COVID19: Time for a Green reboot

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Coronavirus and shutting down businesses as a result of the lockdown imposed to stem the outbreak is a great opportunity for a Green reboot of Cyprus’ economy and society.

Experts and stakeholders are urging countries trying to restart their economy to consider Greener solutions that would give it a boost as there is a lot of room to advance Renewable Energy Resources technologies.

In comments, the Financial Mirror, Cyprus Green MP Charalampos Theopemptou, said the COVID-19 pandemic has presented the world and Cyprus with a golden opportunity to address environmental issues pushed aside by governments for decades.

“One of the things that has astonished scientists is how much the quality of air has improved in major cities. In Cyprus, the air quality was found to be 6 times better than before the outbreak.”

The former Environmental Commissioner noted that as in most countries, the drastic changes in the quality of the air during lockdown reveals that, not much has been done to reduce CO2 emissions in Cyprus.

He argued that air quality in Cyprus is poor, with some 600 to 800 people losing their lives prematurely due to the level of pollutants we are breathing in, according to the Europe Air Quality Report of the European Environmental Agency.

COVID-19 is a respiratory disease, and Cyprus is among Europe’s worst offenders for air quality. The air in Nicosia is worse than that of Paris, with residents estimated to be losing 1.5 years of their lives due to the air they are breathing.

“All governments in Cyprus have pushed the issue of reducing CO2 emissions for later, leading to the current government to rush to adopt last-minute policies such as subsidizing the installation of photovoltaic systems and facilitating solar energy park projects,” said Theopemptou.

Air pollution in all Cyprus towns decreased significantly in the two months of March-April, mainly due to the lockdown imposed on movement and the closure of businesses, schools, construction sites and public places.

According to data from the Department of Labour Inspection, the average hourly rate of nitrogen oxides in Nicosia in April compared to January was reduced by up to six times.

In January, the specific rate was 92.7 micrograms per cubic meter of air, in March it dropped to 33.4 and in April to 15.9.

“We need to promote walking, cycling, give priority to buses with bus lanes, ban access to private vehicles to the centre, promote electric vehicles, and generally lower car speeds.”

He noted that instead of promoting electric cars and public transport, Cyprus has been encouraging the use of conventional cars by abolishing import duties on new and luxury cars.

“Furthermore, we have a responsibility towards the EU to prepare sustainable mobility plans for our cities. In 2010 we completed the planning for Nicosia, but apart from some huge buses we have not seen anything of essence being done,” argued Theopemptou.

He added that when it comes to Limassol and Larnaca plans were completed this year, while for Paphos and free Famagusta, nothing has been put on paper.

Theopemptou claims that Cyprus has no intention other than to prepare programs on paper.

“We prefer to pay hefty fines for not reaching our targets, such as for EU 2020, which we have missed, or EU 2030, which we are probably going to miss, resulting in hefty fines,” said Theopemptou.

He argued that this is what the state has been doing for the past few years with Cyprus obliged to pay some €16 mln a year in fines to the EU for CO2 emissions from electricity production.

“Of course, on paper, we do have plans…”

Not so Green Deal

Theopemptou appeared unconvinced over whether Cyprus is capable of following the rest of the Union in The European Green Deal, the roadmap for making the EU’s economy sustainable.

“The deal currently being discussed aims to turn climate and environmental challenges into opportunities across all policy areas and making the transition just and inclusive for all.”

One of the targets set for the deal is to make the EU free from emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050 and to ensure that economic growth is decoupled from resource use.

This will be done by focusing on Renewable Energy Source projects, which by default will see a large number of professions blooming as there will be a need for a wide range of professionals, skilled and unskilled labour.

Theopemptou said that rebooting the economy is not only the right thing to do, but it is the smart thing to do.

He said that had the state complied with an obligation to refurbish 3% of public buildings every year since 2014, a large number of new jobs would also have been created.

“Unfortunately, all the state has done is to renovate 2-3 buildings a few years back. Essentially what was done, was the replacement of the air-conditioning systems and some insulation work.”

He explained that upgrading government buildings should have been a priority as the state would contribute to the country meeting its overall environmental goals, but unfortunately little has been done.

Theopemptou reminded that school students have always complained about not having cooling systems in classrooms, but the Ministry of Education said the state cannot afford the estimated €10 mln bill for air conditioning.

The Green MP said the government could have upgraded schools with insulation works and other innovative measures without needing to install air-cooling systems.

“That way the state would have met its target to upgrade 3% of its buildings every year, created more jobs and, during the pandemic, kept children cool without the use of air coolers.”

Upgrading public buildings would create a number of Green jobs while boosting traditional professions such as plumbers and electricians, he explained.

The MP said that many Cypriot companies are left to package their products with non-recyclable plastics to save money.

“The state needs to step in and make these companies turn to more environmentally friendly solutions such as biodegradable materials”.

“In some EU countries like the Netherlands, the government subsidises the salaries of companies who produce or use environmentally friendly materials.”

Germany’s example of employing jobless people to plant trees in an effort to reach carbon neutrality by 2050, which is one of the goals of the Green Deal.

The Environmental Department of the Cyprus Federation of Employers and Industrialists (OEB), is actively involved in setting up a committee of business stakeholders, academics, and activists to look into ways of promoting the implementation of the Green Deal.

“Our goal is to actively get involved in the Deal by putting forward ideas and promoting best practices that will help Cyprus reach its EU 2030 targets for RES and carbon neutrality to be set by the Green Deal,” said OEB’s Anthi Charalambous.

OEB is to present the committee’s proposals at an online conference to be held on 5 June with the Representation of the European Commission in Cyprus.