occupying the southernmost part of the Balkan Peninsula and more than 1,400 islands, Greece is an ancient land of great beauty and diversity. The culture of classical Greece was a shaping force in the art, literature, philosophy, and politics of the Western world. Modern Greece is a nation of 11 million people, 60 percent of whom live in urban areas. Athens alone is home to more than three million, and more than 50 percent of Greek industry is located in Athens. The population explosion into Athens and other urban areas that began in the mid-20th century has intensified concerns about air pollution and its effects on human health and the environment.
The Kyoto Protocol, to which Greece is a signatory (along with more than 20 other international environmental agreements), allowed the country to increase CO2 emissions 25 percent 1990-2010, but Greece has already exceeded the allowed increase and is expected to generate an excess 15 million tons beyond the target of 139 million by 2010. An increase of nearly double the maximum allowed is predicted by 2020. Coal-burning thermoelectric stations produce approximately 66 percent of Greece's electricity. During a period when other nations have built nuclear power plans and/or exploiting renewable sources of energy, Greece's use of coal for electricity production has increased. The World Wildlife Fund has designated two of the nation's power stations, Agios Dimitrios and Kardia, as the dirtiest in Europe; they produce the largest number of grams of CO2 per kilowatt-hour. These plants and others in Greece burn lignite, or brown coal, which produces higher levels of CO2 emissions than black coal.
The European Union (EU) has challenged Greece's violation of its greenhouse gas emissions allowance and promised consequences if the goal of 20 percent energy from renewable sources by 2010 is not met. A 2006 Yale University study ranked Greece 10th among EU nations in its overall environmental health. The Greek parliament passed new laws in 2007 that provided government support for renewable energy initiatives such as wind farms, and offered incentives for private investment in renewable sources. Solar energy remains a largely untapped resource. Whether or not these new initiatives will balance the country's dependence on fossil fuels, particularly lignite, remains to be seen.
Emissions from vehicles in crowded urban centers have also increased greenhouse gas emissions in Greece. Transport consumption of energy increased by nearly 50 percent 1982-92. The country is making a concentrated effort to address this problem. The extension of the rapid transit system in Athens, with around 25 new stations to be added 2008-18, and an additional line to be added after 2018, should help to control automobile emissions within the Athens area. Thessaloniki, Greece's second largest city, began construction of a rapid transit system in 2006 that is expected to be completed in 2012.
Despite these measures, air pollution and CO2 emissions in Greece became a greater problem in the summer of 2007 when forest fires raged between late June and late August, claiming more than 60 lives and destroying more than 470,000 acres of forests and farmland. The nation's olive crop was ravaged in the detraction. Experts estimate damages at more than $1.6 billion, or 0.6 percent of Greece's Gross Domestic Product. Living trees absorb CO2, but burning trees release the gas into the air. Scientists say that it is too early to know how the summer fires affected emissions, but many fear deforestation will magnify the effect of greenhouse gas emissions. Because Greece is the only country in the EU without a national forest registry, any burned land can be reclassified and sold to developers. With environmentalists preducting that global warming in the Mediterranean has begun, the fear is that a hot summer, a winter drought, and strong winds may make the Greek inferno of 2007 a common occurence. While non-human sources of CO2 are exempt from the Kyoto Protocol and, consequently, will not add to the pressure on Greece, the costs of the devastation will certainly deplete both human and economic resources.
SEE ALSo: Coal; Deforestation; European Union.
BIBLioGRAPHY. Central Intelligence Agency, www.cia.gov (cited November 2007); Danae Diakoulaki, ed., Environmental Signals (National Center for the Environmental and Sustainable Growth, 2003); "Fighting Greek Fires," Economist (August 29, 2007); Hellenic Ministry for the Environment, Physical Planning, and Public Works, www.minenv. gr (cited November 2007); World Bank, "Greece," Little Green Book www.worldbank.org (cited November 2007); Yale University, www.yale.edu (cited November 2007).
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