Sunday, October 31, 2021

How Portugal is taking action to help avert a climate catastrophe


The success or failure of the COP26 climate summit may depend largely on reaching agreement on the transition from fossil fuels to renewables, a process Portugal is making considerable progress on while major polluting countries are lagging far behind.


The broadcaster France 24 has produced a series of special reports to coincide with the U.N. conference in Glasgow, including one depicting Portugal as “a country on the cutting edge of renewable energy technologies.” 


France 24 explains why Portugal is the EU country that has been most successful at cutting greenhouse gas emissions since 2005, partly through the use of floating wind turbines and solar platforms anchored by chains to the seabed off its west coast.


Three of the filmed wind generators are located 20 kilometres out to sea and one of them is 190 metres tall, the tallest wind turbine in the world. Today, 65% of all the electricity consumed in Portugal comes from renewable sources.





An analysis by the International Energy Agency (IEA), indicates that Portugal was among the first countries in the world to set 2050 carbon neutrality goals. Portugal’s energy and climate policies push for carbon neutrality primarily through broad electrification of energy demand and a rapid expansion of renewable electricity generation, along with increased energy efficiency.


“There is a strong focus on reducing energy import dependency and maintaining affordable access to energy. These policy goals are supported through clear targets, detailed national strategies and a wide range of regulations, economy-wide programmes and sector-specific measures,” says the latest IEA study.

IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol notes that "Portugal has found a good balance of ambitious targets and competitive support measures needed to drive a cost-effective energy transition."


Portugal still remains reliant on imported fossil fuels, 43% of which in 2019 was oil, 24% natural gas and 6% coal.


As a result of increased economic activity and the high share of fossil fuels in its energy supply, Portugal’s greenhouse gas emissions increased by 13% from 2014 to 2018. There have been notable annual variations driven by the seasonal availability of generation from Portugal’s large fleet of hydropower dams.


Since 2005, land use change and forestry has, on average, reduced Portugal’s annual greenhouse gas emissions. However, in 2017, extreme wildfires caused notable emissions, and Portugal is facing an increasing risk of wildfires, says the IEA.


A report by the International Trade Administration of the US Department of Commerce shows that Portugal has focused heavily on developing renewable energy over the last two decades and that it continues to be a global leader in renewable energy production. 


“A well-structured incentive mechanism and the adoption of ambitious targets helped this sector grow over the last couple of years,” says the trade association.


It continues: “Portugal’s new ambitious national energy and climate plan for 2030 and roadmap to carbon neutrality by 2050 targets at least 80% of electricity production coming from renewables and to further decarbonize the energy sector.


“The government is committed to a policy that will support the development of the market and ensure decarbonization goals are met in the most cost-effective manner.”


There is a strong focus in electricity and natural gas interconnection to unlock the potential of Portugal’s solar and wind resources and liquefied natural gas capacity to support local economic development and European energy security. 


To help achieve these ambitious goals, the association goes on to report that Portugal has announced the decommissioning of the country’s two coal-fired thermoelectric power plants.  The EDP coal-fired power plant located in Sines closed in January 2021. The Tejo Energia Pego power plant is expected to close by the end of this year.


The country has also developed a hydrogen strategy with the intent to decrease natural gas imports and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.


Meanwhile, the IEA points out that the Azores and Madeira autonomous regions set their own energy and climate policies and strategies. These islands still heavily rely on oil products, even for electricity generation. With the increasing introduction of renewable energy, oil demand is decreasing and some islands have already reached high shares of renewable electricity generation by leveraging a wide range of technologies (geothermal, wind, hydro, solar PV and energy storage).


The Azores and Madeira are testing different approaches to increase the share of renewables, boost the use of electric vehicles and improve the energy efficiency of residential and service sector buildings.


According to the IEA, the Azores’ and Madeira’s programmes to support the energy transition appear to be more ambitious than those for mainland Portugal, and these island regions can pioneer living labs to test innovative solutions, like storage, smart grids, electric mobility and integration of very high shares of renewables.


It’s clear that a small country like Portugal can set examples and make a contribution to avert the high risk of a climate catastrophe, but, of course, it’s up to major polluting nations - China, the United States India and Russia - to reach a workable solution at the COP26 summit.



Saturday, October 23, 2021

Top Cop26 climate advocates

 Antonio Guterres, former prime minister of Portugal, now secretary-general of the United Nations, is likely to be one of the most articulate and passionate advocates for urgent action at the gathering of world leaders in Glasgow for the COP26 summit on climate change.

In one of his many recent statements on the subject, Guterres called on world leaders to go for “decisive action now to avert climate catastrophe.” He totally sympathises with the mass of young climate activists who are desperately frustrated by the continuous platitudes expressed by politicians, especially in countries responsible for the greatest amount of greenhouse gas emissions.  

“Saving this and future generations is a common responsibility,” says Guterres.

He recently told world leaders at the UN General Assembly in New York: “I’m here to sound the alarm. The world must wake up!”

He warned, somewhat angrily: “This is a planetary emergency. We are on the wrong edge of an abyss and moving in the wrong direction.”  

