“Green is the Word”–Deputy FM Kouvelis’ interview with Athens News’ Spyros Mourelatos (07.12.09).
Journalist:During the election runup, Pasok put green development at the top of its agenda. However, fond hopes don’t always translate into reality. How do you bridge that gap? And what are the government’s goals over the next four years?
Mr. Kouvelis: The debate over green development did not take place only during the pre-election period, but began two years ago. That enabled us to go beyond fond hopes to reach a point where there is a plan. So, in this plan we have outlined our targets regarding renewable energy resources, waste disposal, and the way we wish our cities to develop and how we will turn agriculture in a direction related to the production of qualitative products.
This was the starting point from the day we formed the government. To make all this possible, we need to make the necessary amendments regarding institutional frameworks which will enable us to get over the hurdles that the market currently faces.
To get quality produce in agriculture, we need to diverge from the institutionalised attitude towards produce coming out with European subsidies, something that we will be forced to do since the European Union itself is changing its policy.
Now, regarding my job at the ministry of foreign affairs, we are trying to link this direction of development with bilateral and multilateral economic cooperation, meaning [we have to work out] how to approach the countries that we develop bilateral economic relations with and how to promote this know-how and new technologies especially in the Balkans, in countries of the Black Sea and the Mediterranean in order to make Greece a pioneer in green development in the wider region.
Journalist:Do you believe that the average Greek citizen knows what green development means?
Mr. Kouvelis: Indeed he does not know. I am telling you this because the results of recent research regarding green development have shown that most citizens see green development as the creation of more parks in the city. Obviously, that is wrong since green development means producing energy without polluting and producing products which do not pollute water or soil and are most suitable for the human diet. It also means tourism which does not destroy the places where it is being developed, but [rather] enhances the comparative advantages of an area. So, in this respect, there is a lot to be done.
Journalist:You are describing a completed economic model, if I am not wrong…
Mr. Kouvelis: The model is, overall, both economic and developing, so here we have a very big task, which is not limited only to just a simple information campaign.
We need to show citizens, through understandable examples, what green development means. For instance, the University of the Aegean has constructed a desalination unit which floats, so it does not pollute either soil or sea, and operates exclusively with solar and wind energy.
If this specific example is expanded to all Greek islands, then citizens will understand the meaning of eco-friendly development. So, we need to begin directly the materialisation of our programme. The revolution of the adoption of green development should take place in our country by starting with small changes, and mostly through the participation of citizens in this effort.
Journalist:What is the cost of applying green development to, for instance, power generated by burning lignite, which is considered a comparatively inexpensive but dirty source of energy? If we replace lignite, won’t it have a greater economic cost?
Mr. Kouvelis: That’s not true, meaning that utilisation of lignite is supported by an already existing infrastructure which does not exist, for example, for renewable resources, so we are talking about an investment and not a cost.
However, we need to decide - as a country - to develop our comparative advantages, that is the sun, the wind. It is a significant investment, not for the cost - there is a very big difference. But I can understand your concern because today’s circumstances for the Greek economy do not allow a massive investment in this section.
And then comes the second part of this equation, ie the recruitment of private domestic and international capital willing to take up the burden of such an investment in our country. So, we can proceed with some cooperations by utilising public, private and international resources. To put it simply, half of profits go to the country and the other half to the investor. If we follow this path, our estimations envision a movement, by 2020, of about 16 billion euros in investments only in the sector of renewable-resources energies, which will not come out of the domestic budget.
I am referring to private investments. Additionally, it is estimated that 7,000 to 8,000 job placements will be created. So, we are not talking about costs but investing as a way out of economic trouble.
Journalist:How do you respond to the claim that green development will only help the same privileged few, and here I am referring to specific business interests retaining their power? I ask this because Pasok has linked green development with the redistribution of wealth.
Mr. Kouvelis: It would have been wrong to channel the issue of green development into the hands of a small group of enterprises and entrepreneurs. Solutions we promote should reach all citizens. We should make every citizen a friend of this effort. This means that, first, we all participate in the production of energy and, secondly, that we all benefit from it. That has happened in most advanced countries.
Journalist:Are you optimistic that all 27 EU members will come to Copenhagen unanimously, or do you believe unanimity will be sacrificed in the name of national interests?
Mr. Kouvelis: Due to prior hard work and discussions, I believe the EU is at the forefront of the debate on climate protection and the evolution of its development model. At this point I have to give credit to a Greek commissioner, Mr Stavros Dimas, who worked and fought hard for this to happen.
However, there are major frictions within the EU, notably in financial programmes and how this funding will be divided. This of course does not mean that it cannot be solved. The EU will come to Copenhagen with a concrete and perhaps more advanced position and so long as there is political agreement it will constitute a major tool in solving the issue of funding as well. This will allow Europe to maintain its leadership on this new developing phase of the world.
Journalist:However, your efforts on reaching a binding agreement were not as strongly forwarded as expected. Who bears responsibility for this?
Mr. Kouvelis: It is very easy to find a possible culprit to blame but on my part I see a more balanced explanation. On the one hand there is the US effort to regain, in a period of 12 months, all the time lost by the Bush administration. Nevertheless, the Obama administration tried hard and under difficult circumstances, as the US is a country financially linked to mineral fuels.
On the other hand, the EU, as was proven by the Lisbon Treaty, suffers from slow decision-making. Other emerging countries such as China, which issued a statement on reducing emissions just a week ago, also hold responsibility.
Journalist:What are the main benefits of adopting green development and what are the most serious risks from climate change in the Mediterranean region?
Mr. Kouvelis: I am most suitable to talk about Greece’s benefits. Our country has environmental technology and expertise, particularly on environmental management and renewable energy sources. There are also very talented professionals and major research institutions.
The government has to - and this is also our responsibility in the ministry of foreign affairs - make our country an agent that will promote a new development policy, focusing on green development. This is particularly beneficial not only for the Greek economy and the Greek companies that will take part in it, but also for the strengthening of the political status of our country.
Since the consequences of climate change - for example the increase in average temperature up to 2 degrees - would have a much greater impact in the Mediterranean area, Greece has every reason to be the first one willing to adopt such a development model. Otherwise the big losers will be the people of the Mediterranean.
Journalist:Are there any geopolitical implications in the field of climate change?
Mr. Kouvelis: The adoption of green development implies major changes in the energy maps, in the up-to-now enshrined farming practices, in the management of water resources, in tourism. You have to understand that we are talking about an overall review of key political and economic figures. Therefore, the geopolitical implications are extremely important.
Equally important is the fact that the adoption of this new model will lead to a further deepening of democracy through public participation. There lies the difficulty. We are facing a great revolution in favour of the citizen.
Journalist:You make green development sound like a very urgent matter. What are the major impacts of global climate change?
Mr. Kouvelis: There are several very serious consequences. Global warming is one of them. There is also very large disproportion between various agricultural practices, as in some areas there is a lack of water... Another great impact is immigration, which at this moment is roughly estimated at tens of millions worldwide. If such huge numbers of people are forced to migrate every several years, then we can easily and rather certainly foresee conflicts in the future. This is a very serious matter.
Furthermore, climate change can alter the distribution of global epidemics. It is easy to understand that all these effects - already visible - do not only involve significant political and economic costs, but also constitute a problem in everyday life for millions of people.
That is why it is an urgent matter. That is why we must now take responsibility and pass along the message in Copenhagen that whatever we decide to do, we must do it today.