Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Outlook for Portugal's election


Two weeks of campaigning are well underway among the parties contesting Portugal’s early national election on March 10.

The centre-right Democratic Party (PSD) is predicted to replace the centre-left Socialist Party (PS), both having fought for dominance for decades.

The humiliated centre-left PS will likely finish second, and the far right-Chega party is expected to advance more than ever and become third.

While the moderate PSD may not be on the verge of implementing any fundamental changes, the PS involvement will probably shrink because of the corruption scandal that forced it out of power in November last year and made way for this snap election. The long-serving Prime Minister, Antonio Costa, is now retiring and still claiming he was not involved in any wrong-doing, but many voters seem fed up with the PS and have shifted to the right, if not the far right.

Portugal’s Chega party has similar populist views to those of the other far-right parties that have been doing well recently in a number of European countries.

In the European Parliamentary election in June, nine of the far-right populist groups –   including those in France, Italy, and the Netherlands are expected to gain much ground. Nine others – including those in Germany, Spain, and Portugal - are expected to do much better than ever before.

The PS corruption scandal that brought about the resignation of Prime Minister Costa caused much outrage, yet a little humour. The giant Swedish company, IKEA, posted advertisements in Portugal joking about the scandal. It was posted on an IKEA advertisement in Portugal showing one of its bookshelves, thus referring to the allegation that Costa’s former chief of staff had hidden money in a bookcase. 

There is no joking, however, about the on-going challenges facing the on-going challenges facing the Portuguese government in 2024, including the health service, housing, and cost of living crises, among others.

Portugal remains a relatively small, peaceful, and innocuous country that is doing its very best in a truly dire world. It will no doubt remain committed to proposing peace in Ukraine and the Middle East. But what if Donald Trump wins the national election in the United States in November? 

  

 

       

Friday, February 16, 2024

Donald Trump blasts Portugal and other members of the NATO alliance



The most alarming news this week for Portugal and the rest of Europe has been Donald Trump’s threat to abandon NATO because some members were “not paying their bills.” He said he told a NATO ally that he would encourage Russia “to do whatever the hell they want to ‘delinquent’ members.”

It sent shock waves across all member states.  As president of the United States from January 2017 t0 January 2021, Trump was scathing about members of the alliance. If reinstated to the White House as expected in this November’s national election, it is feared he may turn his bitter words into action.  At this stage, there are serious worries that his latest threat is more than electioneering hyperbole from a would-be dictator.

Incumbent President Joe Biden called Trump’s comments “appalling and dangerous.” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg warned that the threat put American and European soldiers “at increasing risk.”

In the aftermath of the Second World War, Portugal was one of the 12 founding countries of the Atlantic Alliance in 1949. Today there are   a total of 31 members of the alliance, Finland becoming the latest, by joining last year. However, only 11 of the 31 are paying their agreed share on defence, according to official estimates. These composed mostly of countries close to Russia and Ukraine. Portugal is among the 20 not paying enough.

The alliance set a target of 2% of gross domestic product (GDP) for each member. Poland is top of the list of spenders with 3.90% of its GDP on defence more than the United States which spends 3.49%.  The United Kingdom is also above the 2% threshold. The most notable members not reaching the target are France (1.90%), Germany (1.57%) and Norway (1. 67%). Portugal is closer to the bottom of the list with 1.48%. Canada has only managed 1.38% and Spain 1.26%.

Despite the defence spending below the 2% guideline, Jens Stoltenberg hit back at Trump, saying, “I expect that regardless of who wins the election, the U.S will remain a strong and committed ally.” He stressed that any attack on a NATO country would “be met with a united and forceful response.”  NATO is heavily involved in supporting Ukraine following Russia’s 2022 invasion, and is collaborating more with Indo-Pacific countries in view of China’s aggression in the region.

Portugal is perhaps one of NATO’s least vulnerable countries should it come to a spread of the conflict in Europe. Yet the geographical location of mainland Portugal, the Azores and Madeira has always offered a strategic, protective triangle for NATO. An increase in defence expenditure will no doubt be debated after next month’s legislative election in this country.      


Thursday, February 8, 2024

Desperate water shortage in Algarve





Everyone in the Algarve must greatly reduce their consumption of water in any way they possibly can to help in what is being described as the worst drought situation ever in the region.