It is a complicated situation, he added, because, “our world has never been more threatened or more divided. ....  the world is sleepwalking to disaster.”

Climate action has been at the top of Guterres’ agenda during this second term as secretary-general and the United National has recently issued a report saying that the world is on a catastrophic pathway with 2.7 degrees of heating, rather than the 1.5 degrees needed by 2030. The 1.5 target agreed upon by the Paris Climate Accord would require a 45% cut in present greenhouse emissions.

Key points in this U.N. report: “First, keep the 1.5 degrees goal within reach. Second, deliver on the $100 billion a year for climate action in developing countries. Third, scale up funding for adaptation to at least 50% of total public climate finance expenditure.”

 Guterres says decisive leadership must come from the finance ministers of the wealthier countries because their countries are responsible for 80% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The climate crisis is already severely impacting on many countries, especially poorer ones compounded by fragility and conflict. Just last year, wildfires, flooding, droughts and other extreme weather events displaced 30 million people.  Ninety percent of refugees come from countries least able to adapt to climate change.

“We simply cannot achieve our shared climate goals – nor our shared hope for lasting peace and security – if resilience and adaptation continue to be the forgotten half of the climate equation,” says Guterres.

Sir David Attenborough, who will address the world leaders in the early part of the summit, has been nominated the “People’s Advocate.” In a speech to the United Nations Security Council earlier this year, the renowned naturalist and broadcaster emphasised the importance of the COP26 summit as possibly “our last opportunity to make the necessary step change” to protect the planet.

Many activists seriously doubt that world leaders are collectively on the way to adequately solving the crisis, but Sir David Attenborough is cautiously optimistic. 

For the first time in history all nations should be on the same side in fighting climate change.  Modern communications mean that anyone anywhere can see the problems and take part in solving them, says Sir David.

 “The world is being destroyed. We are doing it, there is no doubt about that, so for the first time, issues for the world should not be argued.”

Sir David continued:  “For the first time people are able to speak today and be heard within minutes across the world.

“For the first time it is possible to see the dimensions of he problem, to see the pictures of devastation or of hope.

“For the first time people around the world can hear the arguments and the solutions. Those two things give some hope.”

The COP26 summit runs from Sunday October 31 to Friday November 12 and perhaps a day or two longer if some important details need finalising.


Saturday, October 9, 2021

Sourcing info about the cities


People living locally in Portuguese cities and towns from the far north to the Algarve region in the south are giving advice and tips to tourists and potential residents on a unique website constructed by


“The site is fairly new but it already covers more than 5,000 cities in 185 countries, so it’s very international and the team working on it is as well,” says Lana Bezmalinović, the project’s head of operations who lives in Croatia.


Lana went on to tell us: “With local knowledge shared through comments on the site, we want to provide a platform for people all over the world to tell what those moving to or visiting to their cities should know – and for virtual travellers to see what locals think makes their cities special.

We want to give every community a voice, especially those overlooked by tour operators.”  


The Portuguese section of the website is here:   

Here are some examples of the information contributed by local residents.


“Lisbon is getting a lot of buzz lately thanks to its economic revival and its growing creative and start-up scene,” says Daniel who lives in the capital. “The Portuguese are excellent English speakers, so you’ll rarely have any trouble communicating, especially with the younger generations who learned English from an early age. Movies and TV shows are subtitled instead of dubbed. A huge number of  Portuguese have worked abroad, especially in the UK and in Luxembourg. It’s often these international Portuguese you’ll be first to meet as they like to mix with other cultures in the same way they did when living abroad themselves.”


Debbie, another Lisbon local says:  “someone who is interested in living in my city should know the majority of it is not actually a cycling-friendly city. However, the most important monuments and historical buildings are all concentrated in a specific part of the city and all within a walkable distance. It is a tourist city and it is worth the visit.”


There are three things someone moving to Porto should focus on to get the most out of the city,” says Eoin. “One: coffee culture is a thing. The coffee shop is a place you can meet new people, drink coffee, work, you will spend hours there! Two: the Porto football club (FCP) is the best and you should not root for Benfica (SLB), the Lisbon team. Three: try the francesinha, a very meaty sandwich that you will simply love! Have fun getting acquainted with the streets and people of Porto.


Rocio warns: “If you’re moving to Coimbra, the main thing to know is that it’s primarily a student city, well known for the University. In fact, the University bell tower is the official symbol of Coimbra, and can be seen on the large majority of its merchandise! The city is also incredibly old, and as such was built on large hills and mountains. Walking anywhere is sure to prove to be a challenge to anyone not prepared for it!”


Elsewhere on the website, Carol comments: “Setúbal is a city near the sea. There are lots of restaurants which serve grilled fish and fried cuttlefish. It has sunny weather, and Setúbal is a pleasant city. There are lots of wonderful people. It is a very tourist town. There are lots of beaches and there is also a fort, called Fort of São Filipe. Enjoy this sunny city and I will be waiting to see you around.”


