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  • Mitsotakis in UN address focuses on effects of climate change in Mati, elsewhere

    ‘The Mati disaster shook Greek society to its core. Extreme weather events are the direct consequence of climate change. It is not a problem that can be put off for more decades,’ the PM told the UN.

    Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis in a speech on climate change outlined plans to protect countries’ cultural heritage and other measures such as the winding down of the use of lignite in Greece in an address to the UN.

    The full text of the PM’s address  to the UN Climate Conference is as follows:

    Mr. Secretary General, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen

    In the early afternoon of July 23rd of last year, a small wildfire started on a hill outside Athens. Fire services deal with thousands of every year.

    This one, however, was different. Driven by ferocious winds, it quickly spread and reached the suburban town of Mati. Once it entered the pine cladded residential area, it became uncontainable. People ran for their lives, 102 did not make it. They perished in a blazing inferno. It was all over in less than four hours.

    The Mati disaster shook Greek society to its core. Extreme weather events are the direct consequence of climate change. It is not a problem that can be put off for more decades.

    It must be addressed here and now, as its implications affect the lives of those who, until recently, did not care much about the issue.

    My country is a kaleidoscope of natural beauty and unique cultural heritage. Respect for the natural world was a key tenant of many Greek philosophers, who understood the implications of disrupting the delicate balance between man and nature.

    Yet, ancient Greeks had no access to scientific facts; they only made hypotheses. We do not have that excuse, yet, we have failed to act.
    Almost half of the atmosphere’s extra, human-produced carbon dioxide, was put there after the beginning of the 1990’s, when climate science was robust enough to warn us about the implications of uncontrolled greenhouse gas emissions.

    Greece’s future is tied to its ability to protect its unique natural environment.

    Rising sea levels threaten our coasts and islands, thus our tourism industry. Extreme weather events such as storms, floods and heat waves have a devastating impact on Greek society and our economy.

    We have made, our new government has made, addressing the implications of climate change a core component of our government policies.
    We are fully committed to the implementation of the Paris Agreement and we strongly support the strategic long-term vision for a climate-neutral European Union, by 2050.

    For us it not just an obligation, but also a great economic opportunity.

    The Greek government plans to adopt a new, ambitious National Strategy for Energy and Climate before the end of the year.

    Let me just highlight two important components of it.

    Our goal is to close all lignite power plants, the latest by 2028, despite the fact that we remain a big producer of lignite brown coal. And we plan to ban single usage plastics across the country by the end of 2021.However, climate change does not only affect our present and future. It also affects our past, our history.

    Extreme weather events and the long-term impact of adverse climate conditions have this potential to significantly damage cultural and natural heritage sites.

    But to also to disrupt century old ways of life. When olive trees are destroyed by bacteria and olive fly it is not just an economic catastrophe.
    It affects the lives of local communities to such an extent that it poses a threat to our unique intangible cultural heritage.

    Greece is deeply concerned about the potential impact of climate change on our cultural and natural heritage.

    We convened, last June, in Athens, an International Conference, entitled “Impacts of Climate Change on Cultural Heritage: Facing the Challenge”, aiming at raising awareness and encouraging global action on the issue.

    Its outcome has been included in a proposal, which, with the supporting partnership of UNESCO and WMO, was presented at the Climate Action Summit.

    The focus of our efforts should be on prevention and monitoring. Besides major disasters, changes are often subtle, gradual and do undetected in early stages. Raising awareness not just at the global but also at the local level is key for achieving our goals.

    I would like to thank the Secretary General, all UN member States, International Organisations and non-state actors who have supported this Initiative and to encourage those who have not done so yet, to endorse its commitments.

    My country intends to convene a High Level Meeting next year in Athens, with the aim of adopting a declaration for the protection of cultural and natural heritage from climate change impacts.

    2020 marks 2500 years since the naval battle of Salamis. The Athenian victory paved the way for the golden century of classical Greek Athens.

    In the shadow of the Acropolis, let us pledge that a monument which has survived for 25 centuries will continue to be a beacon of beauty and natural balance to be appreciated by generations to come.

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