The caretaker government is demanding cuts to farmland irrigation and urban environments including tourism-dependent hotels.  Ordinary householders, especially those with a swimming pool or a garden irrigation system, must also significantly reduce consumption. If they don’t, the authorities have no choice but to impose tighter restrictions and higher prices

Thursday's rain was most welcome, but it is not going to change the severe shortage that has worsened over the years because of climate change.  The reservoirs and groundwater supplies are extremely low and may not get any higher before the rainless summer sets in. On average the Algarve’s six reservoirs are currently only 25% full. Some have far less.

Without immediate cuts in consumption “we would reach the end of 2024 without water for public supply,” says Portugal Environment Minister, Duarte Cordeiro. Agricultural irrigation will have to drop by an average of 25% on last year - and the cuts could rise to 50% in areas around the emptiest reservoirs.  Urban areas, including hotels and golf courses, face cuts of 15%. 

Local municipalities are being forced to reduce overall consumption by 15% and if they don’t do so quickly, less water will be available to them, meaning that householders will face higher prices and less water in their taps.

There is no such thing as “natural” weather anymore. It has all been complicated by man-made global greenhouse gas emissions. Portugal has long been regarded climatically as the California of Europe, but at the moment it could hardly be more different. So far this month California has been devastated by floods and landslides. No doubt things will be back to “normal” in the summer with similar heat waves and wildfires.

The European Copernicus Climate Change Service announced this Thursday that for the first time on record, global warming in Europe over a 12-month period has breached the critical 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F) above pre-industrial levels. The world’s oceans have set a new record as the heat intensifies.

Scientists say there is still time to keep global warming below the crucial 2.o degree C threshold, but it will mean far greater and more immediate action to limit the emission of greenhouse gasses, especially by the most powerful countries such as the United States, China, Russia, India, and the United Kingdom. 

We are all fed up with “crises” in the world, but here is yet another, albeit a much more regional one.

As wonderful as it is to live in peaceful Portugal and the western Mediterranean, this is well known as one of the most vulnerable places in Europe to the most serious impacts of climate change.

Portugal is at the forefront of countries in the world addressing climate change by reducing fossil fuels, but it is a small country and it understands with the deepest concern how nations such as The United States, The United Kingdom,  China and  Russia remained more focused on the likes of war, financial, immigration and other domestic worries.

It’s not doomsday talk: coping successfully with global warming must be the world’s number one priority for human survival.

 

   

       

Thursday, February 1, 2024

A new cannabis farm in the Algarve



 

A Danish company has started producing large quantities of medical cannabis on a farm in the municipality of Lagoa.

 

It is being grown within strict legal and security rules for medicinal cannabis.

 

Scientists say medicinal cannabis can alleviate symptoms such as the pain associated with cancer and multiple sclerosis, and the nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy.  It can also stimulate appetite and prevent weight loss in people with HIV/AIDS, help treat certain rare forms of epilepsy, and even improve anxiety, insomnia, and sleep quality.

 

The Lagoa farm is inside a security perimeter of 8.7 hectares that must fulfil mandatory security requirements including video vigilance, an anti-intrusion system, and access control. The transportation of cannabis must also be carried out according to a set of rules including fully informing the local authorities. 

 

The sunny weather in the Algarve is perfect for growing cannabis. The sandy soil in the Lagoa farm is excellent because it allows good water drainage and a breathable environment for the roots of the plants. 

 

Unfortunately, the growers are now facing a very concerning period due to water availability. However, cannabis is not as water demanding as many other plants. The producers have a water-saving policy with which they collect water from their drainage system, guide it into a pond, and then use mainly drip irrigation. They are investing in the improvement of the irrigation system to be able to manage it and control it carefully, to guarantee there’s no water wastage.

 

There are two medicinal cannabis farms in the eastern Algarve, but for Lagoa, it all started recently with a Danish mother company, Schroll Medical, a group owned by brothers dedicated to the production of ornamental plants in both Denmark and Portugal. 

 

Sandra Sal, the company’s agronomist, explained that Schroll Flowers was mainly focused on hydrangeas. In 2018, after a friend with a serious health problem started to use CBD oil that improved her life quality in a way that allowed her to restart working, the brothers understood the positive influence medical cannabis could have in many patients’ lives. They came up with the idea of using their growing skill to produce medical cannabis and started taking all the necessary steps to start the project.

