Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Coastal crisis looming

Latest estimates warn that many coastal cities, towns, villages and resorts in mainland Portugal are likely to become increasingly vulnerable to flooding or total destruction by sea levels that are rising far faster than expected.

The latest evaluation of data on rising sea levels has tripled previous estimates of vulnerability in coastal areas around the world.

An analysis published by the international scientific journal Nature Communications predicts that the lives of hundreds of millions of people in low-lying coastal areas could be drastically affected if greenhouse gas emissions are not radically curtailed to prevent global warming increasing to an unmanageable height by 2050.

Even though scientific information is not always correct and remains open to review based on new hard evidence, the latest sea-level predictions are alarming.

They indicate that up to 340million people are currently living on land below projected flood levels for 2050, and that by the end of the century the number will  have reached 630 million.

It’s being emphasised that translating sea-level projections into potential exposure of populations is critical for coastal planning and for assessing the costs of failure to act.

Scientists say that the rate of sea-level rise has accelerated year after year since the mid-1960s when parts of the world’s oceans began to expand, particularly in the Southern Hemisphere, because of saltwater absorbing more heat.

The average sea-level rise has quickened since the mid-1990s, particularly in the last two decades, probably due to ever-faster ice loss in Greenland and Antarctica.

Another  study, conducted by University of Lisbon researchers, has noted that  hundreds of thousands of people living in coastal areas in mainland Portugal are involved in all sorts of high economic  activities, and that a great many  infrastructures will have to be adapted and protected from extreme storms as well as natural  sea level rise.

To develop climate change adaptation strategies, say the authors of the study, a reliable and accurate assessment of the physical vulnerability to rising sea levels is crucial.

In line with a European Union directive, potential hazards along the coast of mainland Portugal have been evaluated for the years 2025, 2050, and 2100, taking into consideration different sea level scenarios.

The overwhelming scientific evidence seems clear: humanity and many other forms of life on our planet are facing devastation, if not eventual extinction, unless greenhouse gas emissions are severely limited – and soon.

The climate of the world has been changing since the beginning of time, but the global warming that has been intensifying in recent decades is believed to be unprecedented and the cause not only of rising sea levels and flooding, but of extreme  conditions such as ruinous wildfires, storms, heatwaves  and droughts.

Overall, the situation is becoming increasingly complex involving a range of difficult issues for individual countries, including endangered island nations.

Apart from enlightening research work, remarkably little has been achieved since the historic Paris Agreement signed in 2016 to prevent the looming crisis.

The lengthy COP 25 event in Madrid that concluded at the end of last week having achieved little, was the 25th annual climate change conference organised by the United Nations. Substantial disagreements on curbing greenhouse gases remain and it was left to an outspoken sixteen-year-old to denounce pledges by leading political and business leaders as hollow, deceptive and based on “clever accounting and creative PR”.

 At least UN Secretary-General and former Portuguese Prime Minister António Guterres seemed to be in harmony with Greta Thunberg and millions of protesting schoolchildren around the world when he told the Madrid conference that the planet is close to “the point of no return”.

Agreement on fully cooperative action, especially among the wealthiest and biggest polluting nations, is expected to be crucial at COP 26, which will be held in November 2020 in Glasgow.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Press reviews so far this year

 The eyes of the world on Portugal

Portugal has been much in the international news this year and most of the reports in the major papers have been positive.

When Portugal was rated number three in this year’s Global Peace Index, published annually by the Australia-based Institute for Economics and Peace, the Sydney Morning Herald was naturally among those quick off the mark to list the results. 

While noting that Portugal was up one place from last year and now third behind Iceland and New Zealand, the newspaper quoted the institute’s founder as saying that of the 163 countries monitored over the past decade, 80 had become more peaceful while 83 had become less so.

The Washington Times had to admit that the United States had dropped four places since last year and was now rated 128th in the global index.

October’s general election in Portugal was extensively covered and, even though Prime Minister António Costa’s party failed to win an outright majority, the Guardian pointed out that the Socialists’ victory cemented modest gains across the European Union for the centre-left, which has suffered a disastrous few years of fallout since the 2008 financial crisis.

The Financial Times emphasised that the re-election of Prime Minister Costa was  the latest sign of a resurgence among Europe’s traditional social democratic parties following worries for the centre-left in Denmark, Spain, Finland and Sweden.

“In Portugal it’s heaven. The rest of Europe has gone crazy” made a catchy headline in the Sunday Times. It was referring partly to the fact that the global financial crisis had brought Portugal to its knees, yet a decade later the country was booming thanks to a left-wing government.

