Greece and the environmental problems it shares with neighboring countries
The Environment maintains a vital role in many diplomatic challenges, particularly amongst neighboring countries in which a country's environmental problems may generate environmental problems in another. In order for environmental management to become effective, it must be collective as well. There is an enduring connection between the environment and good neighbors' relations between bordering cultures. The operation of a nuclear plant at Kozlodui, the pollution of Evros River and its delta, as well as recent bombardments in Kosovo and Serbia that have strained the environment (FOCUS program), have given rise to pressures and further problems within the sensitive area of Southeastern Europe. Collaboration with Turkey in terms of environmental issues is imperative (Greece and Turkey: Collaboration in Environmental Issues), and may constitute the first step in shedding a different light on the neighboring relationship between these countries.
The various consequences that may be derived from a nuclear accident make international emergency planning indispensable, even when the nuclear plants in question are not within range of national borders. The experience of the Chernobyl nuclear accident concludes that nuclear accidents are accompanied by radioactive element emissions into the environment that may pass over long distances. The consequences imposed on the population as a result of nuclear accidents are attributed to both direct and chronic exposure to radiation. Some of the most important issues that are raised immediately after a nuclear accident involve: (a) decision making ways with regard to courses of action that should be adopted by authorities in order to reduce the impact on the population caused by radiation, and (b) the very courses of action. For example, rejecting food supplies following an accident constitutes a major political measure towards significantly reducing impacts on health.
There are three currently operating nuclear power plants neighboring Greece directly: in Kozlodui, Bulgaria, in Cernavoda, Romania, and Krsko, Slovenia. The nuclear plant in Kozlodui is located 225 km from Greece' s northern borders. The proximity of this nuclear power plant in relation to our country constitutes a continuous source of anxiety for Greece with regards to the potential impact resulting from a nuclear accident in one of its reactors.
There are six reactors in the Kozlodui nuclear power plant: four of these are older, that is, they are not at all technologically advanced, whilst the other two conform to modern nuclear safety standards. Bulgaria has committed to suspending the operation of nuclear reactors 1 and 2 in Kozlodui by the year 2003, while the final decision as to the closure of nuclear reactors 3 and 4 shall be determined within the year 2002. The closure of these reactors by the year 2008 constitutes a prerequisite for the commencement of EU accession negotiations with Bulgaria. International collaboration contributed to the enhancement of safety in the Kozlodui nuclear reactors. The EU founded the Supporting Fund, whose rules have been adopted by the European Bank for Restructuring and Development administration, for the decommissioning of Kozlodui. Britain, the Netherlands, and Denmark have made contributions to the Fund whilst minimum donations per country amount to 1.5 million Euro. Greece is expected to cover its corresponding amounts from the Foreign Office and the Ministry of National Economy.
The region of Evros, located at the conjunction of Europe and Asia - the East and the West - has a unique character. The significance it bears for the populations of large predators (birds of prey) and waterfowl is globally recognized. Until 1970, difficulties in accessing the area, military control, low population rates, and mild exploitation of natural resources had managed to restrict the negative human impact on landscape and wild life. From 1974 and on, the accelerating rates of development regarding the region of Evros gave rise to major consequences affecting the river' s delta. The change in land usage, that is, from land forests to a farming area, suddenly offset the balance of the ecosystem. River water flow was reduced by the construction of dams in neighboring countries while major water shortage problems emerged. The year 1974 is not just any date: it coincides with the invasion of Cyprus by the Turks. Under the strain governing bilateral relations, the Greek government was forced to support a series of programs aiming to reduce urbanism, to create an infrastructure in the area, and to develop this prefecture, thereby imposing severe environmental consequences.
