ATHENS – He had blamed climate change in large part for record heat-wave driven summer fires and now Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said it's Mediterranean countries who have to show how to deal with a phenomenon denied by skeptics.
Turkey, Cyprus and Spain were also overrun with wildfires, with floods following in Turkey and Germany after forests and hills lost the ability to slow water because of the devastation left.
“I no longer want to talk about climate change. I want to talk about the climate crisis, it’s already here,” Mitsotakis told Reuters in an interview. “And in order to address it, we need horizontal policies which essentially permeate every aspect of our economic and our social life,” without specifying any.
A United Nations climate panel has warned that deadly heat waves, huge hurricanes and other freak weather events will only become more severe but despite the widespread evidence there are groups and those said it's not true.
Mitsotakis had even before the fires tried to deal with the prospect of climate change bringing bad weather that could affect the country's economy and infrastructure, saying there would be a ban on coal-fired plants by 2028 and setting up a ministry to deal with climate-caused crises.
He used a meeting of leaders from nine countries at the EUMED9 Summit in Athens to lead a declaration warning of the fallout of not dealing with climate change as the European Union has been slow to deal with it.
The UN COP26 climate conference in Glasgow starting Oct. 31 is aimed at trying to speed plans to slow climate change but past similar meetings have led to half-hearted plans that haven't worked.
In a potential worst-case scenario, the climate crisis would represent the “destruction of human civilization as we know it,” Mitsotakis told Reuters, trying to explain the scope of ignoring the dangers.
“We have to be very, very, very clear. This is exactly what is at stake. If the worst-case scenarios materialize, this planet is not going to be hospitable to the human species by the end of this century.
“Here in the Mediterranean, we have almost 6,000 years of civilization behind us but it’s the duty of our generation to make sure that the future generations will continue to live and thrive and prosper,” he said.
The World Meteorological Organisation, a UN agency, said the numbers of disasters driven by climate change jumped 500 percent over the past half-century, killing more than two million people and costing $3.64 trillion in losses.
The cost of the crisis was “unimaginable” on a global scale and even in terms of national economies, Mitsotakis said but Greece this summer had to pump up coal plants use to deal with electricity shortages after the fires.
Floods in Greece cost half a billion euros in 2020 and he said the total will rise when counting damages to crops and agriculture, such as the loss of honey and other goods on the fire-ravaged island of Evia this summer.
Greece has reduced its greenhouse gasses by 11 million tons since late 2019 by moving away from coal, Mitsotakis said. Greek authorities were also moving “at warp speed” to place flood barriers in forests destroyed by fires this summer, he said.
His New Democracy government had faced criticism for its responses to the fires, especially from the major opposition SYRIZA which was in power when July 23, 2018 wildfires killed 102 people.
The Leftists were accused of having no real disaster plan in response and making the death toll higher by a failure to quickly respond as the wildfires spread and no emergency warning program in place for cell phones.
Mitsotakis admitted there were lapses in his government's dealing with the fires as some residents complained there were no water-dropping airplanes to deal with some of the biggest blazes.
He apologized for any shortcomings. “When faced with fires of this intensity, it is very clear that we need to do things differently,” he said. “So we need to learn from our mistakes,” he also said.