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Climate crisis: Greece is ablaze in a scorching heat wave, yet coal is making a comeback

Mitsaris, whose father additionally labored in coal mining, purchased 44 acres of winery. However he is now questioning if he made the suitable alternative — coal right here is refusing to give up.

“I am afraid concerning the future,” he mentioned. “I’ve two younger daughters to convey up.”

Only a yr in the past, Greece was assured it might shut all present coal-burning vegetation by 2023. It deliberate to construct one final coal plant this yr within the wider area the place Mitsaris lives, Western Macedonia, which generates greater than half the nation’s electrical energy. The brand new plant, Ptolemaida 5, would in 2025 then run on pure fuel, one other polluting fossil gas, however one that’s typically much less carbon-intensive than the lignite, or brown coal, discovered on this a part of Greece.

That complete timeline is now up in smoke.

The deadline to finish using coal in all present vegetation has been delayed from 2023 to 2025, and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis just lately steered the brand new Ptolemaida plant will realistically have to burn coal till at the least 2028. And Greece is planning to hike its coal mining output by 50% over the following two years to make up for the dearth of pure fuel, as Vladimir Putin tightens the faucets flowing to the EU.

Already the modifications are obvious. In June 2021, coal generated 253.9 gigawatt hours (GWh) of electrical energy. This June, coal was liable for 468.1 GWh, almost twice as a lot.

And that is whereas the nation has been battling wildfires on the mainland and its islands, fueled by a scorching warmth wave supercharged by local weather change — which comes largely from people’ burning of fossil fuels like coal. The fires have left houses in ashes, folks have been rescued from seashores and enterprise house owners on islands like Lesbos are going through an economically painful vacation season.

Dimitris Matisaris' father, a retired PPC worker, fills a bottle of wine at his son's winery.

Main life selections, like the place to dwell and work, are troublesome to make when the federal government’s plans maintain altering. For Mitsaris, leaving his village the place he was born and raised is not an possibility proper now.

“My spouse used to work in a dairy manufacturing unit, which additionally closed few years in the past. They provided her a job in Athens however again then my wage was sufficient to help the entire household, so we determined to remain,” he mentioned. “If I knew that we’d find yourself within the scenario we are actually, I’d have gone to Athens again then.”

The Greek authorities is making an attempt to persuade those that its return to coal is barely non permanent. However coal’s resurgence is tempting folks in Western Macedonia again into the business.

The PPC power firm has provided regular employment to hundreds of individuals in Western Macedonia, the place nearly 1 in 5 are jobless.

Right here — the place everybody refers to coal as a “blessing and a curse” — a return to the fossil gas could make all of the distinction between staying and leaving.

Already, so many have left for larger cities, and even moved overseas, to search out new lives.

A village in decay

When it comes to the transition away from coal, Greece had been one thing of successful story. Earlier than Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Greece solely relied on coal for round 9% of its energy supply, down from 25% simply six years in the past. It was the primary nation within the coal-dependent Balkans to announce a near-term goal to finish use of the fossil gas.

However the transition has at all times had its challenges — primarily, what alternatives can the nation supply to former employees in coal cities?

In Western Macedonia — which offers 80% of Greece’s coal — the PPC has expropriated dozens of villages in order that it may mine the coal beneath them, shifting total communities to the peripheries. They usually had been the fortunate ones.

A general view of the village of Akrini covered by the snow during winter.

Throughout this awkward in-between part — when coal remains to be being mined however its years are numbered — residents within the village of Akrini discover themselves unable to maneuver, at the same time as the whole lot round them crumbles.

Residents right here have been in a dispute for greater than a decade with the PPC, saying they’re entitled to compensation that can assist them relocate from the village, which has for years been uncovered to excessive ranges of ash from the coal operations that encompass them. They efficiently lobbied for the suitable to be relocated, which is now enshrined in a 2011 legislation.

The PPC advised CNN in an electronic mail that it was not liable for the folks within the village, and didn’t reply observe up questions when offered with the legislation that states they’re entitled to relocation help by 2021.

Charalambos Mouratidis, 26, does not actually know what to do subsequent.

Like Mitsaris, he has sought to make a brand new life after leaving a job with the PPC at a coal mine, the place his father additionally labored. However Mouratidis by no means had the identical form of job safety as his dad. He labored shifts for eight months on a short-term contract cleansing the ash from the equipment contained in the mine. The instability, low pay and the heavy affect of the poisonous ash on his well being pushed him out of the business.

A general view of the hill where Charalambos Mouratidis' farm is located in Akrini, with a coal plant in the background.

He now runs a cattle farm, which sits on a hill overlooking Akrini as plumes of smoke and steam rise from the chimneys and cooling towers of the coal vegetation throughout it within the background.

On prime of his cattle farming, he works a second job for a photo voltaic panel firm, sometimes placing in 13 hours a day between them to make ends meet.

Working for the photo voltaic panel firm is a inexperienced job that gives Mouratidis with some further revenue. However photo voltaic enlargement can also be taking on increasingly land, leaving much less for cultivation or grazing, so getting permission to develop farmland in Akrini is close to unimaginable, he mentioned.

Moreover the photo voltaic farms, all different infrastructure initiatives in Akrini have been canceled. The village is being left to slowly die.

“I began farming, hoping to have some form of a extra secure future, and now even that effort is at stake,” Mouratidis mentioned. “Everybody has reached a useless finish on this village.”

What’s comes subsequent

The Greek authorities has devised a 7.5 billion euro ($7.9 billion) plan to assist the nation remodel from a fossil fuel-based financial system to a inexperienced revolutionary nation. Its Simply Transition Growth Plan, as these are identified throughout the European Union, has obtained 1.63 billon euros in EU funding.

Western Macedonia is a spotlight within the plan and will obtain loads of the cash, partly to turn out to be a middle for renewables within the nation. And whereas the plan is welcomed by lots of people right here, many doubt it may all be achieved within the six years earlier than the final coal plant is to go offline.

Mouratidis is skeptical the cash will assist him in any respect.

The exterior of Charalambos Mouratidis' farm in Akrini.

“I am undecided that a lot of it can attain folks like me, who run small companies. Some cash will find yourself with those who brazenly help the present authorities and the vast majority of it can stick with those that handle these funds,” he mentioned. “That is what historical past has proven us. Even throughout Covid-19, the help given to large corporations and companies was a lot greater than the help we acquired.”

However not all hope is misplaced. As many employees flip from coal to agriculture, some EU help is trickling by way of. Only a few kilometers from Akrini, Nikos Koltsidas and Stathis Paschalidis try to create sustainable options for individuals who have misplaced their jobs within the inexperienced transition, and who’re keen to get entangled with sheep and goat farming.

Via their “Proud Farm” initiative, they act as incubators for Greeks who need to farm in sustainable methods, providing them entry to coaching and data across the latest applied sciences accessible to them.
Nikos Koltsidas and Stathis Paschalidis, founders of "Proud Farm Group of Farmers" initiative.

“We need to create a community of self-sustainable farms, with respect to the setting and the animals, which can demand very low capital from new farmers,” Paschalidis mentioned, his sheep bleating within the background.

Koltsidas mentioned he wished to unfold the phrase to the native inhabitants that farming is not what it was, and may present a secure future. “It does not require the trouble it did up to now, the place the farmer needed to be on the farm the entire day, grazing the animals or milking them with their fingers,” he mentioned.

“To these eager about going again to working in coal, they need to have a look at all of the areas which are thriving with out it,” he mentioned. “There is not any want to remain caught in these outdated fashions of the PPC.”

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