 

In 2018, the group acquired a company in Lagoa dedicated to organic herbs production. They called it Schroll Flavours and continued this activity, selling organic herbs to several countries in Europe. A year later, the group took the first steps of the cannabis project.

 

In 2023, after achieving the certificate that authorizes the cultivation of medical cannabis, and submitting the request for another certificate that provides the necessary permission to produce active pharmaceutical Ingredients Schroll Flavours left the production of organic herbs to concentrate 100% on cannabis production based on organic farming principles.

 

The plan is to have all-year-round production. However, because the intention is to produce in outdoor conditions and under organic farming principles, the growers will be more subject to the climate and environmental conditions than growers of other plants.

 

The Danish company aims to export to several countries in Europe from the middle of this year. 

During 2024, it hopes to produce several tones of the plant with a medical quality that allows it to be released as a starting material for all relevant plant-based cannabinoid products. 

 

 

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Lots of wind, not enough water

 


Wind farms in Portugal are continuing to break records with more energy being generated on January 16 than on the previous all-time record day, October 17, 2023.

The energy produced from wind on January 16 accounted for 63% of Portugal’s total electricity needs, according to REN, the national grid operator. On the same day, wind together with other renewable sources generated 88% of the national and local electricity consumption. This is a highly laudable achievement when so many other countries are producing far less in the battle against climate change.

Worldwide, greater use of wind and solar energy as well as advancements in green hydrogen production, are vital in the transformation from fossil fuels. Wind energy is predicted to significantly increase in major countries, with Canada, the United States, China, India and the United Kingdom increasing their offshore capabilities.

Developing countries are also expected to follow Portugal’s example and rapidly adopt renewable energy policies. As in the major countries, much of this has been invigorated by more energy demand and heightened awareness of the destructive impacts of climate change.

 

Parts of Portugal and elsewhere in the European Union have been experiencing severe or extreme droughts. This has added urgency to an EU plan to promote water availability through management technologies, says the Portuguese Agriculture Minister Maria do Céu Antunes.

She reportedly presented a list of proposals at a recent meeting of EU Council agriculture ministers to implement measures such as reducing water loses in distribution systems, optimising storage and transport infrastructures, reducing water for non-potable purposes in the urban, tourist, industrial and agricultural sectors, and investing in desalination plants.

The European Commission will launch a Water Resilience Initiative in March. It will include a series of immediate actions and a public debate on achieving water resilience.

According to the European Drought Observatory, referred to in the Portuguese proposals, about 42% of continental Europe is in a state of warning and about 8% in a state of alert, with a particularly worrying scenario in the EU’s southern countries, which are plagued by prolonged water shortages.

Future measures are expected to be funded both by the EU Commission and by private companies. All this will be reassuring, especially to farmers, but also ordinary domestic water users being threatened with reduced supplies and increased costs.

 

Saturday, January 20, 2024

Sagres fisherman dies suspiciously

 


It is not that unusual for a recreational fisherman to accidentally fall to his death from a cliff in the south-western Algarve, but police have been investigating an incident that may have involved a deliberate criminal act.

Ricardo Brito, 47, who lived in Portimão, fell to his death near Sagres at about 3.0pm of the last day of last year.  Three people were nearby at the time: his employer in the construction business, the employer’s teenage nephew, and another man a little further away.

It is thought that Mr Brito felt ill, sat down and foamed at the mouth. His boss is said to have rushed to his aid. Mr Brito fell, apparently hitting his head on a rock, before falling all the way down to the sea where the third man fishing not far away apparently saw Mr Brito’s body.

The Maritime Police in Lagos were alerted and on the scene as quickly as possible. They took the lifeless body ashore and to a hospital where an autopsy, and later a second autopsy, were carried out.

Mr Brito’s family have been informed that police have investigated the matter and concluded a crime may have caused the fall. A court hearing is expected. 


Thursday, January 11, 2024

Half the World has Stated Voting



Portuguese politicians are gearing up for the snap legislative election to be held on 10 March.  Globally, it will be just one of the biggest number of national elections ever held in a single year.

The centre-left Socialist Party that was dissolved in Portugal near the end of last year will be opposed by a centre-right coalition led by the Social Democrats (PSD). For the first time, Portugal’s right-wing Chega populist party is expected to be strongly in the race.

