Greece’s other deficit
For the past decade, much attention has been paid to Greece’s public finances. And when, in November, the country faced the first review of its reform progress under its latest agreement with its creditors – an exercise required to obtain a new infusion of bailout funds – its budget deficit was put under the microscope once again.
But Greeks would do well to consider another type of deficit – one that has received far less public scrutiny, but could have economic consequences that are just as serious. Like the rest of the Mediterranean region (and indeed the entire world), Greece is not just running a fiscal deficit; it is also running an ecological one.
According to our analysis, Mediterranean countries currently use 2.5 times more ecological resources and services than their ecosystems can renew. Greece, for example, would need the total ecological resources and services of three Greeces in order to meet its citizens’ demand on nature for food, fiber, timber, housing, urban infrastructure, and carbon sequestration. Athens alone demands 22% more from nature than the entire country’s ecosystems can provide. And, after years of recession during which pressure on Greece’s natural resources declined, demand has begun to rise again, as GDP growth has shown some improvement.
To enable lasting economic progress, we need to break this link between GDP growth and overuse of the environment. Ecological deficits can jeopardise energy sources and threaten food security, with direct social and economic consequences. If Greece and other countries are to ensure the health and prosperity of their citizens in the decades to come, they will have to find a way to prevent current economic activity from increasing an already unsustainable burden of environmental debt.
For that to happen, ecological resources must come to be viewed as valuable endowments to be managed wisely. The Mediterranean region’s unique, breathtaking natural capital is one of its greatest assets – the reason why more than 200 million tourists flock to the region each year, feeding the region’s economy. Overusing resources, or even failing to