The paper went on to quote Portugal’s Finance Minister Mário Centeno as claiming: “We’re growing faster than all average-sized countries in Europe”.

Various editions of Forbes Magazine have been raving about the Algarve as one of the best places in the world to retire to and Lisbon as one of the best places to invest in property.

An Irish Independent journalist commented that 50 km west of Faro, “popular resorts give way to crumbling, iron-stained cliffs and expensive villas constructed on land now protected  from further development by strict planning regulations”.

Bloomberg had plenty to say about property and declared that Portugal was Europe’s hottest property market but that it was getting too hot for some buyers. It attributed this to Portugal sticking to its golden visa programme even though locals are being squeezed.

An article in the New York Times focused on the Alentejo region and in particular the village of Melides, which is being transformed “as a wave of super affluent Europeans — artists, bankers, actors and sports stars — have discovered this extraordinarily beautiful spot”.

The paper went on to tell its readers that Melides: “happens to sit in the middle of a 40-mile stretch of nearly untouched Atlantic Ocean beaches, and at the edge of hundreds of square miles of cork oak fields, vineyards and rice fields”. Melides and the rest of the Alentejo coast, it said, is what St. Tropez used to be in the 1950s, “before Brigitte Bardot, or Ibiza  –  before the first wave of summer partyers ever heard of the Mediterranean hot spot”.

The Wall Street Journal came up with another secret hideaway for the elite: Comporta in the municipality of Alcácer in the district of Setúbal. Apparently it has been attracting vacationing royalty, politicians and celebrities, but for decades this 18-mile stretch of coastline has remained largely undeveloped. The paper reckons that international developers are aiming to capitalise on the area’s growing popularity by launching new resort and residential projects.

Tourism for ordinary folk with tighter budgets has also taken up a lot of newspaper space this year.  All-inclusive holidays have become increasingly popular, especially in the Algarve.

“All-in on the Algarve proves to be easy-going family fun”, according to the travel section in the Times. It gushed aboutsunshine, entertainment on tap and no money headaches” on an all-inclusive visits. 

A couple of years ago the Boston Globe ran a story explaining why Portugal was such a hot holiday destination: “Relatively affordable with fascinating history and even a little Harry Potter must-visit mystique, is why this tiny country is suddenly on everyone’s lips”.

Holiday recommendations have been just as enthusiastic this year in other papers. For example,  “Golden beaches, low prices. Portugal's mostr beautiful seaside destinations for a final of summer, made a helpful headline in the  Daily Telegraph.

A seven night, half-board B&B offer at £416 per person was on offer in the Belfast Telegraph, which waxed lyrical about the Algarve’s coast and country, described the region as one of the most popular holiday destinations in Europe, with modern resorts offering every amenity a holidaymaker could wish for, as well as historic washed towns and fishing ports, full of tradition and atmosphere.

If they didn’t already know it, Belfast readers learned that resorts here offer “an abundance of great bars, shops, cafés and restaurants, while trips to colourful local markets provide an entertaining and rewarding pastime. With warm sunshine”.

Summer is the ideal time for most holidaymakers to enjoy this most appealing and lively destination, but the Irish Independent had some other timely advice: it’s good to visit the Algarve out of season for those who seek tranquillity. For one thing, it’s easy to hire a car “unhindered by August’s intense heat and traffic gridlock”.

The Mail Online travel section suggested that holidaymakers “savour the Algarve at its authentic best, from sensational seafood to some of Europe's best coastal walks”.

A guide in the Toronto Globe and Mail rated all parts of Portugal north to south as “a foodie’s paradise” and went into detail why.

Occasionally, foreign newspapers quite correctly come up with stories involving serious misadventure or crime in this country, but the Scotsman ran a remarkably positive article on drug addiction, entitled “Why Scotland can ill afford to ignore Portugal’s ground-breaking war on drugs”. The award-winning columnist wrote that it was the lack of moral judgment, even more than the headline-grabbing decriminalisation, that defined Portugal’s much-lauded drugs policy.

The gist of her article was that, as the country with the highest number of drugs deaths in the EU, Scotland is desperate for answers  –  and perhaps Portugal can provide some of them. 

Oh, and by the way, the Straits Times in faraway Singapore was one of the highly reputable newspapers to remind readers in October that 34-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo had just scored his 700th goal in a dazzling career. Never mind that Portugal lost the game 2-1.