OPINION

Amidst the smoke and flames, an urgent call for a sustainable and resilient recovery

amidst-the-smoke-and-flames-an-urgent-call-for-a-sustainable-and-resilient-recovery

As homes, businesses and extensive forests continue to burn throughout Greece and southern Europe, it is urgent to commence planning for a comprehensive recovery, but this time it must be done through a holistic, multi-stakeholder ecosystems-based approach, with resilience and sustainability at its core.

In 2020, natural disasters including severe weather events caused an approximate 210 bln usd worth of damages worldwide, according to reinsurer Munich Re, and had an immeasurable social cost. Europe’s share of this amount pales in comparison to that of North America and Asia, but as the world is also struggling to navigate the double-pronged challenge of a global pandemic and just transition, the risk of knock-on effects leading to an even more costly 2021 is high. 

Fortunately, the belief in climate change is growing as is the consensus that climate change and severe weather phenomenon are here to stay. And with the increased sensitization to these issues, it is crucial that Greece broadens the sectors that its climate change-related adaptation and mitigation strategies focus on, and that it does not miss the opportunity to create a mechanism for facilitating a new, inclusive approach to policy-making which secures stakeholder engagement and public consultation throughout each phase of the policy-making, implementation, monitoring, and review process.

When viewed through the lens of crisis management, one can be forgiven for considering multi-stakeholder engagement too slow and cumbersome of a process which may increase the risk of lack of coordination. Yet, the cost of not setting up such a mechanism is arguably greater. In the short term and as we have seen with the fires of Mati, there is tremendous “filotimo” among the Greek people and will to mobilize existing resources from the private sector, existing distribution channels, personal donations and more, which unfortunately in the absence of a proper coordinating mechanism, led to reports of confusion and the great replication of resources during the aid and recovery efforts. In the mid to long term, not only does the absence of a proper mechanism reduce the impact and sustainability of efforts, but excluding important stakeholders from these processes causes communities to feel ostracized, increases public distrust of our institutions and negatively impacts the spirit of civic responsibility. 

In order to face the greatest challenge of our time, the climate crisis, securing funding and purchasing and upgrading relevant equipment through funding vehicles such as the Recovery Fund is just part of the challenge. The arguably more difficult part is bringing entire communities “on board” to provide the local knowledge and scientific expertise that is necessary to make and support economically and socially sustainable decisions and policies about short to long term resilience-related matters such as: 

How can we develop agile, accountable and efficient humanitarian aid mechanisms at the local, regional and national level? 

What interventions to the local environment must be made urgently to mitigate risk of and avoid knock-on effects of natural disasters?

What investments in antiquated infrastructure must be prioritized to ensure the sustainability of supply chains and public welfare? 

And perhaps the most difficult, if, how, and where do you rebuild communities after environmental disasters?

The key to answering all of these questions is ensuring input from and cooperation between seemingly contradictory and conflicting interests and communities. At first glance it is a daunting task, especially in a country that has not yet developed a culture of multiple stakeholder engagement in the policymaking process. But when this balance is achieved, it is the most promising to ensure resilience and sustainability, which are core tenants and outcomes of the holistic, multistakeholder ecosystems-based approach, which rightly puts all members of the community squarely at the center of policy making, and which is framed and limited by the scientifically determined carrying capacity of our environment.


Cheryl Novak is a junior research fellow on ocean governance and sustainability at Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP).