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Politics

Mitsotakis Says EU, Coal-Using Greece Climate Change Fighter

ATHENS – Fire-ravaged Greece, and the European Union, far behind goals to reduce carbon emissions, nonetheless are among the leaders in dealing with climate change that was largely blamed on conflagrations across the continent, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told CNN.

Greece still uses coal to produce electricity, the single biggest contributor to climate change and less than 25 percent of power comes from renewable sources, such as wind turbines too.

Without mentioning that, he said the catastrophic fires across the country, including the biggest that nearly cut in half the 1,422-square mile island of Evia, the second-largest, were mostly due to climate change, as well as a brutal heat wave that made forests tinder boxes.

There were also cases of arson and environmentalists said the country's wooded areas hadn't been cleared of debris and that there was unlawful dumping that contributed to the scope and scale of the blazes, some 586 at one point. 

He said the fires showed the seriousness of climate change that has been denied widely, including by governmental leaders in many countries who don't believe in global warming either. 

“Europe is a pioneer in tackling climate change. We have set a very ambitious goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 55 percent by 2030 and our goal is to be climate neutral by 2050,” he said, targets that keep being pushed back after failure to meet them.

“We have experienced an unprecedented heatwave for about 10 days with temperatures approaching 45 degrees Celsius (113 Fahrenheit,) something we have never seen before, at least in recent decades,” Mitsotakis said.

“We had to deal with almost 600 fires that broke out in one week. We managed to put out almost all of them, but unfortunately some of them expanded a lot and at some point we had to deal with four huge fires at the same time,” he said.

“We did the best we could. We evacuated tens of thousands of people and fortunately we managed to protect human life, we lost only one life. That is why Civil Protection did a great job for us.”

Despite trying to deal with so many simultaneous fires that over stretched the country's firefighting resources – help was brought in from 22 countries – residents on Evia and other places said the response came too late for many of them to save homes and complained the government concentrated on lives.

Mitsotakis has acknowledged lapses that he said would be investigated and his government is providing a 500-million euro ($589.02 million) relief package for people who lost their homes and businesses too.

“Of course we have before us a great environmental catastrophe, a significant number of forests have been destroyed but I am afraid that this is going to be the reality that areas like the Mediterranean will face in the future. This was not just a Greek problem, there were fires in Sicily, Algeria, Turkey. It is a climate crisis that is affecting us here and now and we all need to look very seriously at what we need to do about it.”

He added: “The good thing is that we now have the financial tools to support such policies. Of course we also need the people by our side. Greece was at the forefront of (phasing out lignite as a fuel) even before this crisis hit us. In 2019, I announced that in a short time Greece will abolish all thermal power plants, and we have worked very hard with the local communities to ensure that we can achieve this transition, that it will be in their favor and will create more jobs than lose.”

“However, we must also explain to people that this is a one-way street, that this is not a crisis that will be overcome with loud statements. We must apply what we say. I definitely intend Greece to remain at the forefront of this effort,” he said, without explaining how.

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