President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa called for the snap election after the Socialist Party was caught up in a corruption scandal that forced Prime Minister Antonio Costa to stand down.

Almost half the voters in the world spread over more than 50 countries will be choosing their governments or top leaders this year. Bangladesh and Bhutan have already gone to the polls in recent days. Taiwan is next. Finland will be electing its president on 28 January.

In the months ahead, the countries holding elections will include Iran, Ireland and Russia in March, India in April-May, the European Union in June, and the United States and probably the United Kingdom in November.

The three elections of most international concern are those in Russia, the European Union and the United States.

Russia’s presidential election is widely regarded as a foregone conclusion.  President Vladimir Putin will be seeking a fifth term in office, the first since launching the war in Ukraine. He has already led his country for a longer time than any other Russian apart from Joseph Stalin, who dominated the then Soviet Union from 1924 to1953. Putin is largely basing his popularity on his efforts to dismantle Ukraine’s independence and restore its former position as part of the Soviet Union.

Together with his top colleagues in the Kremlin, Putin will make sure that anyone with the slightest chance of beating him in the presidency election will be sidelined one way or another. If re-elected, he is sure to carry on trying to win the war in Ukraine and enhance his strength in the Western World.

The European Union is politically changing with the increase in the number of far-right parties in the alliance.  This has been happening in the Netherlands, Italy and Hungary, plus the strengthening of Marine Le Pen’s National Party in France, and Andre Ventura’s  Chega party in Portugal.

Conservatives are expected to join forces with the far-right in the coming EU parliamentary election, meaning moderates in the 27 EU states may have to further curtail the “Green Deal” policy on climate change.  Opinion polls, however, suggest that radical politicians will remain as a minority and moderates will prevail in the new parliament. 

The most divisive and potentially dangerous election outcome would be a victory for Donald Trump in the United States. A return to presidential power, which is looking increasing likely, would send shock waves across the European Union, the United Kingdom and democracies everywhere else.

While plenty of would-be US Republican and Democrat candidates have put forward their names, it seems clear that only Donald Trump and current president, Joe Biden, will have any chance of winning in November. The betting is very much on a Trump victory, despite the many legal investigations and subsequent criminal charges against him. He has indicated that as the 47th US president he will crack down on the legal authorities that have investigated and  indicted him. 

Trump claims he will immediately settle Putin’s war and stop what he calls “the endless flow of American treasure to Ukraine.” He threatens to “fundamentally re-evaluate” NATO’s purpose and mission, thus greatly endangering European security and weakening its traditional ties with the US. All this and other tough measures, such as halting immigration from Mexico and Muslim countries, are expected to cause every bit as much chaos and division in his own country as during his first term in office.   

Meanwhile, the next government in Portugal will want to steer clear of this sort of excessive drama and keep this country as peaceful and prosperous as possible.

Portuguese politicians are gearing up for the snap legislative election to be held on 10 March.  Globally, it will be just one of the biggest number of national elections ever held in a single year.

The centre-left Socialist Party that was dissolved in Portugal near the end of last year will be opposed by a centre-right coalition led by the Social Democrats (PSD). For the first time, Portugal’s right-wing Chega populist party is expected to be strongly in the race.

President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa called for the snap election after the Socialist Party was caught up in a corruption scandal that forced Prime Minister Antonio Costa to stand down.

Almost half the voters in the world spread over more than 50 countries will be choosing their governments or top leaders this year. Bangladesh and Bhutan have already gone to the polls in recent days. Taiwan is next. Finland will be electing its president on 28 January.

In the months ahead, the countries holding elections will include Iran, Ireland and Russia in March, India in April-May, the European Union in June, and the United States and probably the United Kingdom in November.

The three elections of most international concern are those in Russia, the European Union and the United States.

Russia’s presidential election is widely regarded as a foregone conclusion.  President Vladimir Putin will be seeking a fifth term in office, the first since launching the war in Ukraine. He has already led his country for a longer time than any other Russian apart from Joseph Stalin, who dominated the then Soviet Union from 1924 to1953. Putin is largely basing his popularity on his efforts to dismantle Ukraine’s independence and restore its former position as part of the Soviet Union.