In 1999 the National Agricultural Research Foundation (ETHIAGE) submitted a research proposal to the NATO program Science for Peace. The purpose of the proposal was to control via the collaboration of Bulgaria and Turkey cross-border pollution affecting the Evros River. Unfortunately, Turkey eventually abandoned the proposal and as a result, the proposal was rejected. The joint collaboration and action with Bulgaria and Turkey is imperative in order for Evros to become a model for international river protection, as is the case with river Rein. The goals of the study shall be achieved assuming that dialogue, trust and collaboration amongst the three countries is strengthened. The main points of the research proposal included:
- Recording the main sources of pollution affecting the Evros River; their variation in terms of space and time,
- Forecast water provision and river quality in several management scenarios for the river,
- Implementation of relevant programs in other cross-border rivers of the area,
- Supporting means for decision making procedures in regards to management and pollution control issues
- FOCUS program
The FOCUS program is the result of a joint initiative undertaken by the Foreign Offices of Greece, Russia, and Switzerland. Austria and Canada also joined the program, soon thereafter, with the purpose of promoting significant humanitarian support in Kosovo and Serbia, and surveying the environmental encumbrance produced as a result of both the destruction of petrochemical industries and refineries due to heavy bombardments, in addition to the existence of depleted uranium. None of the team' s studies contain significant documented encumbrance recorded.
Balkan policy and enhancement of the international and regional presence of the country.
- Greece and Turkey: Collaborating on Environmental Issues
The two countries share a two-sided memorandum of collaboration on environmental issues, which constitutes a basis for discussing subjects of experience sharing and technological know-how. Greece' s Foreign Office has played a decisive role in the establishment of a dialogue forum on environmental problems common to both countries. The memorandum has been voted for by the appropriate Committee of the Hellenic Parliament, while it remains pending in the Plenary Session. It includes important issues, however a lot of work remains yet to be done in order for an integrated approach to the environment to be achieved, which would also address cross-border problems (protection and management of the Evros River). The issues that have initially been addressed include:
- seismological research and seismic resistance buildings
At the commencement of the year 2001, two-day meetings were organized both in Athens and in Istanbul with regards to seismic competency and enhancement of construction. Supplementary actions are to follow, such as publicizing the minutes, as well as other two-day meetings relevant to the same issues and a seminar organized by the Institute of Geodynamics National Observatory of Athens. The possibility of organizing training programs for Turk engineers is also being considered.
- renewable forms of energy
In the year 2000, scientists began making contacts for the purpose of exploiting mild forms of energy, to promote the utilization of biomass and natural gas, to implement technological know-how of solar commutators. The Greek Renewable Energy Sources Center (KAPE) in collaboration with the TUBITAK Marmara Center in Turkey, jointly submitted a proposal within the framework of the EU's 5th Framework Program for Research Technological Development and Demonstration, the subject of which concerns creating a network which promotes co-producing technologies from biomass in collaboration with other carriers from other countries. This proposal shall decisively contribute to exchanging experience, know-how, and, of course, promoting collaboration amongst the two neighboring countries.
- alternative forms of tourism
Lake Plastiras and Antalya, two landscapes of exceptional beauty, in which tourism could evolve around nature, have become research and meeting places between Greeks and Turks for common action in the Ecotourism sector.
The bilateral collaboration concerning desertification is of particular interest since our country has assumed the presidency of the IV Branch of the International Convention to Combat Desertification in March 2001. The countries participating are included within the Northern Mediterranean (Portugal, Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Monaco).
- maritime pollution
The Ministry of the Mercantile Marine organized a seminar in regards to methods counteracting maritime pollution with the participation of Turks.
- forest fire extinguishment
Contacts between the Athens Fire Department Corps and the Ministry of Agriculture of Turkey have been initiated, with regards to courses of action against forest fires. The first contact took place in March 2001 at the international conference that was held in Athens.
The most important achievement attained from the work completed up to this point concerns the establishment of communication between appropriate carriers. Many issues with national, regional and global importance remain open for discussion. In an effort to promote collaboration between NGOs of the two countries, the Greek Foreign Office has initiated the organization of a seminar on sustainable development in the 21st century. The seminar aims to prepare the presence of both sides in the World Summit, which is to take place in Johannesburg in 2002, ten years following the 1st World Summit on the Environment that took place in Rio (Rio + 10).
Useful links on Greece and the environmental problems it shares with neighboring countries:
Balkans Task Force
Car Free Cities