Europe warns Greece to curb pollution

European Commissioner Stavros Dimas yesterday warned Greece to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions and embrace cleaner energies or face «irreversible consequences.» He also proposed the creation of a new «ministry of sustainable development» to help protect the Greek environment. But the commissioner’s comments conflicted with those of Environment and Public Works Minister Giorgos Souflias, who defended his ministry’s record. In a speech to Parliament’s European Affairs Committee, Dimas said Greece had already violated its obligation – under the Kyoto treaty – to restrict CO2 emission increases to 25 percent by 2010. «If strict measures are not implemented now, we will reach 40 percent,» Dimas said. The commissioner also stressed the importance of forestland protection, noting that «the destruction of forests can boost CO2 by up to 20 percent.» Dimas refrained from directly criticizing the government’s proposal to amend Article 24 of the Constitution – which would reclassify Greece’s protected forest areas – a plan he strongly rebuffed last month. But MPs criticized the proposal in Parliament. The commissioner also called for the creation of «an extremely strong sustainable development ministry» and called on Greece’s political parties to make the environment a priority issue in their pre-election campaigns. However, Dimas noted that Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis displayed environmental «sensitivity» and openness to the EU’s pollution-curbing drive. Meanwhile, Souflias, responding to criticism of environmental policies, referred to «the ministry’s tremendous achievements over the past three years» and stressed that Greece was not among the EU’s worst offenders as regards CO2 emissions. The minister blamed the Public Power Corporation (PPC) for causing a large proportion of pollution in Greece through its reliance on the low-grade coal lignite. Dimas also called on PPC to make investments to curb pollution, although he did not elaborate. Souflias dismissed calls by former Synaspismos Left Coalition president Nikos Constantopoulos for his portfolio to be split into separate environment and public works ministries. «We have never prioritized public works projects over environmental concerns,» Souflias said. «Two conflicting ministries would not allow any projects to be completed,» he added. Souflias was also slammed by MPs, including veteran PASOK Deputy Theodoros Pangalos who said: «All environment ministers – except Vasso Papandreou – were only ever interested in public works projects. Even left-wing mayors supported the major construction firms.»