Together with his top colleagues in the Kremlin, Putin will make sure that anyone with the slightest chance of beating him in the presidency election will be sidelined one way or another. If re-elected, he is sure to carry on trying to win the war in Ukraine and enhance his strength in the Western World.

The European Union is politically changing with the increase in the number of far-right parties in the alliance.  This has been happening in the Netherlands, Italy and Hungary, plus the strengthening of Marine Le Pen’s National Party in France, and Andre Ventura’s  Chega party in Portugal.

Conservatives are expected to join forces with the far-right in the coming EU parliamentary election, meaning moderates in the 27 EU states may have to further curtail the “Green Deal” policy on climate change.  Opinion polls, however, suggest that radical politicians will remain as a minority and moderates will prevail in the new parliament. 

The most divisive and potentially dangerous election outcome would be a victory for Donald Trump in the United States. A return to presidential power, which is looking increasing likely, would send shock waves across the European Union, the United Kingdom and democracies everywhere else.

While plenty of would-be US Republican and Democrat candidates have put forward their names, it seems clear that only Donald Trump and current president, Joe Biden, will have any chance of winning in November. The betting is very much on a Trump victory, despite the many legal investigations and subsequent criminal charges against him. He has indicated that as the 47th US president he will crack down on the legal authorities that have investigated and  indicted him. 

Trump claims he will immediately settle Putin’s war and stop what he calls “the endless flow of American treasure to Ukraine.” He threatens to “fundamentally re-evaluate” NATO’s purpose and mission, thus greatly endangering European security and weakening its traditional ties with the US. All this and other tough measures, such as halting immigration from Mexico and Muslim countries, are expected to cause every bit as much chaos and division in his own country as during his first term in office.   

Meanwhile, the next government in Portugal will want to steer clear of this sort of excessive drama and keep this country as peaceful and prosperous as possible.


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Thursday, January 4, 2024

Phasing Out All Use of Fossil Fuels



Hydro power

Portugal is forging ahead with phasing out fossil fuels to help save the planet from global warming. Thanks to strong winds, plenty of bright sunshine, and even lots of rain in parts of the country, Portugal is in the forefront of expanding the use of renewable sources to produce electricity.

The United Nations COP28 summit in the oil producing United Arab Emirates spent a week wrangling over the wording of “phasing out” in the final version of its agreement.  It eventually managed to agree on  the much weaker term “transition from” fossil fuels because “phasing out” did not suit the countries producing oil, natural gas or coal.

Portugal is on course to generate 85% of the country’s electricity by 2030.  In the year just ended, it reached a record 61%. That was up from 49% the year before. It most certainly is “phasing out,” meaning “ending” fossil fuels, yet it is still reliant to a degree, for example, on natural gas imported from Algeria and Nigeria. Larger European countries have been importing natural gas from the world’s biggest supplier, Russia, but this is being discontinued because of rising gas prices since the start of Russia’s war in Ukraine. Last year, wind produced 25% of Portugal’s electricity needs, while 23% came from hydro power, 7% from solar and 6% from biomass. That’s according to REN, the company that manages the Portuguese power grid.

The share of renewables on Germany’s grid rose by 6.6% in 2023 to a total of 55.0%, the sector’s regulator has announced this week. Europe’s largest economy has abandoned nuclear power and plans to stop the use of coal. It aims to depend on green energy for 80% of its energy needs by 2030. 

Renewables provided just 38.4% of the energy in United Kingdom in the 12 months to December 2023. Wind provided 27.9%, biomass 4.8%, solar 4.5% and hydro 1.1%. Fossil fuels were the source of 33.1% in the mix, with gas leading with 32.1% and coal 1.0%. The UK has made progress over the past decade by reducing its use of fossil fuels from 58.1% to 31.1%, but a great increase in renewables will be needed if its 2035 target to decarbonise the electricity system is to be met.

In the United States the share of electricity generated from renewable sources has continued to rise, especially from biofuels, solar and wind.  In what was hailed as a “new milestone,” renewables accounted for a quarter of US electricity generated in the first half of last year, slightly higher than in 2022.

The use of abundant, clean renewable sources of energy is now unstoppable. Hopefully it will bring an end as soon as possible to the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing dramatic and highly destructive climate change across the world. Scientists say that ending the fossil fuel industry and achieving genuine net zero carbon emission targets is the only hope of a liveable climate.

 

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