From the northeast of the country, Catia writes: “Someone moving to Braga should learn about its history. Braga has a number of museums that showcase its past, from the Roman era, to the Middle Ages, to now. Monuments, old buildings and ancient ruins are sprinkled around the city center, giving it a historic ambience and making it wonderful for sightseeing.”

On the far northwest region, Katya offers a positive but cautious comment about Valença in the district of Viana do Castelo "Anyone who might be moving here should know that, although very peaceful, it is fairly isolated. That means that it isn’t always easy to access to certain services or products. My city is, however, a relatively safe place for families with kids and/or pets, with numerous green sites where they can spend time outdoors.”


Several places in the Algarve are featured including Olhão, which João knows well. “Since it’s a pretty small town, everyone here knows each other and is not afraid to talk bad about you, either in your face or behind your back. Regardless of that, we are quite known for our beautiful beaches, so it will be great if they want to spend the holidays here, in complete relaxation.”


Tavira is Madalena’s number one choice. “A person who comes to Tavira has to know how to respect nature because Tavira is protected by the Ria Formosa agreement. Tavira also has beautiful beaches, mountains. Tavira also has a historic culture with a castle and vestiges of Romans, it also has many churches and a beautiful lough. Tavira is a great city.”


And this is a great website for thoughts on cities and towns almost everywhere. Help for visitors or newcomers can be posted here: 

Saturday, October 2, 2021

Deforestation must be stopped!


Portugal has had a shared language and close social ties with Brazil since it discovered and started colonising this huge South American country five centuries ago, but it now finds itself in danger of suffering an environmental catastrophe, partly because of the on-going destruction of the Amazon rainforest more than 4,500 kilometres away.  


Since 1970, more than 700,000 square kilometres (270,000 square miles) of the rainforest have been destroyed. That’s about six and a half times the total area of Portugal. The forest desecration is not only endangering Portugal’s well-being but that of the entire planet because of its contribution to climate change.


As the Rainforest Alliance explains, the relationship between deforestation and climate change is simple but highly significant. “Trees capture greenhouse gasses like carbon dioxide, preventing them from accumulating in the atmosphere and warming our planet. 


“When we clear forests, we’re not only knocking out our best ally in capturing the staggering amount of greenhouse gasses we humans create (which we do primarily by burning fossil fuels at energy facilities, and of course in cars, planes and trains). We’re also creating emissions by cutting down trees. When trees are felled, they release into the atmosphere all the carbon they’ve been storing.  What the deforesters do with the felled trees – either leaving them to rot on the forest floor or burning them – creates further emissions.”


The Amazon rainforest “has reached the point of no return,” wrote an environmental activist in Newsweek magazine. It’s an opinion shared by many others.


According to Bloomberg, the perpetrators of its demise aren’t just government officials doing the bidding of Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro or the industrial farmers profiting from tree-cutting. “It’s all about demand, and voracious consumers the world over are also fuelling the frenzy that is killing the “lungs of the Earth.” 


While the Amazon has been a vital carbon store slowing the pace of global warming, researchers say it has suffered losses at an accelerated rate since Jair Bolsanaro took office in January 2019.


“The Brazilian president has encouraged agriculture and mining activities in the world’s largest rainforest,” in the words of the BBC.


The destruction is widely recognized as accounting for 10% to 13%   of global CO2 emissions. These emissions are strongly associated with the conversion of the rainforest into cattle ranching and agricultural land. Helped by the rampant deforestation, Brazil is the single biggest exporter of agricultural products to the EU among other places. Many of these products, such as beef, veal, coffee, sugar, soya beans, cereals and rice, are produced on deliberately burnt forest terrain after valuable timber trees are felled and also exported.


If global warming continues as feared, Portugal’s biodiversity will be massively impacted. In Brazil itself, an estimated 100,000 species have been made extinct in recent years and a great many others endangered by the deforestation.


There are about 600 Portuguese companies represented in Brazil. Last year, Portugal imported from its former colony €1.5 billion worth of goods according to the United Nations COMTRADE data base on international trade. Much of this was likely to have been produced on deforested land.


Meanwhile, scientists keep reminding us that these tropical rainforests constitute the main land carbon sink on Earth and are fundamental in mitigating the effects of climate change and even reducing those effects.


In July this year it was reported that vast areas of the Amazon are emitting more carbon than they absorb. According to Greenpeace, the burning of the rainforest is now releasing huge amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, and what remains is drying out. This is the tipping point scientists have been warning us about -  beyond which the rainforests will no longer be able to sustain themselves and will collapse, say Greenpeace.


The World Wild Life Fund (WWF) explains that the Amazon rainforests have long been recognized as a repository of ecological services for the rest of the world, but are also the only rainforests that we have left in terms of size and diversity.


“As forests burn and global warming worsens, the impact of Amazon deforestation continues to gradually undo the fragile ecological processes that have been refined over millions of years,” says the WWF.

The United Nations Cop-26 climate change summit in Glasgow starting 1st November would offer a good opportunity for world leaders to combine and ban importing to their countries any products linked to Amazon deforestation.