Climate change in Greece


The current situation

Greece used to have a temperate, mild, Mediterranean climate. The country was considered an ideal spot for vacation, and was also globally known for the quality of its agricultural products and the long life expectancy of its people, thanks to the healthy lifestyle and the Mediterranean diet.

The situation is different today, as climate change impacts are now observable and, on top of it, the country is experiencing an economic recession, which has led to instability, lack of social coherence, as well as a complete lack of means to deal with the local consequences of climate change.

Water resources and rainfall

Agriculture is the largest consumer of water resources in Greece, as elsewhere, as it corresponds to 86% of the total water usage. At the same time, official measurements regarding the precipitations in the last two decades have shown that rainfall has decreased by 20% in Western Greece and 10% in Eastern Greece. As for Southern Greece (the island of Crete), from September 2012 to May 2013, rainfall dropped by 40-50% across the coasts and 10-20% towards the inland (compared to last year). If we combine this with the fact that it snowed only for a few days in January 2013 and in quite high altitudes, Cretan rivers are almost dry today.

Biodiversity and habitats

There are already significant impacts to the country’s forests because of warming temperatures and low precipitation rates. Forest fires have increased in number, they occur more often (from spring to autumn) and they are more destructive than ever. Several fauna and flora species are facing increasing danger of extinction, especially because some of them are endemic in quite vulnerable areas; for example, 47% of autochthonous fish are already in the Red list of IUCN, and the Cretan shrew (Crocidura zimmermanni, a species of mammal) is expected to extinct due to habitat loss even under mild climate change impacts.

Coasts and sea-level rise

Greece’s coastline is 16,300 kms (almost as much as 1/3 of the planet’s circumference), but around 20% of these coasts present medium to high vulnerability to climate change impacts. This translates to negative consequences to sectors such as tourism, land use and transport. The situation is even worse in Crete, where poor precipitation has resulted to a lack of fresh water flow towards the coasts and to a deficit of sediment with which the rivers would enrich the coasts and slow their erosion down. All Cretan coasts will soon be “red coded” in terms of vulnerability, even if the UNFCCC optimistic scenario of a sea level rise of 1,8 mm/year comes true in a 100 years.

Heat waves

Although the highest day temperature was 32-36°C in the mid-20th century, since the 1990s Greece experiences day temperatures of more than 40°C very often. The annual increase of mean temperature is about 0.4-0.6°C, compared to the mean values of 1961-1990. In 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2012, summer heat waves resulted in extended forest fires, drought and severe health problems for the Greek population. Thousands were taken to hospitals and hundreds of people died either in fires or because of respiration and heart problems.

Greece's uncertain future climate 

Current data prove the fact that Greece (and the entire Mediterranean) is among the most threatened areas of the planet. The future appears gloomy too. A research group of the National Observatory of Athens has performed various simulation analyses of how climate in Greece will be in the future and the warming over Greece is reported to be larger in the summer than in the winter.

Pessimistic scenarios for 2071-2100 predict that precipitation in Greece will further decrease by 30-40% and mean high temperatures will rise by 7-10ºC. Even the more optimistic scenarios refer to an important increase in mean high temperatures (3-4.5ºC) and in the number of warm (more than 35°C) days annually. Mean annual precipitation will decrease, while the change in precipitation will vary substantially from season to season and across regions. 

Although temperature increase will prolong vegetation seasons by at least 15-35 days, the negative impacts to population health, electricity demand & consumption, and other sectors, are obvious. The ongoing discomfort felt by city dwellers, because of high temperatures and humidity, will be more intense; fires, floods and droughts will occur more often; agriculture and tourism will be highly affected; water scarcity and power outages will be unavoidable. 

According to the National Observatory of Athens, all evidence point to a significant change in Greece’s climate: it will gradually turn from temperate to tropical.

What we can do

Let us reduce our ecological footprint, by taking some important steps in our everyday life:

- Be energy efficient: use electrical power less and wisely, switch off unnecessary lights and devices, buy energy-efficient home appliances, insulate your house effectively, adjust your thermostat to outside temperatures, choose renewable energy sources if possible…

- Save water: manage tap or irrigation water wisely, reduce water usage overall, replace grass with native plants, xeriscape…

- Change transport habits: take the public transport instead of your car, try car-pooling, walk…

- Manage your waste sustainably: recycle paper-plastic-glass-aluminum, reuse stuff, buy products with minimal or recyclable packaging, compost if possible…

- Eat locally and sustainably: buy organic and locally-produced food if possible, eat less meat (at least 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions come from meat and dairy industry)…

- Save some trees: go digital, use less or no paper at home and in the office, plant…

- Adapt your life to the changing climate and refrain from worsening it…

- Be informed!

- Act Now! Act Together! Act Differently!


References

Bank of Greece, The environmental, economic and social impacts of climate change in Greece, Report, 2011.

Ministry of Environment, Energy and Climate Change, 5th National Communication to the UNFCCC, 2010.

IPCC, 5th Assessment Report (WG I), 2013.

Online sources: Region of CreteGreek Ministry of Environment, Energy and Climate ChangeWWF Greece on climateThe World Bank Climate Change Knowledge PortalNational Observatory of Athens, Institute for Environmental Research and Sustainable Development (est. 1846), and several news-sites and blogs


About

This webpage-artifact was created in January-February 2014 as the Final Project for the MOOC "Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C world must be avoided", offered by the World Bank and Coursera. It is addressed to the citizens of Greece; they, too, suffer from the consequences of climate change, but have little knowledge of what this means. 

For ages, Greeks have lived with the certainty that their country, “situated in the best corner of the world”, will always be blessed with ample sunlight, fertile land and beautiful sea. Over-exploitation of these resources, visible everyday impacts of climate change and a sense of profuse wealth have led to the current difficult times. 

Greeks need to see climate change impacts holistically and realize the necessity of mitigation and adaptation practices in their day-to-day life.

 

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