Drastic changes needed for green transition, Environment Commissioner says

Drastic changes are needed in the way citizens live, the newly appointed Environment Commissioner Antonia Theodosiou has told the Cyprus News Agency (CNA), referring to the green transition, noting that although brave efforts are being made by the competent services, Cyprus but also other countries are too late.

At the same time, she said that the European Commission's Green Transition and Green Deal programme is about all areas of life and it is not just about 'planting trees', but concerns our actions on a daily basis.

She added that Cyprus should not be at the point where it is today with a low participation in renewable energy sources, nor should it have such a high percentage of pollutants.

In her interview with CNA, referring to the role of the Commissioner, Theodosiou said her post undertakes issues of improving legislation, submitting proposals to Ministers and the Council of Ministers, following instructions from ministries or voluntarily.

At the same time, the Commissioner said she has the power to act. "Part of the function of the Office is to conduct information campaigns, raise awareness of issues and submit opinions," she noted.

Asked to assess the situation in Cyprus regarding actions to protect the environment and raise awareness of the effects of climate change, Theodosiou said that she divides environmental protection into several areas.

Protection and management of NATURA 2000 sites

"The main area of my priority is the protection and management of NATURA 2000 sites. Cyprus, as required, submitted areas that meet certain requirements of the European acquis and were included in the Natura 2000 network. Unfortunately, these areas have so far been poorly managed while management plans are in place," she added.

According to Theodosiou, what is missing is how we manage the assessment of the landscape and ultimately the landscape itself which is very valuable because it is what holds the soils together and Cyprus is threatened by desertification, and simple constructions, known as structures, are the ones that held and hold back to a very small extent even today the rural landscape.

She said the existing measures regarding these structures are insufficient, “while the role that structures can play in landscape retention and combating desertification, but also in enhancing biodiversity, is enormous". 

Theodosiou also said that she wants to undertake a campaign "because we pay fines for pollutants. And our production is mainly from fossil fuels, but there needs to be a sharp increase in the energy mix and the introduction of renewables.  Another way to balance these pollutants and pay fewer fines is to increase forest area and enhance biodiversity because these areas absorb and store carbon dioxide," she added.

Asked if she has both the influence and the power to be able to promote issues, she said "we do not have an executive role. It is, as you said, advisory, but with many possible intervention tools. "

Responding to a question on what measures can be taken to consolidate the message that everything we do has an impact on the environment, Theodosiou said that "due to the climate crisis which we are going through and as we are all living the effects of extreme weather events, rising temperatures, I think that at all levels we have all realised that our own human actions and not some universe, have affected the planet and affected not only the aesthetics of nature, but also our very lives and health".

Green Transition and Green Deal

That is why the European Commission "has the Green Transition and the Green Deal programme and when one carries it out they can see that it concerns all areas of our lives, and it is not just about 'planting trees', but it is about our actions on a daily basis".

Invited to comment on the debate on the issue of waste, Theodosiou said "we are the ones producing waste. So, we have to manage it. And the European Commission is punishing us for pollutants, because it seems that at the level of countries, not only Cyprus, we are not so aware of our responsibilities."

"In other words, Cyprus should not be at the stage of such a small share of renewable energy sources in its energy potential today. We should not have had such a high percentage of pollutants in the transport sector. Brave efforts are being made now by the services but I believe that not only Cyprus but also other countries are too late,” she added.

Asked if there is hope, Theodosiou replied that "there is hope of containing the temperature, but overturning the data is very difficult. And we must understand that we cannot yield results by making some small changes and having the same lifestyle. Drastic changes need to be made to what we are used to”, she added.

To a remark that this requires proper education, Theodosiou replied in the affirmative, adding that "it always makes a tremendous impression on me every time I meet children, whether elementary, middle school, high school, private or public schools, how much they know”. She praised the work done by the environmental education centers of the Ministry of Education, because "they are doing a tremendous job" and told CNA that she intends to make proposals to the Ministry of Education in the coming days "because we know that education is the cornerstone for tomorrow's citizens”.

In her interview,  Theodosiou also referred to the issue of architecture and the materials used. "Before I was appointed Commissioner, I had already made some efforts to introduce natural building courses in technical schools. It is an area that we need to develop," she said.

