Burnt trees are seen after a massive forest fire in the Geraneia Mountains near Loutraki in the northern Peloponnese on May 21. It is imperative that the penal code for forest fires be revised, according to the authors. [EPA]
As we have all seen, climate destabilization has led to an increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather conditions around the world.
The global cost to insurance companies for damage caused by extreme weather conditions has risen from $ 10 billion in the 1950s to over $ 1,000 billion in the past decade. According to a recent report by the Bank of Greece, the cost of climate change in our country will have exceeded 700 billion euros cumulative by the end of the century. The cost of forest fires is included.
We have already entered the period when burning and activities that could lead to forest fires are prohibited in rural areas. The extreme weather conditions this year and last have resulted in the accumulation of huge amounts of cut timber, branches and trees, which are known to be ideal fuel for impending fires.
The main causes of forest fires are arson (unintentional or deliberate), lightning, and power cables, which many point to when they cannot trace the origin of the first spark. However, it is known that in residential areas the danger resulting from electric cables is dealt with by residents, who cut the branches which are in contact with the cables near their residence. Unfortunately, we do not know if the same preventive measures are taken in settlements inside forests.
What we do know is that the Mati fire in eastern Attica in 2018 and the recent fire in the Geraneia mountains started with the burning of branches and other organic waste. The first killed 102 while the second, fortunately without casualties, led to a huge environmental disaster with more than 7,000 hectares of forest burnt. Both fires started negligently, despite winds of over 6 or 7 Beaufort. The dire economic, social and environmental consequences shocked the Greek nation.
Our country, like any other country, cannot afford to lose more green ecosystems and the like. In recent decades, unfortunately, we have not only witnessed large forest fires, but also the alpine altitude of burning trees even exceeding 1 kilometer. The progression of climate change unfortunately reserves even more frequent and intense winds in eastern Greece. It also reserves more frequent extreme weather conditions and greater instability, while predicting greater fuel production during the coldest season of the year.
So where are we going? Whatever preventive measures taken, they can be overruled by any “negligent” arsonist who may or may not be punished for their negligence. Ignoring a forest fire through negligence is an asymmetric threat. A minimum of criminal activity – a spark, a burning cigarette, or burning dry herbs – can cause damage on an enormous scale that can sometimes border on a national disaster, as was the case recently in Mati, Parnitha or the United States. Geraneia Mountains.
It is true that when the burning of a forest area is deliberate (deliberately), it carries heavy penalties. On the other hand, causing a fire by negligence is punishable by a prison sentence ranging from 10 days to five years under the penal code. This is so even if the fire burns thousands of hectares, even if it kills dozens of people. In the latter case, arson is linked to manslaughter, for which the prison sentence cannot exceed five years (offense), regardless of the number of deaths caused. Thus, in this case (arson by negligence and multiple homicides), the penalty remains that of the offense and cannot exceed the maximum penalty of five years (article 94 paragraph 2 of the penal code). And when there are extenuating circumstances, the law can reduce it “to its minimum limit” or to a period of 10 days (art. 83 case D).
Such arrangements cannot properly apprehend the guilt of the person causing a dramatic environmental disaster out of indifference and inexcusable recklessness, even if he or she acted unintentionally, i.e. without admitting the criminal outcome of the fire. Anyone who puts the forest at risk should consider the possibility of it causing irreversible damage, the cost of which will be borne by future generations. Their negligence is not simple negligence, it is particularly heavy and reprehensible, and must be punished accordingly.
Our penal code recognizes gradations of negligence. For example, when determining the sentence, the judge takes into account the degree of negligence of the perpetrator (art. 79). Likewise, German law recognizes gross negligence (Leichtfertigkeit), as does the law of Anglo-Saxon countries (recklessness). Our penal code already recognizes the penalty of negligence to the degree of a felony (art. 29, 42 para. 3). Indeed, the old penal code provided that in the event of multiple homicides, a prison sentence of up to 10 years could be pronounced. Nevertheless, this provision has strangely disappeared in the new penal code, without explanation and despite the pertinent remarks of scientists.
It is therefore imperative that arson by negligence be punished to the degree of a felony when the arson has spread over a large area and the perpetrator has shown gross negligence, namely inexcusable indifference. at the end. It is also essential to restore the provision of the old penal code providing for prison terms of up to 10 years in the event of multiple homicides. For all these reasons, it is not only imperative that the penal code of forest fires be reviewed but also that the State implement the possibility of a reward so that there is a strong reason for the denunciation of any burning. illegal during firebreak season.
The signatories are sounding the alarm bells on the growing risk of forest fires, motivated by our common perception that attacks on the environment have not only national but also global consequences over a multigenerational horizon.
Christos S. Zerefos is Secretary General of the Academy of Athens and Christos Mylonopoulos is Professor of Criminal Law at the University of Athens.