Greece, only a few days after the dramatic fires of the summer, one of the most devastating fires in the country, is experiencing the tragic consequences of extreme floods.

Large residential and non-residential areas of the Pelion, Volos, Anchialos, Larissa, Farsala and Karditsa received massive amounts of rainfall, which occurred with very high intensity, causing colossal damage, including, unfortunately, many deaths. The citizens are in a state of panic, embarrassment, absolute insecurity and abandonment, experiencing the inability of the state to protect their lives and property. The incalculable, multidimensional and tragic consequences of successive natural disasters urgently require answers to the causes of state inefficiency and practical solutions to prevent such tragedies from happening again.

Wishing to contribute to this need, the Observatory for Sustainable Development of ENA has in recent years systematically dealt with the problem of floods and their impact on ecosystems and their functions through a series of articles and analyses, focusing on the measures to be taken by public authorities [1],[2],[3]. Climate change, with its crisis characteristics, is now present in the form of extreme weather events that are increasing in frequency and intensity. It is now clear that our country is experiencing its serious consequences, with similar phenomena occurring for the umpteenth time in recent years, but with even greater intensity today. We remember the floods in Mandra in November 2017 and in Thessaly in September 2020 (“Ianos”). It is significant that Thessaly is experiencing this disaster only three years after the previous one (Ianos), an experience that should have been used to strengthen the Region’s resilience by creating new, modern structures.

We can no longer say that these are ‘unprecedented phenomena’ or that we do not know what to do about them. Since 2018, in application of Directive 2007/60/EC, special Flood Risk Management Plans (FRMPs) have been prepared in Greece and published in the Government Gazette B’ 2685/2018. These plans contain detailed descriptions of all sectors related to the problem and the measures to be taken to address it. The problem, however, is that their value and importance have been unacceptably underestimated by the competent authorities (in this case the Region of Thessaly). We pointed this out during the last floods in Thessaly in 2020. In our view, the results of the disaster we are now experiencing should be sought in the degree of implementation of the provisions of the 2018 FRMPs. Note that since February 2022, the European Commission has sent a reasoned opinion against our country for non-compliance with Directive 2007/60/EC and for not updating the flood risk maps, with the risk of being referred to the Court of Justice of the European Union.

The problems posed by climate change and how to deal with its effects have been at the center of the European Union’s work and legislative initiatives for many years. In particular, last July the European Parliament voted on the European Commission’s proposal for a law on the restoration of nature. Unfortunately, the political forces of the European People’s Party, including the Greek party New Democracy, which is governing the country from 2019, did not join the majority and voted against the proposal. Given that the current government has opposed this top political priority, we therefore wonder what the future holds for our country. On the basis of the Nature Restoration Law, Greece is committed to restoring 20% of terrestrial and marine ecosystems by 2030, 60% by 2040 and at least 90% by 2050 for all ecosystems in need of restoration.

It is therefore time we all realise that we must finally and decisively start implementing climate change risk management plans (in this case, flood risks) immediately and decisively. These measures include projects that will take much longer to complete than the term of office of all elected authorities (national, regional and local) and therefore require a broad consensus to ensure the uninterrupted implementation of policies that are critical to the future of our country. In addition, citizens, local communities, economic sectors and all social actors in the country must immediately understand that they cannot adopt a passive attitude to developments and that their systematic contribution and cooperation is required to initiate and implement all the necessary short, medium and long-term actions for the timely and effective adaptation of the country to the new climate conditions in terms of sustainability and resilience.

* Christos Tsadilas, Agronomist, Ph.D. Soil Scientist, former Director of the Institute of Industrial and Forage Crops of ELGO DIMITRA, Scientific Associate of ENA