Climate change and global warming are monumental problems that are threatening the existence of human civilization. Across the globe, many regions have been experiencing a spate of extreme weather events, including cyclones, blizzards, heatwaves, and forest fires. The severity and frequency of such events have also escalated.
Portugal has been particularly hit hard by the recent onslaught of extreme heat waves and wildfires.
While several European countries, including Spain, Italy, Greece, and France, have been dealing with forest fires, the repercussions of climate change are particularly catastrophic for Portugal.
The Troubling Implications of Climate Change
One look at Portugal's forecast on any established weather intelligence platform will reveal a significant rise in the average temperature. In fact, the average summer temperature in Lisbon might rise to 34°C in a few years.
The country is also likely to experience longer periods of extremely hot days in the future. It’s going to be accompanied by declining precipitation rates and rising sea levels. All these factors will take a toll on various industries, including agriculture and tourism. They’ll also lead to coastal flooding and the destruction of Portugal’s coastal communities.
If the authorities don’t step forward to control the crisis, the weather in Portugal will become more erratic.
So, what is it that makes Portugal more vulnerable to extreme weather than other countries in Europe? How severe is the effect of climate change in Portugal? Is the government taking suitable measures to combat these problems?
In the following sections, we’ll explore the answers to these questions and more. Let’s get started.
Wildfires on the Rise
Earlier this month, hundreds of Portuguese firefighters rushed to control a rapidly progressing wildlife in the region of Algarve, one of the country’s most popular tourist hubs. The fire originated in the Spanish hinterland and started engulfing the regions of Tavira and Vila Real de Santo Antônio.
Fanned by strong winds, the wildfire made its way to Algarve. While no casualties have been reported so far, the fire resulted in the evacuation of more than 80 people. It destroyed various farms and residential buildings. Also, three firefighters had to be treated for smoke inhalation and other issues.
The incident was preceded by another rural wildfire that started in the municipality of Monchique in July 2021. It spread to the Portimao municipality in the Algarve region, and resulted in significant property damage.
The sad part is the recent spate of forest fires in Portugal isn’t a new phenomenon.
In June 2017, the country witnessed a cataclysmic wildfire that killed more than 60 people and injured several hundred. It was described as “a level of human tragedy that we have never seen before” by Prime Minister Antonio Costa.
The 2017 Portugal wildfires also resulted in losses exceeding €1 billion. The potential cause behind the deadly fire was a dry thunderstorm. It ravaged parts of central Portugal, including the municipality of Pedrógão Grande, which reported the maximum number of deaths.
What Makes Portugal a Hotbed of Weather-Related Disasters?
The country’s Mediterranean climate combined with dry, strong Atlantic winds creates the perfect cocktail for triggering wildfires. The problem is further exacerbated by the fact that many forest lands in Portugal are privately owned and lack maintenance.
Also, many forests in Portugal have an abundance of eucalyptus trees, which are known to be highly flammable. Combined with the arid climate and powerful winds, the eucalyptus trees help wildfires quickly propagate across vast stretches of land.
Apart from forest fires, these factors also make Portugal vulnerable to other repercussions of climate change, including air pollution, coastal flooding, droughts, and vector-borne diseases. The Algarve is expected to witness sea levels rise by nearly 30 cm by 2050.
Dealing with Climate Change in Portugal
The gravity of the climate change crisis in Portugal highlights the need for implementing corrective measures. Joao Pedro Matos Fernandes, the country’s Minister for the Environment, has announced Portugal’s commitment to becoming a carbon-neutral nation by 2050.
The authorities have already deployed various measures to increase the use of renewable energy sources, such as wind, solar, and biomass. Renewable energy accounted for nearly 80% of Portugal’s total energy consumption in the first quarter of 2021. Also, wind energy accounted for 28% of the total mainland power consumption.
There’s also been a growing demand from citizens to make their residential buildings more energy efficient. It’s up to the government to amplify awareness and encourage more people to switch to renewable energy.
The Right Time to Act Is Now
The devastating effects of climate change are already gaining prominence. Portugal’s location and climate make it even more susceptible to the perils of climate change. The authorities must step up to minimize carbon emissions and fossil fuel usage. Also, they need to educate older citizens about the threats facing future generations and human civilization, on the whole.