The Special Permanent Committee on Environmental Protection of the Hellenic Parliament, under the chairmanship of Dr. Dionysia – Theodora Avgerinopoulou, has concluded –for the first time in the Hellenic parliamentary history- a virtual meeting with a full agenda technically supported by the European Institute of Law, Science and Technology (EILST). The Meeting has been followed by 28 out of 30 of its members concerning the relationship between COVID-19 and the environment. The MPs had the opportunity to exchange views on the interdependence of human health and the environment, the connection with atmospheric pollution as well as the proper and safe way to dispose of, manage and recycle household and most notable medical and medicine waste resulting from COVID-19 prevention and treatment measures with a view to protecting public health by limiting the spread of coronavirus disease.
The aforementioned issues were addressed and counted on the participation of government experts. Contributors to the session were Mr. Nicolaos Chiotakis and Mr. Ioannis Sideris, Chairman and CEO of the Hellenic Recycling Agency (H.R.A.) respectively, Mr. George Kremlis, Chief Advisor to the Prime Minister, in charge of energy, climate, environment and circular economy, Honorary Director of the European Commission, Prof. Polyxeni Nicolopoulou-Stamati, Professor at the Medical School of the University of Athens and Mr. Manolis Baltas, Representative of the Pharmaceutical Research and Technology Company (IFET S.A.).
The Committee’s aim was to highlight the environmental dimensions of COVID-19, which is likely to be zoonotic according to UNEP, acknowledge the links between ecosystem stability, the environment, and human health and develop policy recommendations. Environmental degradation and climate change, as has become clear throughout the Session, are conducive to the emergence and spread of viruses, such as COVID-19, and affect the vulnerability of humans to viruses, with speakers praising the importance of applying the precautionary principle in cases of scientific uncertainty. The Committee recommended that further studies should be conducted on the association between air pollution and coronavirus transmission and that in the meantime it would be advisable to those at risk to avoid highly polluted areas.
Furthermore, the Committee discussed the need for strong and global stewardship of nature and biodiversity as well as a more ambitious post-2020 biodiversity framework and proposed that all waste generated from COVID-19 should be considered and addressed as infectious waste. Among others, the MPs debated and agreed that the alternative waste management for pharmaceuticals and medicines should be completed and the establishment of hazardous waste management facilities and units should be examined, where necessary. The creation of a special stream of COVID-19 waste in pharmacies, nursing homes, municipalities and hospitals was also proposed.
On another note, the positive impact on the natural environment from the global shutdown was reported, as studies show significant reductions in nitrogen dioxide concentrations, improved air quality, noticeable reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and decrease in energy consumption from staying at home, teleworking and enforcing curfew by most countries to ensure “social distancing”.
The MPs agreed that the government’s measures were in the right direction. Internationally, however, international organizations and the EU have been unprepared to deal with a truly unprecedented health outbreak that has led to a pandemic and, in the midterm, it is necessary to explore how to better prepare and possibly activate the public health policy, as defined in Article 168 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), and create a harmonized body of legal rules for pandemics. The MPs concluded that “Healthy Planet means healthy people” and reaffirmed their pledge to achieve a resilient and sustainable future.