PROJECT: Climate Crisis and Elections

PROJECT: Climate Crisis and Elections

Project: Climate Crisis and Elections
  • About the project

    Human induced climate crisis is a reality. The prolonged heat waves, the devastating floods, the enormous forest fires are just the most visible signs of the changes already under way. At the same time, significant political decisions have already been made, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, there are lots to be done during the coming decade in order for Greece to respond appropriately to the magnitude of this threat, with a socially just way.

    The significance of the upcoming elections in light of such challenges should be beyond any doubt.

    Are there any significant conflicts and inconsistencies in the political discourse regarding the climate? What will the most important challenges be in the next 4 years? Which criteria should one use when assessing the potical parties’ positions? At the end of the day, what is revealed and what is left unsaid regarding the climate crisis in this pre-election period?

    We shall answer these crucial questions through a series of αrticles and commentaries by experts and relevant organisations. Additionally, we have created a digital platform that records all pre-election statements regarding the climate crisis in real time (in Greek)!

  • Identity

    The project started in May 2023

  • Whataboutheclimate
  • Contributors
climate crisis

Giorgos Velegrakis: The 2023 elections and the climate crisis issue – Small steps, big contradictions

It is obvious that the climate and environmental crisis is still ongoing. This relatively simple formulation reflects the reality we are experiencing both on a global as well as a national level. Naomi Klein refers to this reality as a “state of emergency”, Greta Thunberg painted a mental picture of our house (planet Erath) being “on fire” and Andreas Malm described it as a “fossil economy”. Whatever words we use to describe this situation, the fact remains that it is in full swing and that it raises questions regarding social and economic issues. But more than anything else, the climate crisis is an eminently political issue.

Climate change as a political stake

In this context, in Greece too, environmental and climate stakes are, in one way or another, political issues. Despite the fact that they do not occupy as much space in public discourse as they should, the upcoming parliamentary elections are an opportunity to raise them within the agenda and to demand answers to key questions from political institutions.

After all, most people in Greece believe that national governments are mainly the ones responsible for tackling climate change, while at the same time they feel that the measures taken so far are not sufficient. Moreover, despite the political and ideological differences that exist between political parties, all – or at least most of them, and definitely those that shape the public discourse – place the issue of the environment and climate change high on their agenda.

They do so for reasons of social representation (that mainly concerns the parties of the Left), for reasons related to sensing the international conjuncture and responding to the country’s international commitments (that mainly concerns the governing parties), as well as in order to respond to social pressures and/or pressures from capital stakeholders and their respective representations. Whether for promotional or substantial reasons, political parties must have – as they indeed do – the environmental issues at the core of their programmes and targets.

Ultimately, a key question emerges: If in fact the issue of climate change and the current environmental crisis is one of the main determinants of people’s choice when they go to vote, how can they decipher each party’s views on it? What are the criteria, according to which, one could place the political parties in terms of their approach towards the current climate crisis? Which sectors/issues are the most crucial ones and how to prioritise them? How is the “environmental issue” ultimately framed, not as secondary or tertiary issues within a political programme, but as a core around which social measures and specific commitments are developed?

Shaping the criteria

This paper does not attempt to answer all of the above questions. It rather attempts to suggest some criteria that might help to answer them. Moreover, it aims to highlight the urgency of the matter as a political problem, to describe its specific characteristic within the Greek reality and to draw attention to any contradictions in the dominant environmental policies.

First of all, we must take a look at what the data from scientific, political and even social life indicate. For example, scientific data reveal that Europe experienced the warmest January on record, while North America and Africa experienced a January that was among the 10 warmest ever recorded. On the political front, despite the strong commitments officially made at the last IPCC climate change conference that took place in November 2022 in Egypt, greenhouse gas emissions are increasing instead of dropping and Europe – that traditionally has the most pro-environmental stance at such summits- now considers natural gas and nuclear power as green or sustainable technologies. It is telling that while the decision text of the Egypt summit recognises that limiting global warming to 1.5°C requires a 43% reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 compared to 2019, in 2022 alone the requirements and corresponding hydrocarbon extraction – largely responsible for emissions – continued to increase dramatically. And this is clearly a political problem.

On a social level, on a day-to-day level, the facts are just as harsh. For example, recently in Greece we have seen the re-emergence of energy poverty with households unable to heat their homes sufficiently, taking us back maybe to 2013-2014, a time of deep economic crisis and high fuel prices. On a global level, in 2022 the number of refugees and displaced persons exceeded 100 million for the first time. 70% of them came from the countries that are most vulnerable to climate change.

So why do we mention those things? How do they help us shape our criteria and ultimately engage in “political action”? 1

First of all, climate change is not a natural disaster, an Armageddon that we are all expecting helplessly to occur in the near or distant future. The climate crisis is here, it is happening as we speak, and it is already resulting in losses in terms of human lives, everyday existence, infrastructure, production processes and socio-ecological links. After all, there is no natural disaster in the sense of a phenomenon that is beyond our control and to which we must adapt, but rather a specific socio-ecological condition that we as a society have shaped in conjunction with the natural environment.

Climate change is here and it’s the result of human activity. But not as a result of interventions of “all humans throughout history”. Climate crisis is caused by the production forces in this specific phase of human historical development – a phase called industrial capitalism. The dehistoricisation, universalisation, perpetualisation and naturalisation of a particular production mode, specific to a given time and place, are classic strategies of ideological legitimisation. They block any prospect of change. If “business as usual” is the result of human nature, as often promoted by the dominant policies, how can we even imagine anything else? 2

Secondly, any environmental policies cannot be perceived as the implementation of simple techniques, measures and indicators or technological solutions – or sometimes even fantasies. The environment is not outside of society, an externality to which we all have unmediated access and, ultimately, “benefit” and are “threatened” by it in equal measure. No humanity is experiencing the consequences of climate change.

