Saturday, April 24, 2021

The generational climate fight


Greta Thunberg       Joe Biden

Elderly statesmen got together at a virtual summit on climate change last Thursday, April 22, Earth Day. At the same time, middle-aged politicians under the auspices of Portugal’s current presidency of the Council of the European Union were having discussions about a provisional EU climate law on a 2030 emissions target. Young activists are not impressed; there’s still far too much talk and far too little action, they say.

US President Joe Biden has proposed pouring trillions of dollars into clean-energy technology, research and infrastructure. He faces fierce opposition in doing so from Republicans who are sticking with Donald Trump’s extraordinary decision to pull out of the 2015 Paris climate accord. They insist that any transition to clean energy would put the jobs of American oil, gas and coal workers “into the shredder”. Republicans have also been castigating China as the world’s No. 1 greenhouse gas polluter. (America is the No.2).

As well intentioned as 78-year-old Joe Biden may be  to place the US among the most ambitious nations in curbing climate change by pledging to cut fossil fuel emissions by 52% by 2030, he may not be around to see that through, certainly not as president.

Addressing an online meeting of a US House of Representatives committee on fossil fuel subsidies that coincided with the virtual summit, 18-year-old Greta Thunberg as usual did not mince her words. “It is the year 2021. The fact that we are still having this discussion and even more that we are still subsidising fossil fuels directly or indirectly using taxpayers’ money, is a disgrace. It’s proof we have not understood the climate emergency at all,” she said.

The two-day summit briefly made the main headlines, which remain preoccupied with the COVID-19 pandemic and other current matters. To the mainstream media as well as politicians, the distant future is not as compelling as the here and now. 

Among those keeping an eye on the EU’s intentions on combating the existential threat to humanity are the four Portuguese children and two young adults who have filed a climate change lawsuit with the European Court of Human Rights against all 27 EU member states, plus Russia, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Norway, the Ukraine and Turkey. Aged between eight and 21, they claim that all 33 countries are breaching their human rights by failing to make deep and urgent emission cuts, and not adequately addressing contributions to emissions released beyond borders.

The plaintiffs have personally experienced the ravages of heat waves and wildfires caused by climate change in their homeland. While supposedly protected by the European Convention on Human Rights, they say they fear for their future lives and livelihoods because of worsening climate change. The case they filed in September last year probably has a long way to go, but it has been granted priority and fast-tracked by the court in Strasbourg because of “the importance and urgency of the issues raised”.

This highly unusual court assurance has been greatly welcomed by the plaintiffs and the London-based barrister and international NGOs who are backing them. Their efforts are in harmony with many other court cases and public protests arranged by young climate activists around the world.

This is how Sweden’s Greta Thunberg put it to lawmakers in the US House of Representatives: “What I’m here to say is that unlike you my generation will not give up without a fight. And to be honest, I do not believe for a second that you will actually do this. The climate crisis doesn’t exist in the public debate today and since it doesn’t really exist and the general level of awareness is so absurdly low, you will still get away with continuing to contribute to the destruction of present and future living conditions. And I know I’m not the one who is supposed to ask questions here, but there is something I really do wonder. How long do you honestly believe that people in power like you will get away with it? How long do you think you can continue to ignore the climate crisis, the global aspect of equity and the historic emissions without being held accountable?

“You get away with it now, but sooner or later people are going to realise what you have been doing all this time. That’s inevitable. You still have time to do the right thing and save your legacy, but we know that time is not going to last for long. What happens then? We the young people are the ones who are going to write about you in history books. We are the ones who get to decide how you are remembered. So my advice for you is to choose wisely....

Thank you.”    


The Portuguese plaintiffs, from left to right and top to bottom: André Oliveira, Catarina Mota, Cláudia Agostinho, Mariana Agostinho, Martim Agostinho and Sofia Oliveira (Photos: Global Legal Action Network)

Thursday, April 15, 2021

International travel still troubled

It was hoped there would be clarity by now on the reopening of leisure travel from the UK, but international airlines, British holidaymakers desperate to get away and the tourist industry in Portugal are all greatly frustrated by the continuing uncertainty.

The recent taskforce framework report did not reveal any clues and the British Government has not announced anything precise about when, to what destinations and under what conditions its current international leisure travel ban will be lifted after May 17.    

“Rather than answering questions, the framework leaves everyone asking more,” said Steve Heapy, the chief executive of Jet2, which normally flies holidaymakers from the UK to Lisbon, the Algarve and Madeira among other places. Jet2 has now suspended all its flights until the third week in June.

The Reuters agency reports that the bosses of all British airlines have “joined forces to urge the British government to ensure that all popular European destinations face the least onerous travel restrictions when holidays are permitted again”.

“The aviation industry is on its knees,” said the boss of Jet2, adding that under the present circumstances it was impossible for travel businesses to make proper plans.

The chief executive of easyJet, Johan Lundgren, said he could not see any problem with opening up on May 17, but the airline does not expect passenger numbers to really pick up until late May.

