Greece: After the fires, experts sound the alarm on the bleak future of the climate | Climate News

Athens, Greece – Climate experts say last month’s wildfires that razed 100,000 hectares (247,000 acres) of Greek forest are just a small sample of the environmental and economic devastation the country will face due to a global warming this century.

The fires occurred as a result of a heat wave, repeating a pattern seen in two other national conflagrations in 2007 and 1987; and the phenomenon is getting worse, geophysicist Christos Zerefos told Al Jazeera.

“This heat wave was the longest to hit our country,” he said. “In 1987, it lasted five days. In 2007, it was six days. And now 11 days. It continues to increase. “

The heat wave essentially ignited thick pine straw on the floor of suburban woods, swept away by a strong storm the previous winter. This pine straw was full of pine resin, which is highly flammable, Zerefos said. “The heat wave and the resin formed a bomb that [was] ready to go.

Zerefos is leading a team of experts to assess the cost of climate change for Greece.

Their most recent report, compiled for the Bank of Greece in 2009, puts the figure at over $ 821 billion (€ 704 billion) by 2100, double the national debt and nearly four times the current annual gross domestic product (GDP).

This figure does not include the cost of relocating villages and rebuilding ports due to sea level rise. An update to be released early next year will increase this cost significantly. more, says Zerefos.

“The sector that will suffer the most is agriculture… We are going to have to replace what we grow with plants that are more resistant to drought. Farmers will need to manage their land more using smarter methods. Arable land will shrink and will be replaced by so-called smart agriculture. “

‘No water’

This has already started to happen in the Thessaly Plain, Greece’s breadbasket.

“There was a 10% drop in irrigated crops this year, ie 2,500 to 3,000 hectares [6,180 to 7,400 acres], attributed to the lack of water and the cost of water, ”said journalist Yiorgos Roustas, who covers agriculture for Larissa-based newspaper Eleftheria.

The problem, he said, is that the Pineios River, which flows through Thessaly, has dried up for the first time. Farms that draw water from irrigation reservoirs fed by the river have sucked it dry.

“Those [reservoirs] dried up because the heatwave made it necessary to water cotton and corn three or four times a week instead of two, but also because there was no water, ”said Roustas.

The result is a substitution of crops, as Zerefos had foreseen.

“People are switching from cotton, corn, alfalfa to wheat, barley and olives,” Roustas said.

Besides the cost of lost economic activity, there is the cost of compensating for natural disasters such as summer fires.

Government says it will help rebuild razed homes and businesses, undertake earthworks to prevent soil erosion in burnt forests followed by reforestation, compensate farmers for loss of income and equipment and provide tax breaks.

Al Jazeera estimates that these pledges alone amount to at least $ 147 million (€ 126 million), and that does not include the cost of compensation for lost fruit trees and farm animals, nor the cost of compensation for lost fruit trees and farm animals. loss of tax revenue.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis also said he would spend $ 350 million (300 million euros) to purchase more firefighting equipment in the years to come.

It looks like the $ 821 billion bill has already started to arrive.

Experts predict that the cost of climate change for Greece could total more than $ 821 billion by 2100 [File: Thodoris Nikolaou/AP]

Announced disaster

Environmental literature for Greece and the Mediterranean is a dark read.

“The climate is changing in the Mediterranean basin… faster than global trends,” said the first assessment on the region by MedECC, a group of Mediterranean experts on climate and environmental change, published last September.

While average global temperatures have risen 1.1 ° C above pre-industrial times, average temperatures in the Mediterranean are already 1.5 ° C higher, according to the report, and are expected to rise by 3, An additional 8 ° C to 6.5 ° C by 2100 based on current trends.

A 2017 study by the European Commission’s Joint Research Center estimated that sea level will rise from 57 cm to 81 cm around Europe by 2100; but while Northern Europe will experience what was once a hundred year coastal flooding every year, the Mediterranean will see them several times a year.

“Such an increase in the frequency of events which are now considered exceptional will likely push existing coastal protection structures beyond their design limits,” the JRC report said.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its sixth assessment last month, predicting less rainfall, higher temperatures and more frequent droughts for the Mediterranean.

“The last two years are indicative [of the future]Said Dimitris Ibrahim, climate and energy policy manager at the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) in Greece. “The pessimistic scenario is that we could look back and say, ‘things were going well then.’

Given the risk to Greece from climate change, WWF believes the government has moved in the right direction. He pledged to stop burning coal to generate electricity by 2028, earlier than much of the European Union. It has also made progress in installing renewable energy capacities.

In 2019, Greece ranked ninth in the world for the use of renewable energy, deriving 29% of its electricity from renewables.

He plans to spend 43 billion euros ($ 51 billion) to promote renewable energy and natural gas this decade. By 2030, the contribution of renewables to the electricity mix is ​​expected to exceed 60%, exceeding EU targets.

But even that is not enough. Even if Greece meets its 2030 targets, renewables will account for 35% of gross final energy consumption, which includes heating, cooling and transport as well as electricity.

Greenhouse gas emissions are set to drop by 42% in 2030, and not the 55% prescribed by the EU.

Ibrahim believes that there are still fruits at hand in energy conservation.

“We have a national target of 60,000 renovations by 2030… We think it should be at least 100,000. In Greece we have four million dwellings, of which 2.7 million were built before 1980 and have absolutely no insulation… This should be in the foreground.

Call for more “ambition”

The Greek political elite seem to fail to understand the urgency of the problem, he said.

“We need better coordination within government, better cooperation between parties and a more ambitious strategy.”

Yet the fires seem to have acted as a spur on Mitsotakis.

On September 6, he appointed former EU Commissioner Christos Stylianides as the country’s prime minister for the climate crisis to coordinate the response to climate change.

He vowed to unveil the country’s first comprehensive climate law before world leaders meet to set new environmental goals in Glasgow at the end of October.

And he pledged to protect 30% of Greece’s land and sea territory by 2030, in line with UN recommendations.

Even though Greece has done everything perfectly, it remains at the mercy of other carbon emitters. The IPCC estimates that the increase in global temperature could be maintained at 1.4 ° C by 2100 if countries meet their commitments to net zero carbon emissions by 2050. But climatologists and energy experts admit that the stated policies are insufficient to achieve this.

In its latest World Energy Outlook, the International Energy Agency predicts an increase in emissions from 31.5 gigatonnes in 2020 to 36 Gt by 2030.

Reflecting on this, Ibrahim said, “I have an eight year old child. I’m worried about how things will turn out when he graduates from college. I don’t care if he gets a good job or a good salary. I’m worried about whether he can get out on the streets safely.

Greece’s summer forest fires appear to have boosted Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis [File: Lisi Niesner/Reuters]

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