Athens It was an urgent appeal made by Greece’s Conservative Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis to the delegates at the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow: “Time is running out, we must act now,” he warned. “Our children and future generations will not forgive us if we do not face this real crisis for humanity now.”
Above all, the government wants to push the phase out of coal for electricity generation. All older lignite power plants will be shut down by 2023. Mitsotakis announced that the last coal-fired power plant should go offline in 2028. However, this date can be brought forward if it does not endanger the electricity supply, said the prime minister.
Just 20 years ago, 70 percent of Greek electricity production came from lignite-fired power plants. The country has already made significant progress with the exit: In 2019, the share of coal-fired power generation was 23 percent, currently it is only around 13 percent.
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The government is planning a lot with the new climate protection law: By 2030, Greece is to increase the share of renewable energy sources in the overall energy mix to 35 percent and in electricity production to 67 percent. It is currently around 30 percent.
In order to achieve these goals, according to calculations by the energy ministry, the country must bring an annual average of 850 megawatts from renewable sources to the grid by 2030.
Electricity often comes from inefficient heavy oil power plants
The government also wants to say goodbye to fossil fuels on the Greek islands, many of which still get their electricity from particularly inefficient and polluting heavy oil power plants. The new climate protection law prohibits electricity generation with oil-fired generators from 2030, of which there are currently almost 40 on the islands.
This should be made possible by networking the islands with one another and with the mainland, as well as building solar and wind parks.
When the bill is passed in parliament, Prime Minister Mitsotakis announced the construction of offshore wind farms with a capacity of two gigawatts. The systems should go online by 2030.
The law establishes the EU climate targets for Greece as binding. In some areas, however, the government goes beyond that. The sale of new cars with internal combustion engines will be completely banned from 2030.
As early as 2025, new taxis in the major cities of Athens and Thessaloniki will only be licensed with electric drives. Car rental companies are obliged to convert a third of their fleets to zero-emission vehicles by 2025.
Homeowners and companies are also facing new regulations: in regions connected to the natural gas network, the installation of new oil heating systems will be banned from 2023. From 2030, the installation of oil heating will be generally prohibited. Companies with more than 500 employees must disclose their carbon footprint in annual emissions reports.
“We want to lead Greece into the future in a holistic, coherent strategy with clear targets and timetables,” said Mitsotakis when presenting the bill. The climate protection program will help to provide clean, cheap energy, and it will create new jobs and give citizens a better quality of life, said the head of government.
With the climate protection program, the government associates the hope of high-tech investments. Greece expects grants of 17.8 billion euros and low-interest loans of 12.7 billion euros from the EU’s Corona development plan in the next few years.
Almost 40 percent of the money is to flow into “green” projects such as the coal phase-out, energy-efficient building renovation, the expansion of the electricity network and power storage, as well as climate-neutral transport.
The passage of the law is considered certain. The government has an absolute majority in parliament. Mitsotakis took up the issue of climate protection early on, even as an opposition leader in the 2010s.
This is part of his strategy of opening the conservative Nea Dimokratia party to the political center and beyond. There is no “green” parliamentary group in the Greek parliament. The small ecological party joined the left-wing alliance Syriza in 2015.
Greece is feeling the consequences of climate change massively. Last summer, the country was hit by the longest heat wave in history and devastating forest fires.
The rise in sea levels is also particularly affecting the country. The geoscientist Kostas Synolakis from the University of Crete expects that many coastal cities will have to protect themselves against the rise of the Mediterranean with elaborate dykes and walls.
Tourism is also affected: “Flat sandy beaches are particularly exposed to erosion from rising sea levels,” says Synolakis. “We will therefore have fewer beaches and they will be smaller.”
More: Expert on natural disasters: “European climate targets are a last-ditch attempt to stabilize the climate”