We are all endangered species: lessons from Portugal

10.July 2018

by Henrique Tereno

We live in a connected world, that is no secret. Everything we hear and see can be shared in a split second, thanks to new technologies. Precisely because we live in a ‘shared’ world, we are more conscious of the problems that our planet is facing and more aware of the fact that the actions we take in one place can have consequences in other parts of the world. A connected world also means that there is a need for a global, ecological mindset, with policies and politicians that work towards a common sustainable future. Even though this idea appears to be utopian, there are some countries and regions that are trying to raise awareness about these issues and implement sustainable ways of life, moving away from the excessive use of natural resources, in order to avoid the destruction of natural habitats.

The EU’s efforts in this direction are remarkable. Member states are developing new tools and technologies to achieve the goals that the EU has set (cutting of 20% of greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels, getting 20% of energy from renewable sources and improving energy efficiency by 20% by 2020). Several examples prove it: in Sweden for instance, the world’s first ‘electrified road’ was recently introduced. Vehicles can now recharge their batteries while driving, contributing to reducing the size and the cost of the batteries (Boffey, 2018). In Germany there is currently a proposal on the table to make public transportation free in order to reduce road traffic and to achieve the EU’s air pollution goals (Oltermann, 2018).

In Portugal, my home country, more renewable energy was generated last March than the country required, making up 103,6% of the mainland energy consumption (this data only refers to the energy consumption of Portugal’s mainland, not including the archipelagos of Madeira and Azores) according to REN’s data (Smith, 2018). Portugal’s weather conditions and its geographic location make it a particularly optimal place for the production of renewable energy. At the same time, it is exactly due to its location that Portugal is extremely vulnerable to the severe consequences of climate change. Unfortunately, this was made clear with the deadly fires that occurred in June and October last year following an extensive drought period. This is an example of what might happen in the near future, stressing the urgent need to understand that our climate is changing and that we need to act.

Bearing this in mind, the Portuguese government is investing in renewable energy sources and trying to reduce the use of fossil fuels – aiming to make Portugal carbon free by 2050 -, and, therefore, trying to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases. To this end, Portugal has developed a National Strategy to Adapt to Climate Change that is structured around four main goals:

  • Promote the spread of information and knowledge to the population;
  • Reduce the country’s vulnerability, which means a meticulous process of identifying the main problems and strategies to solve them;
  • Promote the participation and activism of the population, by trying to involve as many people as possible in initiatives on climate change adaptation and mitigation;
  • Promote the international cooperation with the EU’s countries and the UN.

At the same time, at local level, the city councils are trying to implement an action plan to encourage citizens to adapt their life-style. In Lisbon, the action plan should be implemented in 2019 and it is composed by proposals of all the 18 city councils of the metropolitan area, which go from investing more in efficient public transport network to improving the bicycle lanes.

The world is in constant mutation, and it is essential for our policies to keep track with it. Portugal being a member state of the European Union is an important and crucial factor for the country to develop new adaptation and mitigation policies. Thanks to the EU’s efforts to develop climate change action plans and to raise awareness about this issue, the members states have all the necessary tools at their disposal to adapt and be prepared for these gradual but brutal changes. Portugal is no exception.

It is time to leave our anthropocentric bias behind: humans should fight climate change by creating new policies and mechanisms that allow a sustainable future, not simply to save themselves, but to save a planet that harbours all beings.

References:

Boffey, Daniel (2018), “World’s first road for charging vehicles opens in Sweden”, The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/apr/12/worlds-first-electrified-road-for-charging-vehicles-opens-in-sweden

Oltermann, Philip (2018), “German cities to trial free public transport to cut pollution”, The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/feb/14/german-cities-to-trial-free-public-transport-to-cut-pollution

Smith, Lydia (2018), “Renewable energy generated 104% of Portugal’s electricity consumption in March”, Independent. Available at: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/portugal-renewable-energy-generated-electricity-consumption-march-greenhouse-gas-environment-a8289656.html