Safeguarding trees are being ignored by authorities that plan new roads, hand out our building permits or undertake public works

By Efi Xanthou
One assumes that government policies are adhered to horizontally when finally adopted. So when the Republic finally came up with its strategy to combat climate change and adopted it in 2017, one would assume that all other policy areas would immediately adapt to its policies.

Unfortunately though, this did not occur, making that particular strategy just a piece of paper tucked away in a drawer somewhere. So, these strategies are usually designed as five-year plans, making this particular strategy outdated by now. There is no word about coming up with a new strategy, or even assessing what had been accomplished from the previous one and setting new timelines to achieve the goals not achieved.

Nobody in authority seems to mind that we have been living a nightmare these past three months due to the extreme temperatures we are experiencing or to realise that our lack of action directly impacts this. The fact that this strategy has called for trees to be protected and multiplied as protection from direct sunlight hitting our roads and pavements (and cars) has never been taken into account by the responsible authorities that map out new roads, hand out our building permits or undertake public works.

So, on an island that suffers extreme high temperatures, we have no strategy to protect mature trees that offer us shade, reduce ground temperatures, offer shelter and nutrition and protect our biodiversity. Building permits are handed out after the necessary scrutiny, but no-one issuing them seems to realise that it’s up to them to ensure that mature trees should be included in the design and not just chopped down for the convenience of the construction workers.

When they plan new roadworks, they should not only take into account the delineation of each private plot affected, but also the tree clusters that have survived our lack of protection and offer all the aforementioned pleasures. But, especially when local authorities or the Public Works Department decide to “fix” roads, trees on the pavements always seem to be either cut down or become collateral damage.

So why is it that our responsible authorities don’t appreciate the importance of trees and tree clusters, both in rural and urban areas? Why is it so difficult to take into account the environmental aspect of the plans produced and demand the necessary amendments that would both safeguard our environment but also make the final project more attractive and practical? Is generally making our lives much better not in their purview? Are most public servants just immune to the needs of their fellow residents?

metochiou trees 3

Local authorities abhor the idea of maintaining public parks, let alone trees on pavements

I guess the answer is that considering this aspect is not acceptable to the applicants, making it tricky for public servants to demand stricter conditions than those demanded in each legislative framework in place. Public officials press them to make decisions quickly and are not happy when developers, mayors, local bigwigs or even ministers call them up to demand a permit be issued quickly with no extra burdens demanded.

Also, I have come to find that most local authorities abhor the idea of maintaining public green spaces and parks, let alone trees and bushes on sidewalks. “It’s too much work for the scant personnel we have.” “You deal with the neighbours that complain about leaves and tree branches on their (!) sidewalks and front verandas.” “We have no way to bring water to each individual park and have to water them manually with water trucks, do you know what a fiscal burden that is?”

And thus, another painful reminder is made that most people don’t realise that the simplest way to deal with our climate crisis is being shunned by the responsible authorities for all the wrong reasons.

Climate change is not being debated any more. It has now been termed climate crisis, but our government (at all levels) refuses to do anything about it. They still believe that environmental policies are just made up to appease Brussels and pesky voters and make us look good when we are in an international environment.
No true commitment is being made. No proclamations are being followed up with essential policy making and enforcement. Everything is left to NGOs and private initiatives, with our country literally losing fertile land every minute that passes.

We need people in local and regional authorities that understand what is at stake with our country and our planet and help change this abhorrent situation. We need younger people, eager to make a difference, and not so young people who can offer their expertise. We need people that want to help their fellow citizens and not just jump-start their political career. We need to elect people who care and who want to change our country for the better.

So start thinking about how you, as a voter, can ensure that such people are voted in and we can start living in a place we can be proud of. And maybe consider being a candidate yourself. If you want a job done right…
Local elections (as well as European elections) will be held on June 9, 2024.

 

Efi Xanthou is a political scientist and the Coordinator of the Interior Committee for the Cyprus Greens-Citizens Cooperation, [email protected]