With not even a land registry, urban and rural plans gather dust in drawers

In an attempt to assess the year that we just left behind, I will focus on basic facts, which, to a large degree, determined progress in environmental matters in 2004. First: The natural environment, this year as well as last year, continued to be off the political agenda. So far, not one political figure has recognized, in practice, the strategic advantage that the environment could hold for a country such as Greece. Protected areas are the blatant example. In many other countries that also have a notable biodiversity, natural parks have been set up and function effectively, conserving nature while also constituting a significant engine for local development. In the past year in Greece, the rudimentary management system for protected areas, which came into being with little thought or planning, has essentially collapsed. Areas of pan-European importance, such as Zakynthos, Lake Koroneia and the Pindus mountain range have been left without basic management terms, without funding and without wardens. Once again, environmental organizations and other local bodies were called upon to fill the gaping holes. Second: For another year, we continued to be the only country in the EU without central planning and a land registry. Land politics remains a crucial pre-election card – thus in the election year Greece just experienced, the general town and country plan gathered dust in the drawers of the Ministry of the Environment, Planning and Public Works and was not brought before Parliament as a law. As though this were not enough, a new forest law was passed which is hugely hostile to the environment and, in all probability, anti-constitutional. The new government, which voted against it when in opposition and promised in Parliament to abolish it, is now proceeding, with political inconsistency, with its implementation. Third: We continue to see the environment in isolation and still have not incorporated it into crucial productive sectors and issues. The result? We have all lived through the Olympic Games, which, despite international acclaim, did not manage to incorporate the environment into its planning. Their legacy is an environmental footprint that is of considerable size and extremely hard to reverse. I will conclude on a positive note. Society is beginning to wake up. In the year that passed, dozens of troubled citizens came into contact with us. They wanted to help; they had decided to ditch apathy and to take action with respect to their own areas. It’s these people I salute and who give me optimism for 2005. (1) Dimitris Karavellas is director of WWF Hellas.