Internationally, sustainability has long been an integral part of investments and economic development in general. When the crisis hit hard the Greek economy, sustainability was put at the backseat in investments in Greece. Now that the economy is improving, sustainability has regained its significance and became the predominant issue in public debates and policies as well as legal cases.
Hospitality investments in Greece never ceased, even during the crisis times, and every year a new investment record is set. Considering the small size of most areas available for development in Greece, their limited resources and unique but fragile ecosystems, investments have started raising sustainability concerns: Is the carrying capacity of the region concerned unlimited? And if not, what should the limit be?
From a legal and public policy perspective, carrying capacity is a constituent element of the principle of sustainable development, a general principle of international environmental law specifically established in our Constitution under Article 24.
Sustainability has regained its significance
The concept of carrying capacity, as formed by several decisions of the Greek Council of State (CoS), is defined as the limit beyond which the impacts on the natural, economic and social environment are irreversible—the maximum human intervention that an area can sustain without deterioration or irreversible damage to its natural resources and characteristics.
A primary field in which the CoS has developed the concept of carrying capacity is residential, tourism and energy development on small islands (mainly in the Cyclades) that enjoy special protection, as traditional settlements. Thus, the CoS treats small islands as vulnerable and sensitive ecosystems, defined by the unity and simple symmetry of their landscape and the close interdependence of human-made systems and the natural environment.1
Based on the established CoS case law, compliance with the principle of carrying capacity is imperative in ecosystems which present an inherently finite capacity and sensitivity, and any form of development in such ecosystems must take account of and be linked to the protection of their character. In this context, the carrying capacity principle has been employed by the Council of State as a counterweight to residential (Andros, Syros, Mykonos, Serifos, and recently Paros), tourism (Ios) and energy (Andros, Naxos, Paros, and Tinos) development.2
Moreover, in a recent decision, the CoS acknowledged that special spatial plans are the product of sufficient scientific analysis which ensures the non-deterioration of living standards as well as respect for the carrying capacity of the region where a strategic investment shall take place.3 Notably, the concept of carrying capacity was first introduced and defined in Greek legislation, in line with the case law of the CoS.4
The question of where the limits of sustainable development are drawn remains unclear, but it is imperative that the Greek legislature and the Council of State continue developing the concept, seeking the right balance between growth and environmental protection.
- CoS decisions 164/2022, 1304/2018, 1421/2013, 5418/2012, 878/2012
- CoS decisions 3500/2009, 123/2007, 387/2014 5418/2012
- CoS decision 564/2022
- Article 64 of Law 4964/2022