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The Athens Climate Lab, Changing the Atmosphere in Greece

What is one thing that every human across all continents and creeds has in common?

Our one and only home.

Planet Earth is a miracle of nature and evolution, not only creating the means for life to flourish, but also leading to the evolution of human beings. As a species, we have sent robots to the farthest reaches of our Solar System and have landed people on the moon. We have cured diseases and in some instances even cheated death. But despite all of this technological advancement and knowledge, we are also the ultimate destroyers of our planet.

Pollution, over-consumption, and an overall disregard and disrespect for the Earth has put us in danger of extinction. Climate Change is real and if global temperatures continue to rise, we will be faced with unprecedented environmental repercussions. Conflicts over clean water and fertile soil, battles for shelter away from natural disaster zones, climate refugees, diminished food supply, and more volatile weather are anticipated challenges.

But in Athens, Greece there is a movement taking hold, one that aims to change this unbalanced relationship society has with the Earth. The Athens Climate Lab is a virtual workshop in four installments, and it has created an inclusive and open platform where those invested in stopping the climate crisis can meet and discuss ideas and initiatives. The Athens Climate Lab is a program built from the Global Shapers Community Athens Hub, with an overall community network of over 13,000 international young professionals under thirty, collaborating to solve the most pressing challenges of our time.

A diverse and international audience participated in the Athens Climate Lab, which took place in March of 2021. People of varying ages and professions discussed a wide array of topics as they relate to the environment, utilizing virtual breakout rooms to get more specific. Conversations focused on how the city of Athens can meet sustainable and environmentally conscious goals, and the obstacles the prevented this in the past – mainly, the attitudes and behaviors society has formed in relation to the environment and whether these have positive or negative results.

The workshops allowed participants to have an open dialogue and share their own environmental protection projects or ideas. The style of the Athens Climate Lab was planned by Youthnest, a civic and social organization that facilitates projects aimed at solving social challenges like Climate Change. Their approach is citizen-centered, having empathy for the experience of all those involved in the societal system, collaborating with and reaching institutions like schools and community centers as well as municipalities, to instill real and lasting change.

The workshops helped to create a connection among all stakeholders in Athens by gathering opinions and experiences from each participant. These authentic experiences then provide context to formulate strategic and ethical plans and policies that will benefit the city as a whole, not just a particular interest group.

The National Herald had an in depth discussion with Constantinos Simaioforidis and his team at Athens Climate Lab to understand more about the initiative.

The National Herald: What sparked the idea and need for something like the Athens Climate Lab to be created?

Constantinos Simaioforidis: Athens Climate Lab wanted to bring all stakeholders together to discuss and form ideas as well as map the climate change stakeholder system in Athens. We aimed to create an interactive experience where everyone, regardless of their background, could contribute to the dialogue and ultimately lead to a more inclusive discussion echoing concerns of all the stakeholders. As the Athens Hub of Global Shapers, we believe in the power of dialogue, and initiatives like Athens Climate Lab proves that youth could and must have a voice over the issue of Climate Change.

TNH: What was the response and outcome of participants in the ACL and was this expected? Who was in the audience and who do you hope to see more of, for example should the Greek diaspora be more involved?

CS: Athens Climate Lab was excited to see participants from a plethora of backgrounds ranging from MEPs, representatives of Civil Society organizations, local government, academia, companies to students and individuals willing to learn and become part of the discussion. We would have wanted to see more researchers and members of the academic community as we think they could further enrich the process. In that sense, the Greek diaspora could also provide even more insight in models of mitigation and prevention strategies around the world. One of Athens Climate Lab’s active members comes from the Greek diaspora and her input was crucial in organizing the workshops.

TNH: What were some of the most memorable conversations and ideas shared during the ACL? Are there plans to do more workshops in the future?

CS: The unique identity of the Athens Climate Lab consisted of taking a global issue and zooming in on the specific needs in the city of Athens and how it can build its environmental resilience. For this reason, the first two workshops were divided into four main topics: extreme weather conditions, coast protection, air pollution, and forest fires. In this context, memorable discussions were held around the issue of how we protect our city from the effects of climate change. Meanwhile, there was enough space for networking between the participants and exchanging ideas during the workshops. One of our favorite moments was the Climate party we held via zoom on the last workshop!

TNH: There seems to be an increasing awareness of environmental issues in Athens thanks to progressive initiatives like the ACL. Does this trend seem to be leading to real policy and cultural changes? How can we facilitate awareness to become action and change?

CS: Real change can begin from grassroots initiatives, but synergy among the different initiatives is key. Real change takes time. The very positive outcome of Athens Climate Lab is the creation of an environmentally conscious youth community in Athens. By working together, awareness can lead to impact-driven actions and lasting change. We want to create a community of people who will approach the issue of Climate Change in a holistic and more systematic way, using methodologies that will help us understand in depth the phenomenon of Climate Change. This is exactly why Athens Climate Lab was created!

TNH: What are some changes ACL hopes to see happen in Athens right now? Environmentally, socially, and culturally.

CS: The Athens Climate Lab aspired to create a stronger connection between the Greek government, established institutions, NGOs, citizens, and other stakeholders actively engaged and interested in the Climate Change in Athens. For the next level, we are now working on the findings from the workshop, developing a systemic thinking report. Results will be shared within the community and with key stakeholders, where we truly aspire that this will open new conversations on the highest level. Environmentally, as our results indicate, we hope to help all interested parties to work together in a more effective way. By learning to work together more effectively as a society, we will improve other fields of activity such as culture.

TNH: How can people who are interested in environmental protection get involved or contribute to ACL or similar initiatives?

CS: The environmental youth community is growing strong in Greece. There are many opportunities in various organizations and teams that could increase impact on Climate Change. Global Shapers is a network where youth people are central to solution building, policy-making and lasting change. In the Athens Hub of the Global Shapers, there is an open call every fall to people aged 18-27 years old, who want to bring a change in Athens. Athens Climate Lab would continue with activities towards Climate Change and city resilience.

TNH: What does the ACL team want people to know about the workshops and what is currently happening in Athens?

CS: We are at a pivotal point with regards to Climate Change. We know the next years will be hard and we need to build resilience on a local level. Athens as a city is facing challenges in: coastal, wildfires, air pollution, and extreme weather events. The good news is there are a lot of stakeholders in all levels who serve the same purpose. By working together, we can take a big step in our local communities. In this, we need the help of the diaspora; their knowledge, their experience, and best practices from their own cities can help us tackle Climate Change in Athens. And we need to act fast.

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