In the last couple of months, Greece, Italy, Spain and Turkey have experienced raging wildfires. In Greece, a stunning 586 wildfires broke out across the country in just several days last August. These fires have had particularly devastating consequences on communities, most notably burning in the regions of Attica, the Peloponnese, and Evia, Greece's second largest island. On Evia, wildfires burned for more than a week and destroyed the majority of forests and fields. And now, Evia is one of the places hit by recent flash floods.
Evelyne Huytebroeck, Co-Chair of the European Greens, and Vula Tsetsi, Secretary General of the Greens/EFA Group in the European Parliament and Committee Member of the European Greens, are visiting the region in order to discuss the current challenges and consequences of the climate and health crises. Last weekend, they met with our member party Ecologist Greens (Οικολόγοι Πράσινοι (ΟΠ)) as well as the Prasinoi party and other political stakeholders, visited the sites in Greece most affected by the wildfires, and met with Afghan refugee women who are also members of the parliament. They discussed the effects of climate change, as well as EU migration and asylum policy, among other issues.
Wildfire this summer, floods this week. #Climatechange already affects us & the biodiversity. We don't need to go far to see it, #Athens has paid the price twice in a couple of months.— Evelyne Huytebroeck (@EHuytebroeck) October 16, 2021
Thanks to Elias Papatheodorou @Ecogreens & @KaterinaAndSak for the visit 🇬🇷@europeangreens pic.twitter.com/IGJw8aa0L8
Why are floods and wildfires worse than before?
Greece's wildfires were fuelled and exacerbated by the worst heatwaves in years. The global rise in temperatures as well as extreme heatwaves and severe droughts experienced in the Northern Hemisphere since 2018 have heightened the risk of floods and wildfires. And unless we drastically reduce CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions in the coming decades, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report warns that a global warming of 1.5°C and 2°C will be exceeded during the current century.
Some of the consequences of these heatwaves are the destruction of crops and an increase in forest fires. Burned areas also leave places more vulnerable to flash floods, as has been observed in Evia. In many European countries, wildfire season has become months longer, and its reach crept farther north. Extreme weather events are likely to get worse if we don't take climate action now. It is vital to protect forests, as they are our biggest ally in the fight against the climate crisis – not only to capture CO2 but also to protect communities from flooding.
What the Greens are doing to address floods and wildfires
In a letter to the European Commission, the Greens outlined the steps that we need to take to tackle the climate crisis and avoid humanitarian disasters, considering the latest IPCC report. These steps include ending the fossil fuel era, ensuring 100% emissions-free cars by 2030, prioritising energy efficiency, a rapid phase-out of free allowances in the Emissions Trading System (ETS) of the Green Deal, and changing the way we produce food to tackle agricultural emissions.
The European Greens' member party in Greece, the Ecologist Greens, are tackling the impact of climate catastrophes like floods and wildfires by:
- Working on flood protection, with an emphasis on areas with steep slopes and soft clay soil, which will otherwise cause new damage to the villages from landslides and the environment with soil erosion.
- Providing feed to affected farmers and financial support by bypassing the bureaucracy for the restoration of pastoral facilities and other agricultural infrastructure destroyed by the fire.
- Protecting the remaining forests and NATURA areas from new fires.
- Adapting Local Urban Plans to the new conditions after the fire with to ensure the protection and resilience of settlements; such as escape routes, fire resistant plantings, and a perimeter fire protection zone.
- Enforcing a ban on grazing in reforested areas.
- Prioritising natural reforestation in combination with studied and focused reforestation around settlements and in rural areas with a preference for productive (aromatic, beekeeping, livestock) and fire-resistant trees.
- Having a plan of adaptation and support, so that the populations remain in place and to support alternative tourism, agricultural production and organic farming.
Green solutions and policies are Greece's best chances to ensure resilience in the face of climate, biodiversity and refugee crises!