Greece appoints former EU commissioner to lead new climate ministry after wildfires

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Greece has appointed Cyprus’ former European Union commissioner to lead a new ministry on addressing the impact of climate change.

Christos Stylianides, who formerly served as EU commissioner for humanitarian aid and crisis management, was formally appointed on Monday.

The ministry was created by Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis following devastating wildfires in August. The blazes burned more than 116,000 hectares of forest on the island of Evia and in southern Greece.

Government officials acknowledged mistakes in handling resources while battling the fire in Evia, where the most widespread damage was caused, but also blamed climate change for the steadily worsening weather conditions. The fires were fuelled by scorching temperatures, reaching into the mid-40°C.

As the new minister, Stylianides will head firefighting, disaster relief, and policies to adapt to rising temperatures resulting from climate change.

“I have accepted (the role) with the full awareness of the challenges and expectations that come with it,” Stylianides said.

“The consequences of climate change have overtaken us, and we must accelerate major change without delay,” he added. “Disaster prevention and preparedness is the most effective weapon we have.”

His appointment comes after a previous candidate — the former armed forces chief and defense minister Evangelos Apostolakis — withdrew, citing the lack of promised cross-party consensus for the new post.

A former Greek Air Force chief, Gen. Evangelos Tournas, was also named as deputy minister on Monday.

Before serving as EU Commissioner between 2014 and 2019, Stylianides was the European Union’s head coordinator for the bloc’s response to the Ebola virus epidemic in West Africa.

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Stylianides, who is a Cypriot national, will be awarded Greek citizenship before being sworn in Friday, government spokesman Yiannis Economou said.

Intense heatwaves in southern Europe in July and August — described in Greece at the worst in decades — also help the spread of deadly wildfires in Turkey, Algeria and other Mediterranean countries.

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