Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ interview with Sky News, on the sidelines of COP26

(Γ.Τ. Πρωθυπουργού/ Δημήτρης Παπαμήτσος)

Adam Boulton: Welcome

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Thank you

Adam Boulton: Τalking about the terrible things that happened in Greece this summer, but also in terms of energy and carbon emissions, you, compared to most of the rest of Europe, are actually in quite a positive position, because of all the sunshine.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Indeed, we have the capacity to produce relatively cheap electricity. But at the same time, as you said, the Mediterranean is being really tested by the consequences of climate change. We had catastrophic wildfires this summer. That’s why we actually created a Ministry of Climate Crisis and Civil Protection, because our first responsibility, of course, is to protect lives and livelihoods. But at the same time, we are pushing very hard to go above and beyond the European targets that we have set as a European Union.

Adam Boulton: And what do you think the actions that will be most impactful on preventing, or maybe not preventing but stopping it happening in future in Greece?

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Short term, what we need to do is we need to manage our fires better and we need to pool our resources when it comes to civil protection. We know what works and what doesn’t in terms of addressing wildfires. They are going to be with us for the foreseeable future, they were always a feature of the Mediterranean ecosystem but now they’re becoming much more intense.

There’s also room for much more cooperation amongst EU member States. As you know, we have a European mechanism where we can actually pool resources and it’ll be an opportunity to foster more European cooperation. So, better forest management and more resources to actually fight the fires.

Adam Boulton: The UK, of course, has left the European Union. Do you see it as an ally in this particular fight against climate change?

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: I remember when we were asking for help, Northern countries don’t have the same sort of experience. But I’m happy that the UK has set its own ambitious targets. The Prime Minister seems very committed in terms of the initiatives that the UK can take. I think every country has its own pockets of natural comparative advantages. For example, we are leaders in global shipping. So I do urge our shipowners to be at the forefront of the green transition by investing more funds into the future of sustainable shipping.

At the same time, we could cooperate with the UK when it comes to offshore wind. It’s a big issue for the UK. It’s going to be a big issue for Greece. We are going to present our framework for regulating the offshore wind industry, and there’s a lot of potential in offshore wind in Greece. So that’s another area where we could potentially cooperate with the UK.

Adam Boulton: You also talked about links to Africa because of your geographical position. How would they work on making…

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: We just signed an agreement with Egypt for an electricity interconnection. And the rationale is very simple: if North Africa can produce very cheap electricity from the sun, we need to interconnect our grids. And the quickest way to bring electricity from North Africa to Eastern Europe is through Greece. So, we plan to build a 3 GW electricity connection that will allow us to leverage the potential of North Africa in terms of electricity production.

And, of course, the next step will be hydrogen. When the hydrogen is going to be produced, and we’re talking about green hydrogen, it will need to be transported somehow to Europe. And again Greece is, by virtue of its geography, the natural entry point for electricity today, hydrogen tomorrow -also natural gas today, because we still will be needing natural gas for the foreseeable future. So I envision Greece to be an energy hub, connecting the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe.

Adam Boulton: You mentioned shipping. Greece has, I think, about a fifth of the world’s shipping fleet. I mean, they are also one of the major polluters, emitters, at the moment, the global maritime fleet. How can that be stopped?

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Well, let’s put things into perspective: 90% of global trade is moved by ships. Shipping contributes 3% to global emissions. It’s not insignificant, it’s not colossal. We need to do our part. Shipping needs to do its own part, but it’s not very clear what is going to be the technology that will solve the problem. That is why we need more R&D. We need to focus more on the solutions that are currently being developed…

Adam Boulton: Are we talking about nuclear ships, hydrogen-powered ships?

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Hydrogen is probably the most likely scenario, but of course we are the operators; we need to work with the shipyards, we need to work with the big engine manufacturers. They will be the ones driving the technological breakthroughs. We’re going to be the clients of the technology that they will produce.

At the same time we need to have a view on the future of shipping. And that is why we are setting up, also with the cooperation of the European Union, a research institute to look into the future of sustainable shipping, because frankly we don’t have the answer yet.

Adam Boulton: And what about tourism? Very important to Greece. Is it possible to have green tourism?

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Of course. And we’re actually quite thrilled about the potential to make our islands, especially our smaller Islands, fully sustainable. On Friday, I will be on a small Greek island called Chalki, which is very close to Rhodes, presenting a complete solution on how you decarbonize a relatively small island. We’ve already set up a very interesting project on another island called Astypalea, with Volkswagen, where we are essentially turning the island into a laboratory for electric mobility. The islands don’t consume too much electricity…

Adam Boulton: But the flights do, don’t they?

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: The flights do, that’s a different story. But when you talk about, for example, shipping and short-haul ferries, one could imagine short-haul ferries being electric in the future.

When we talk about the island itself, it can easily produce the electricity it needs, and store it, through renewables and then become fully carbon-neutral within the foreseeable future. So we’re very excited; especially our smaller Islands can move very quickly in that direction.

And for the bigger Islands, of course, the solution is to interconnect them. My home Island, Crete, was until very recently totally dependent on diesel generators. We have set up an interconnection with the mainland and now we can afford to both export renewable energy to the mainland, but also import energy -whenever we need it- from the mainland.

Adam Boulton: So on this we would say you are an optimist on behalf of Greece about doing it…

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: I’m always an optimist. And I think Greece, in spite of its relatively small carbon footprint, can be a leader in certain areas where we have a particular interest, where we have a comparative advantage.

Adam Boulton: Prime Minister, thank you very much.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Thank you so much.