The climate crisis is experienced by people and they are defined and exist through their class, social, gender, racial, national and cultural differentiations, inequalities, claims and conflicts.

In many cases – for instance in South-East Asia or sub-Saharan Africa – the consequences of climate change are added to existing inequalities and conflicts that are the result of the unequal distribution of power between the global North and the global South. Believing that the effects of the crisis can be mitigated by technical measures and “innovative” technologies without substantial economic and social changes in favour of the world’s poorest, is like believing that a stroke can be treated with a painkiller.

Thirdly, the environment is not just a natural space, such as the forest outside our city limits or the sea where we go during the summer. Public spaces, public infrastructure, transportation, our means of getting around, water, energy, waste and so many other aspects of our daily lives are also included in that same term. Therefore, environmental policies, being social policies, reproduce, reinforce or weaken specific power dynamics. Privatising an essential social infrastructure means privatising the environment. Conversely, the development of a strong public transport network translates into a real contribution to protecting the environment and reducing emissions.

Greece and climate change: Localisation exercises

Although it took Greece longer to do so, specialised studies on climate change impacts on the natural and anthropogenic environment have now been developed in the country. In the vast majority of the climate variables and geographical areas examined, the impacts of climate change in Greece are negative -although not always to the same extent and they are not equally evident in all the variables or in all parts of the country. However, the horizontal axis that runs through all the assessments is alarming: Greece’s climate is gradually becoming warmer and drier, and the country will be hit by extreme weather events that will be more intense, more frequent and of longer duration.

At the same time, the prevailing development policy seems to be the touristifisation of both the Greek countryside and urban areas, a practice that leads to the destruction of rural areas, coastal zones and urban neighbourhoods. The Greek mountains also have new permanent residents, the wind turbines, which are often installed at great heights and large areas, with devastating consequences for the landscape, local water resources and biodiversity. Moreover, there has been renewed interest in the extraction of hydrocarbons in the Greek seas. Even if such ambitious plans do not materialise in the immediate future, Greece has joined the ranks of potential extractive countries. Huge stretches of land and sea are being appropriated and will constitute the new fertile ground for capital reproduction.

At the same time – ironically – many new investments are presented as environmentally friendly and/or “anti-climate change”. Big businesses also seem to need a “green certificate” to legitimise a number of projects that have no local, social or environmental benefit. For example, Eldorado Gold, the gold mining company currently operating in Halkidiki, calls its new investment plan “Putting the Environment First”, while at the same time appropriating the entire Skouries forest for its operations. 3

In the energy sector, the implementation of projects across the entire range of energy activities is inversely proportional to the reduced demand for energy, as a result of the multiple crises, the austerity policy and the poverty it has caused. On the issue of climate change, in May 2022 Greece passed its own climate law, a necessary tool that determines the path towards climate neutrality. But as almost all the country’s environmental organisations have pointed out, this is only a half-hearted and insufficient step. According to them, “We need to make radical changes in order to rapidly wean ourselves off fossil fuels and protect nature in no uncertain terms of social justice if we are to stand a chance of preventing an uncontrolled climate collapse”.

Meanwhile, the Greek Prime Minister in November 2022 spoke at COP26 and presented a framework of measures for Greece aiming to tackle climate change, whereas in December 2022, at the 9th Summit of the Southern countries of the EU (MED-9), he set hydrocarbon extraction in Greece as a top priority.

Putting aside any communication tricks or balancing efforts, the Greek government, just like so many others around the world, confirms what recent history and scientific data have shown and also what the majority of the people are feeling, namely that the measures and policies scheduled are both insufficient and inconsistent.

Spatial, social and environmental justice in the forefront

Though confronted with all of the above, citizens are often only partially informed and have no means of participating in decision-making. This is because environmental and development policies today are more technocratic and less inclusive.

Existing agendas and discussions, largely focused on devising indicators or management and monitoring technologies to meet vague “sustainability” targets, deliberately overlook the most important factor, the social movement. Not only are the knowledge and methods developed by socio-ecological movements, for example, not included in the relevant national environmental policies, but instead they are perceived as “threatening” to sustainability goals. As a result, instead of being mitigated, spatial and social inequalities are exacerbated as major social groups and their demands are constantly considered “out of context”.

But any notion of justice – which in this case is spatial and environmental – is nothing more than this: The possibility of coexistence of different sides, alterities and strivings. Or as Doreen Massey puts it, “conflicting spaces of democracy’”, that is, spaces open to heterogeneity, diversity and radical assertions. Seen in this perspective, if we are looking for genuinely smart solutions and real social innovation, this is where we’ll find them: in the methods, practices and narratives emerging from social movements and social struggles, and in the alternative forms they establish for managing common issues.

Now is a timely and appropriate moment to focus our attention on socio-environmental innovations and methods that do not emerge from social consensus but from contestation and dissagreements. From the conflictual negotiation practices concerning the nature, from the conflicting sides created by such practices. This is a clearly political matter and as such it should be addressed -among others- by the political parties.

To address the issue of climate change, one also needs to address matters of participation and democracy.



  1. For the concept of “political action” in the environmental field, also see “Gramsci, the Philosophy of Action and Political Ecology”, in Velegrakis, G., Konstantatos, H., & Chatzimichalis, K. (eds.) Political Ecology: Eight contributions to the Greek debate, pp. 17 – 31. Nisos. ISBN: 978-960-589-054-4.[]
  2. See the earlier but always topical article by Andreas Malm[]
  3. The complete Environmental Impact Assessment can be found here (in Greek) []
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