The best the UK transport secretary Grant Shapps has been able to divulge is that people could now “start to think” about booking summer holidays.

 The UK Government has proposed a traffic light system that will list destination countries as red, amber or green depending on COVID risk factors. The government is especially concerned about travellers returning to the UK with Covid infections, especially any new variants of the virus.

While Britain’s aviation minister says it’s too early to predict, Portugal is expected to be one of the few countries to be in the ‘green’ category, probably along with Malta, Israel and the United States. Green list passengers will probably not have to quarantine upon returning home, but they may have to show a negative Covid test result shortly before boarding flights to and from overseas destinations.

The cost of tests is causing concern as it may exceed the cost of some international flights. A pre-departure PCR test in the UK currently costs about £128.

Portugal has lifted its overseas flight ban, but special checks will be kept in place on the border with Spain at least until early May. Meanwhile, Portugal has joined several other European Union countries in moving towards a COVID-19 passport scheme and   Portugal’s secretary of state for tourism, Rita Marques, told an online conference that this country will try to avoid “at all costs” passengers having to quarantine or take more tests this summer.

While the UK is Portugal’s number one source of visitors from abroad there are frustrating doubts too about major sources within the EU, such as France and Germany where COVID infection rates have been surging recently. Each EU country has its own non-essential travel deadlines and rules.

Portugal now has among the lowest COVID rates in Europe. With the easing of lockdown restrictions here this month and next, local tourist services may have to rely for the time being on domestic visitors until international leisure travellers are allowed in, hopefully as early as possible, before spring has completely finished and before the start of a very busy summer.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Portugal tourism -what’s what?


There are still many complications, much confusion and lots of uncertainty, but here’s the nitty-gritty of what’s known about the prospects for tourism from abroad.

Foreign holidaymakers are expected to start arriving in Portugal in significant numbers in May and June.

The UK has long been Portugal’s biggest source of foreign visitors, but the British Government has made it clear that no holidaymakers from England will be allowed to go anywhere abroad before May 17.

Top easyJet, Ryanair and other airline officials have strongly urged the British Government to include Portugal on a proposed “Green List” of countries and allow flights  to resume on May 17. They have asked that they be informed well ahead of this date so they can properly prepare their aircraft and staff for takeoff.

EasyJet has already announced that in addition to its normal airport terminals in the UK it will open new routes to holiday hotspots from Birmingham.

The government authorities in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have yet to announce the lifting of the May 17 travel ban.

Advice on the start of international travel is expected to be contained in a report commissioned by the UK Government and due to be delivered next Monday, April 12.  

The “Green Light” category of travellers will probably only need to be able to show that they have tested negative shortly before and after international travel. They will not be required to quarantine on arrival or returning.

For visitors from Ireland, the Portuguese Government requires the following measures effective until midnight April 15:

• Have a negative / ‘not detected’ result from a pre-departure COVID-19 RT-PCR test taken within 72 hours prior to arrival in Portugal.

• Present evidence of their negative/‘not detected’ result before boarding their flight, and to Portuguese immigration officers on arrival at points of entry.

Such a scenario is less certain regarding Portugal’s other major sources of holiday visitors, particularly Germany, France and the Netherlands, which have all been described as “high risk” areas because of recent surges in Covid infections amid the European Union’s slow rollout of vaccines. 

The agreement between Portugal and Spain on the closure of their land and river borders will run at least until April 15 by which time it will be reviewed. The transportation of essential goods is among the exemptions currently in place, but cross-border leisure travel is forbidden.

Holiday travel to Portugal from the United States and Canada has yet to be given the official go-ahead. 

 All passengers travelling to the Archipelago of the Azores must fill out a questionnaire of the Regional Health Authority within 72 hours before their departure. After completing the questionnaire, they will receive a code that they must use to identify themselves upon landing.

All passengers travelling to Madeira by air must complete the "Madeira Safe to Discover" web app registration at in the 12 to 48 hours before departure. If they do not complete it before the flight, they will have to do so on their mobile device after landing by using the QR codes posted at the airport or by providing their data to the staff available for that purpose.

The Portuguese Government in the weeks ahead will be systematically reviewing all its current restrictions on holiday travel. Meanwhile, throughout mainland Portugal small groups may be served on outside tables in cafes and restaurants and museums have been among the facilities recently opened after two months of lockdown. The plan is to allow the reopening of restaurants indoors as well as outdoors on May 19. All stores and shopping centres as well as auditoriums and theatres will be back in business on April 19.

All sports, gyms, indoor and outdoor physical activities and other events will be permitted with reduced capacity from May 3.  

The coronavirus is not going away anytime soon and so basic rules such as the wearing of facemasks and appropriate social distancing will remain mandatory in public places throughout Portugal at least until June 13

While many Covid uncertainties remain, one thing beyond any doubt is that all sections of the Portuguese tourist industry that is so vital for this country’s economy, want to welcome with open arms any holidaymakers frustrated by lockdowns in each of their home countries.