Mudbrick, stone and wood

"Cyprus was born of mudbrick, stone and wood. And today the materials we use are completely different. In countries such as Switzerland or Germany where I studied, already at the time of my studies they were dealing with standards for mudbricks, that the energy to manufacture, produce and their carbon footprint is zero," she said.

She also noted that the model of climate-neutral communities, a "model with important specifications from the European Commission, is already amongst her priorities and she has contacted some communities that need to develop an action plan and practices so that their carbon footprint is carbon neutral by 2050 but to be reduced by 55% by 2035." She described the communities as "very, very receptive".

As far as municipalities are concerned, she said that although some programmes are running, they are incomplete and for this reason she needs to undertake serious campaigns and partnerships with local communities. Already she is in communication with Kato Pyrgos in the Paphos district to make Tilliria community green and climate neutral. There are also initiatives from other communities such as Larnaca and Paphos where they are preparing programmes to gradually become climate neutral, she noted.

Regarding agricultural production, she said that it should be done in a way that it is friendly to the environment without the farmers suffering damages. "We need to find the ideal recipe", Theodosiou said adding that "we need to turn more towards organic farming, water saving. Agro-livestock farming is very important for every country. This was very evident during the intense COVID-19 period but we also see it now with the conflict in Ukraine, how much dependent we are on production in other countries and we need to  become more autonomous in Cyprus,” she noted.

Nature tourism

At this point, Theodosiou said that we are focused too much on tourism, that is not sustainable in Cyprus. There are serious efforts by the Deputy Ministry of Tourism for nature tourism but we realise that the large numbers of tourists do not help much in the sector’s sustainability, she noted.

Asked if Cyprus will be able to reach the Fit for 55 targets by 2030, she replied: "I think it will be difficult to reach them. We will again need to ask for derogations. But that doesn't mean we won't try. And it's not just Cyprus at this point".

For Akamas, an area for which she was for five years Director of the Management Project for Sustainable Development of Communities, she said that "what we agreed with the communities" is that this can only bring benefit to the villages located around these areas.

There is, of course, the issue of properties. However, it is good to note the properties that have been included in the Natura 2000 network what potential they had before for development, she noted.

Because, she added, "we have to move away from the notion that 'where I have land I build' and this is an issue that I think has been consolidated through actions of the Ministry of the Interior, not only for Natura protection areas but also throughout Cyprus there has been a lot of discussion about individual housing. "

In Akamas, she said, there are more than 1 million visitors to the areas under protection from studies carried out by companies and these tourists do not visit the villages.

"What is important is to develop synergies between villages and areas under protection so that on the one hand villages have income from visitors and visitors are not only foreign tourists, they are also Cypriots, domestic tourism and on the other hand the villagers develop businesses that belong to them and are able to manage them", she added.

Theodosiou reminded that about 50% of the Akamas peninsula is an administrative area of 10 villages, it is a protected area and 75% of it is state forest land. This state forest land has been declared a national forest park, while the remaining 25% is privately owned but is still  Natura.

Asked what she can do for Akamas as the Environment Commissioner, she said that she participates in the committees of departments or with the participation of environmental organisations “and we are examining how to improve the works that have been executed and frozen regarding the roads in the Akamas National Forest Park”.

At the same time, she said, they are considering to revise the projects that were planned to continue after the first phase of the roads construction, something that she considers "very important".

She will also pursue the income that the state will have from the movement within Akamas and how these funds can be allocated to the maintenance or creation of public benefit projects in the villages.

She said that projects that have been completed are The Akamas Rural Life and Traditions – Crafts Training Centre in Droushia, which boasts thousands of visitors annually and has received two awards, the Center of Terrestrial Flora, Fauna and Fauna in Kathikas, and the Center of Geology and Paleontology in Arodes.

Theodosiou said that the gorges in Androlikou, part of which is a quarry zone, have paleontological remains of fossils. The beds of most gorges and banks are in the Natura 2000 network, she said, "but the highlands between the gorges are still threatened today by the creation of new quarry zones."

(Source: CNA)

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