NEWS

Time to fight pollution scourge

It seems absurd, but there is an explanation. Greece, which is one of the smallest producers and consumers of energy in the European Union, is one of the greatest producers of carbon dioxide (CO2) per unit of national product. The rate of increase of CO2 emissions is growing faster than is the Greek economy. In 1970, Greece produced 22 million metric tons of CO2, 85.5 million in 1990, almost 90 million in 1996, and now produces more than 108 million metric tons. Altogether Greece currently emits 135 million metric tons of the six greenhouse gases. The burning of fossil fuels is responsible for most CO2 emissions (80.6 percent of total emissions in Greece, with methane accounting for 7.9 percent, nitrous oxide for 8.2 percent and the three chlorofluorocarbons for 3.3 percent). Electricity is also responsible for the millions of metric tons of CO2 emitted in Greece, a major source of methane and nitrous oxide emissions. Over the past 30 years, the proportion of CO2 emissions in Greece has risen dramatically (from 32 percent of the total in 1970 to more than 51 percent today) due to increased demand for energy (higher than in all other EU countries), which is largely met by electricity increasingly produced from energy-poor and polluting lignite. It is not only lignite that is the problem, but also electricity production, industry, transportation, agriculture and waste. According to the Second National Program for reducing greenhouse gases in Greece, which was set up by the Athens National Observatory, and became law in 2002, there are methods of reducing emissions (and as an EU country, Greece is bound by the Kyoto Protocol). This requires the use of other means of energy production, other energy sources, new technologies, new processes, as well as new perceptions and attitudes. Moreover, both the authorities and consumers must realize that we must save energy, that we must not turn on electric switches so readily or use complex appliances to perform simple tasks. We must stop seeing energy as innocent and cost free, a kind of manna from heaven. The EU has made a commitment to comply with article 4 of the Kyoto Protocol on reducing aggregate greenhouse emissions by 8 percent in 2008-2012. Each country in the EU made its own initiative to comply in an agreement ratified in April 2002. For instance, while Luxembourg promised to reduce emissions by -28 percent, Germany by -21 percent, and Italy by -6.5 percent, Greece has pledged to hold emissions to +25 percent. «If we take no other measures apart from those we have already taken so far,» says Observatory Director Dimitris Lalas, «green house gas emissions will reach +39 percent by 2010. The measures we propose will hold the increase down to +24 percent. «The environmental and social benefits of holding greenhouse gas emissions to those levels comes to an estimated 802 million dollars a year,» explains Lalas. The investment required to implement those measures is 7.7 billion dollars. Of that sum, Greece will invest about about 40 percent in measures that it would have taken anyway, regardless of their positive effect on the environment. «Some of the proposed measures have already been implemented (with the usual delays, and operational, administrative and bureaucratic problems), and their results will start to become apparent in 2005. If we don’t manage to keep the increase to +25 percent, we will have to buy emission credits from another country.» If Greece bought credits for all greenhouse gas emissions, it would cost 351 million dollars a year (at 30 dollars per ton). The issue of credits has already been resolved in the EU by a uniform international system recently agreed upon by the environment ministers. The sellers of credits are usually former eastern bloc countries where industry is in decline, and the buyers are countries that eliminate their emissions on paper only, while actually greatly increasing their emissions. For instance, Australia, the fiercest opponent of any reduction policy, subsidizes its most heavily polluting industries to the tune of $4.5 billion a year. Forty measures that we must take Some 40 measures are needed to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. They fall into the following six basic categories: 1. Promotion of renewable energy sources for producing electricity (chiefly by wind power) as well as solar energy and distance heating by biomass; 2. Further penetration of natural gas both by coproduction systems in industry and large buildings (commerce, services), and for direct heating in industry, buildings and transportation; 3. Economizing on energy in houses, services (altering building shells and central heating boilers and reducing air-conditioner use), and in industry; 4. Promoting efficient electrical appliances and equipment for homes, commerce and services; 5. Changes in agriculture (organic crops) and in certain industries (chemical industry); 6. Management of transportation, sewage and waste. Implementing about 40 measures by 2010 – an extremely difficult feat – would cut CO2 emissions by 18.2 million metric tons. If 70 percent of the measures are implemented, emissions will fall by 12.3 million metric tons. This means keeping emissions at the present level of 135 million metric tons a year. Renewable energy sources and natural gas would account for 56 percent of the reduction (6.4 and 3.9 million metric tons, respectively). The sectors in which a significant reduction can and should be made are housing, commerce and services (which have the fastest growing rate of emissions), and electrical power production.