Greece and Europe are at the forefront of the fight to tackle climate change and the ambitious goals that have been set can be achieved, Greek Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, told CNN on Sunday.
Mitsotakis expressed his belief that the catastrophic fires in the country in recent days are a sign of the climate crisis and a situation that we will often have to face from now on, both in the Mediterranean and elsewhere.
“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,” Mitsotakis said.
“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.”
The Greek Prime Minister said Europe must work together with other big players such as the US, China and India, to tackle the issue of climate change effectively.
“Europe is a pioneer in tackling climate change. We have set a very ambitious goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by 2030 and our goal is to be climate neutral by 2050,” he said.
“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.”
Tears and anger as Greek island residents face wildfire aftermath:
Mitsotakis’ interview with CNN comes as residents from the Greek island of Evia returned home to see the aftermath of the bushfires which devastated the island over 10 days.
Wildfires have turned the forest and beehives into ashes and burned down about a dozen houses in Rovies, those on the outskirts, and dozens more across the island.
One of these homes belonged to 72-year old Costas Constantinidis, a former pastry cook.
“There was a paradise here and now… it’s hell,” Constantinidis told Reuters, in tears as he stood in front of his house, much of which was destroyed by flames.
“My wife and I worked hard for many years to build this so we could enjoy it in our old age, and now, we must start again from the beginning.”
In Rovies, as in other villages across the island, residents said the government failed to protect their homes and the forest.
Mitsotakis has publicly apologised for delays in the firefighting effort and announced 500-million-euro ($587 million) relief package, while defending his government’s action.
“I want to tell them that I completely understand what they feel, both the pain and the disappointment, and the desperation,” he told a news conference on Thursday. “I want to tell them they will not be unassisted, the state will be close to them.”