By Marnie McGregor
On August 25, 2019, Kostas Bakoyannis was sworn in as Mayor of Athens, Greece. Νaturally, as the leader of Greece’s largest city, that invariably means he will be working closely with his uncle — new Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
As both are affiliated with the centre-right New Democracy party, rarely has there been a stronger synergy between local and νational governments with the potential for strategic partnership in many areas.
Though there is no shortage of immediate issues Athens and Greece face, there is an unprecedented opportunity for both to lead in a critical international policy area: global warming.
With the burning Amazon rain forest, climate emergencies being declared in cities and parliaments worldwide, the United Nations (UN) and other experts continually sounding the alarm, and citizens increasingly demanding climate action, now is the time to act. Greece may be a tiny country, but it can be mighty on the world stage regarding climate change.
For the last nine years under the leadership of Mayor Georgios Kaminis, the City of Athens has taken tremendous steps locally and globally to prepare for, adapt and mitigate climate change. In 2017, the Deputy Mayor responsible for climate change Eleni (Lenio) Myrivili, working in conjunction with staff from the 100 Resilient Cities organization, developed Redefining the City: Athens Resilience Strategy for 2030, a ready-made blueprint placing Athens as a climate policy leader.
The city has benefited from being part of global peer networks focused on climate action and resilience, such as the C40 Cities Climate Leaderships Group. There is also an existing pool of talent here, both within and beyond City Hall. That extends to well connected universities and non-profit partners in the Athens region working on innovative climate research, outreach and international sustainability conferences — such as the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network Greece and EU Climate-KIC Greece, both led by professors Andreas Papandreou and Phoebe Koundouri.
For Athens and Greece, there are two prime opportunities on the immediate horizon to showcase this local expertise and play a leading role.
The first is the upcoming UN Climate Action Summit in New York in September. The second is the Conference of Parties (COP) 25 climate conference taking place in Santiago, Chile in December 2019. In the words of 16-year old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, these two conferences are “pretty much where our future will be decided.”
Athens should also apply to be Europe’s Green Capital in 2022, and Greece could consider bidding to host a future COP Climate Conference. If the UK can submit a joint bid with Italy for COP 26 in 2020 amidst Brexit turmoil, Greece can certainly mobilize. This would send a strong signal to the world that Greece is more than ready and able to ‘punch above its weight’ as a global player and trusted NATO/Western European ally — as Prime Minister Mitsotakis has quickly shown with the bold and decisive steps his government has taken on domestic and foreign matters.
Given Greece’s prominent geopolitical role in the region and recent experience on the front lines of the economic and migrant crisis, who better to speak to the growing link between migration and climate change.
Finally, by focusing on climate mitigation and adaptation, Athens can also contribute to local and national economic recovery — fostering innovation, green jobs, tourism and investment. Vancouver, for example, has had a targeted green economic strategy for the last decade. It helped create the fastest-growing economy of any Canadian city while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and attracting visitors from other parts of Canada and abroad.
For both capital city and country, leading on climate change can represent the same unifying opportunity and world stage for Greece as hosting the Athens 2004 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
As the birthplace of democracy and one of the most resilient countries and cities in world history, in the post-crisis era Greece not only has the goodwill of the world on its side but, more importantly, all the pieces to boldly take the global climate leadership mantle and turn Athens into a true green global capital.
Marnie McGregor has more than two decades of global experience in municipal government working on sustainability issues. She is part of the inaugural Climate-KIC Greece Pioneers into Practice Programme and divides her time between Vancouver and Athens.