Greece taps new minister for climate fallout after wildfires

ATHENS — Greece has created its first-ever ministerial post to solely handle the fallout from climate change in the wake of this summer’s devastating wildfires — and it’s bringing in a former EU crisis manager expert to inaugurate the role. 

Christos Stylianides, previously the European commissioner for humanitarian aid and crisis management, was announced on Monday as Greece’s climate crisis and civil protection minister. 

The appointment highlights how climate change challenges have vastly expanded for governments in recent years, stretching far beyond efforts to simply cut emissions to also include handling more severe weather events, such as floods and wildfires. Few, if any, European governments have such a post currently.

In Greece, the government is under pressure to shore up its response to the wildfires that tore through parts of the country last month, razing swaths of woods, burning buildings, killing animals and sending thousands of people fleeing from their homes. 

“The consequences of climate change have overtaken us and we must accelerate the major changes without delay,” Stylianides posted on Twitter. “Disaster prevention and preparedness is the most effective weapon we have.” 

Stylianides, a Cypriot national, will receive honorary Greek citizenship so that he can serve in the post before being sworn in Friday, government spokesman Giannis Oikonomou said.

Intense heatwaves fueled Greece’s devastating wildfires in August. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis bluntly called it “the greatest ecological catastrophe of the last few decades.”

The government has faced severe criticism over how it managed the devastating blazes. Mitsotakis has admitted lapses in the state responses and last week reshuffled his top officials in an attempt to show the government is addressing the situation. He ousted former Civil Protection Minister Michalis Chrisochoidis and moved his deputy, Nikos Hardalias, to another post.

And in July, Athens appointed local government veteran Eleni Myrivili as Europe’s first chief heat officer, with a remit to help residents cope with deadly and increasingly common high temperatures. Writing in POLITICO last week, Myrivili said: “While efforts by cities to mitigate the impact of a warmer world are finally beginning to gain momentum, when it comes to preparedness, much more still needs to be done.”

Now, Stylianides has also been brought in to head the country’s firefighting and disaster relief policies, both of which experts say are in need of an overhaul. Greece has been criticized for focusing too much on fire response, and not enough on fire prevention. 

Stylianides is considered a crisis management specialist. During his term as an EU commissioner from 2014 to 2019, he upgraded the EU’s Civil Protection Mechanism, aimed at shoring up the bloc’s disaster response efforts. He also established a program specifically focused on enlisting EU countries to better respond to wildfires and other natural disasters. 

Before that role, Stylianides was the EU’s head coordinator for the bloc’s response to the Ebola virus epidemic in West Africa.

Former chief of the Greek air force staff, Evangelos Tournas, has been appointed as Stylianides’ deputy.

Karl Mathiesen contributed reporting.



Source by [author_name]