It may be the wrong time for someone to talk about the protection of the environment when the entire Greek people are tested by the financial crisis. But things are not exactly like that. The environment has a direct and indirect economic value that should be safeguarded. Indirect economic value has to do with the dignity and physical / mental health of residents as well as with the preservation of historical memory of each place. Direct economic value deals with activities that generate economic benefits, when at the same time they protect the environment (by recycling, use of Renewable Energy Sources – RES etc). According to AgroTypos reportage, the policy areas that are most negatively affected by the financial crisis are related to environmental impact assessment and environmental licensing of construction and development projects, as well as to the protection of forest and coastal ecosystems. This happens not only in Greece but European-wide and in many cases outside the EU.
The budget cuts and political indifference have caused the collapse of the national system of protected areas. Regulatory uncertainty and constant changes in pricing policies have brought the industry of renewable energy almost to extinction. In periods like the current emphasis is given to projects, such as research for hydrocarbon fields, further exploitation of coal and lignite and gold mining. In the long run all these practices will have negative environmental effects. Recently, the Greek Ministry of Environment launched a draft law, which declassifies vast areas covered with forests, clearing the way for a controversial and extremely damaging form of development in ecologically valuable areas.
Speaking about the impact of the financial crisis on the environment with Mr. Christos Vlachos, Professor and Chair of the Forestry and Natural Department at the University of Thessaloniki (AUTH, in north Greece) he cites as number one direct negative impact the illegal logging which takes place during the winter due to the fact that people can’t afford buying heating oil. In particular Mr. Vlahos explains to Agrotypos: “in times of crisis the implementation of all environmental laws weakens, so despite the fact that they exist, they are not applied. The all audit mechanism degrades. For example, this is reflected directly to the illegal logging, illegal hunting etc. When there is no money for the state apparatus to be moved, everything underperforms.
And he adds: “In addition, there is a flexibility in the application of laws. When someone has no money to buy fuel for heating, he makes illegal logging – sometimes with the connivance of the authorities of Forest Service who understands his need. Also, industries are not controlled properly, so that there is pollution in aquatic ecosystems. Renewable energy is not a priority for the citizen or the State in financial difficulties. Thus speculative situations related to the environment gain ground. For example, money from programs, like the National Strategic Reference Framework (NSRF), on the environment is not led into it. It’s also characteristic the example of fires from which Greece suffers every summer. It is known that many of them occur in order that land to become a plot later. ”
According to Mr. Dimitris Vafidis, professor and chair of the Department of Agriculture, Ichthyology and Aquatic Environment of the University of Thessaly, the economically developed countries are responsible for the climatic changes on the planet. However he separates climate changes from the effects of an economic crisis on the environment, emphasizing that “where there is poverty, the environment is under pressure, but for the global climate change the developed countries are responsible. For the fact that the weather changes, the sea rises etc. responsible are the strong economies of the developed countries and not the weakest ones.
He also adds: “we must keep in mind that negative environmental impact is a result of time, of history and anthropogenic influences on the ecosystem. Linking the economic crisis with the pollutants of Pineios River (at Thessaly region in central Greece) would be a big mistake. All these are results of decades”.
On this topic several environmental organizations, such as the WWF, express their position. In a recent article, the International Environmental Organization combines economic with the environmental crisis, criticizes the financial policy of the European Union and especially its treatment on the Greek crisis, but perhaps the most important is that it articulates the retreat of the European Union in a sector in which till now it has been pioneer, that of environmental protection. According to the WWF «Since May 2010, when the first rescue package for Greece was adopted, the crisis has spread to large parts of the European Union. Although the causes and effects of financial crisis vary between countries, the recipe is the same: austerity and budget cuts, environmental deregulation, downsizing of the public administration that deals with the environment, pressure on wages and living standards. More surprising, however, is the reluctance of the European Commission to respect its own environmental legislation. Why structural adjustment programs imposed on indebted countries do not treat it according to what the European legislation on strategic environmental assessment provides? The actual impact on the natural capital of Europe is still beyond the financial radar of the European Commission. “