021. But it has also been fueled by several negative developments that further put the country’s natural wealth at risk. risk: allocation of four new major marine areas for hydrocarbon exploration and extraction, referral to the European Court of Justice for failure to implement Natura 2000 directives, Greece’s second place in open cases (23) of EU environmental law resulting in the imposition of large fines.
The main negative developments in environmental legislation issues of the last year are summarized as follows:
- Hydrocarbon Mining: The last year is marked by an unprecedented study in the concessions for exploration and exploitation of hydrocarbons, which were carried out without transparency and within a highly flexible legal framework favoring oil companies. In total, in 2019 4 marine “plots” (West-Southwest of Crete, Kyparissiakos and Ionion) with a total area of 50,000 sq km were allocated for research and mining. In fact, most of the areas that have been allotted in the past include all or partially many Natura 2000 protected areas, as well as areas protected by special regimes.
An important recent development has been the opinion of the Nature 2000 Committee, the state’s official biodiversity conservation body, on the impact on Greek nature of hydrocarbon exploitation. Specifically, the Nature 2000 Committee regards the mines as a threat, notes a serious degradation of the Natura area protection framework, and points out that there are serious environmental shortcomings in the concessions.
- Waste management & fines: Extremely poor waste management remains the largest source of environmental deterioration in Greece.
Our country is ranked among the European Union’s lowest positions in waste recycling and persists in the unacceptable practice of dumping almost 95% of waste (the EU’s equivalent to 45%), causing an endless problem of pollution and missing valuable opportunities for innovation in the circular economy.
Greece also remains the only EU country to have four Euros convicted, all related to waste management, for which it paid around € 24m last year.
- Referral to EU Court for incomplete protection of biodiversity: For another year, the implementation of the nature directives has proved to be incomplete, leading to Greece’s referral to the EU Court last July. for non-compliance with the Habitats Directive (Directive 92/43 / EEC). As stated in the reference, Greece has not set the required conservation targets and measures for the Natura 2000 sites, “endangering the integrity of the pan-European network”.
- Energy: Convicted of failing to attempt to sell 40% of PPC’s lignite portfolio dominated at national level, while extensions to the operation of Amyndeo I and II and Heart III and IV lignite stations were approved, in breach of the European acquis.
- Environmental Audit: Unfortunately, the critical institution of environmental auditing has undergone further political devaluation in 2019, after the RIS Special Secretariat of Inspectors and Auditors was abolished, along with the post of Special Secretary, with its powers transferred to the Minister, directly. thus, the dependence of environmental inspectors on the political leadership of the ministry. A striking example is that in the last year, environmental inspectors have recommended to the Minister, Socrates Famello, 83 decisions imposing fines totaling 1,793,280 euros, with at least 72 still unsigned. Since 2008, WWF Greece has called for the establishment of an independent environmental inspection authority with reference to Parliament.
“With the climate crisis intensifying, environmental protection is literally a matter of life and death. Over the last year we have seen some very promising developments, such as the announcements about lignification. But continued adherence to hydrocarbon mining and Greece’s extremely poor waste management performance are holding the country hostage to an outdated rationale that views the environment as a cheap resource to exploit, “ commented Theodotas Nantzou, a policy officer at WWF.
At the same time, there have been some positive developments:
- Lignite Detachment & National Transition Fund: One of the most emblematic developments is Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ announcement of Greece’s commitment to total lignite detachment by 2028. This latest milestone signals with the main challenge now being to develop renewable energy sources in a socially equitable and secure way for biodiversity in the regions. Also positive are the establishment of the National Fair Transition Fund and the increased ambition of the National Plan for Energy and Climate, especially in relation to RES and energy saving targets.
- Aigialos: Undoubtedly, one of the most important environmental victories of the year is the avoidance of a problematic bill tabled by the previous government in April 2019 that allowed for use concessions and arbitrary settlements in coastal and coastal areas. The direct interventions of WWF Greece and other actors have triggered widespread reactions to the regulation, both at political and social level. As a result, the ministry made a number of refinements.
- Arbitrary in forest land: The landmark decision of CoE 685/2019 (WWF Greece application) annulling as unconstitutional the ministerial decision providing for the exclusion of residential condensation from the process of suspension and ratification of forest maps. This decision is crucial as it paves the way for the completion of the forest maps, which should include, without exception, all forest areas.
- Disposable plastics: Lastly, positive developments include the current government’s commitment to implement the new Directive (EU) 2019/904 to remove certain disposable plastics one year ahead of the implementation deadline (June 2020 instead of July 2021) .
The full text of the 15th annual report on the implementation of environmental legislation is available HERE .