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Climate change: what is happening in Portugal?

CLIMATE CHANGE: WHAT IS HAPPENING IN PORTUGAL?If the sea invades coastal areas, floods start to be recurrent, storms form at a speed never seen before, droughts impede agriculture, global warming causes water shortages, heat waves become the norm, new diseases appear and animals and plants disappear. What could happen?

Every year around 200 people die in Portugal due to climate change and the most vulnerable are the most affected. Worldwide it is estimated that 10,000 die every year, mostly in the southern countries of the globe.

According to a study by the scientific journal Lancet, compliance with the Paris Agreement could save millions of lives by 2040 in at least nine countries, which represent half of the world's population and 70% of greenhouse gas emissions: Brazil, China, Germany , India, Indonesia, Nigeria, South Africa, United Kingdom and United States. But, to be able to save millions of lives, it is necessary to have policies consistent with the objectives of the Paris Agreement and to prevent global temperatures from rising more than 2ºC, and preferably 1.5ºC, the study argues.

Portugal was the first nation in the world to announce, in 2016, a goal to achieve carbon neutrality. The commitment is to achieve a balance between the emission of greenhouse gases and the carbon hidden away in sinkholes by 2050.

“It's a long way towards climate neutrality”, notes Francisco Ferreira, president of the ZERO Association, but “very strong investments are being made in order to reduce our footprint, for example with regard to renewable energies”, he adds.

Francisco Ferreira hypothesizes that the date to reach carbon neutrality is anticipated “given the climate emergency that the world is experiencing”. Portugal is still "a country very dependent on fossil fuels" , but the president of ZERO believes that "both on the scale of policies and on the scale of individuals" there is still "a very large margin to go" and that he believes it should be accelerated .

Since 1990, greenhouse gas emissions, which cause global warming and consequent climate change, havestarted to increase in Portugal. From2005onwards,there was a reductionand Francisco Ferreira points out two reasons:“A few years later because of the economic crisis and on the other hand because we started to have several renewable sources”.

However, when the crisis attenuated, in 2014-2015, emissions increased again and only now they decreased again : “For example, with the withdrawal of coal plants, we are having a significant reduction, but [ there are] many areas where we are lacking,” says Francisco Ferreira.

One of the most critical areas is the building : “We still don't have thermal comfort in our homes” . Portugal is the country in the European Union (EU) with the lowest energy savings in residential buildings, according to a report by the European Commission's research group. Francisco Ferreira argues that bets are needed “ where it is not at the expense of air conditioning, but rather at the expense of better insulation” that thermal comfort is achieved, so that in the future it is possible to reduce emissions.

But there are other sectors, such as agriculture, in which there are activities that, despite producing food, are associated with significant emissions , such as agriculture and livestock.

"Methane is a greenhouse gas and the production of cattle, especially intensively, ends up playing a still important role and that is related to our own selection of what our food is, which should have a component more vegetarian and in particular to reduce the consumption of meat”, explains Francisco Ferreira.

The goal for Portugal by 2030 is a reduction of 45 to 55 % of greenhouse gas emissions, but for ZERO, and for the country to be in line with the Paris Agreement, a 65% reduction should be achieved. emissions:“We think this is possible if we really carry out policies in the area of ​​mobility and with investment in renewable [energy]”.

Portugal has been investing in solar energy and until recently “only about 2-3% [of electricity] was of solar origin”, which for the university professor means that there is“a huge margin for increase, as well as in other areas of renewables”.

“This issue of promoting electricity is very important because it represents a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions,” he explains.

The closure of coal plants , where “emissions are very significant” , “was initially planned for 2030” and was brought forward to 2021 : “We are making this transition, so to speak, in this sector and we are improving, but it is a path still long” . However, while “electricity production has been decreasing” , there is “a sector that has been increasing its weight a lot, despite starting to have great efforts to reduce mobility” : “Transport is now already should be close to 30% [of emissions]” .

Francisco Ferreira argues that while there is “a lot of investment in what is the wrong path in relation to combating climate change”, “enough is still not being done” .

"The trend is to continue to get worse and when we take the steps we could have anticipated it will take much longer to recover."

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts “ effectively dramatic effects”. And the Mediterranean, including Portugal, is pointed out as one of the most vulnerable regions in the world to climate change .

“It's not a question of being here reacting to fear, but it's what science tells us”, reflects Francisco Ferreira.

At this moment, the “slack is already small” : “ We are practically at an increase of 1.1°C [compared to the pre-industrial era]”. And according to the IPCC report, the“desirable” is that global warming by 2100 is 1.5 ºC.

If the temperature increase is higher than this value compared to the pre-industrial era, explains Francisco Ferreira, there will be “an increase in sea level, which will jeopardise coastal populations, a greater number of meteorological events of droughts and floods , diseases that did not exist before” , “various forest and agricultural species may disappear in Portugal because they cannot live in the new climatic conditions” and “obviously a greater lack of water, which is expected with the global warming that will affect the Iberian Peninsula”.

The consequences of the increase in temperature range from health to the economy and if we do not work from now on on “mitigation, reduction of emissions, and at the same time on adaptation”, the “costs will be very high” in the future.

For Francisco Ferreira, everything that is done preventively will “be cheaper in the medium-long term” , because it will not be necessary to deal with the impacts of climate change: “Reducing emissions has investment costs, [but] it ends up being a excellent investment, if they are structural measures” .

However, he argues that it should be done "with a framework in terms of sustainability" , that is not to be thought of only as a matter of climate, it is necessary to guarantee "the well-being and quality of life, it is not a return to the age of stone” . For this, it is essential “to reduce emissions while protecting [at the same time] the most vulnerable populations”.

And for a fair transition to take place there will have to be planning. Francisco Ferreira gives the example of the closing of the Matosinhos refinery , which “did not happen because this planning was not done” : “It is not to close the refinery overnight, it is to plan the inevitable closure of the refinery” .

The process involves working on mitigation, that is, reducing emissions, and at the same time adapting to climate change.

In mitigation, “the most important thing will be to look at the sectors that are most critical in terms of emissions”, such as energy production and transport. Francisco Ferreira outlines some goals in this area:

• More sustainable mobility;
• 100% renewable electricity in 2035;
• All energy, not just electricity, renewable by 2040;
• Change consumption habits, with regard to the amount of goods consumed;
• Promote a circular economy;
• Reduce waste.

In adaptation, he highlights the role of municipalities, where several “are identifying at their own scale how they are going to deal with floods, lack of water, rising sea levels, storms”.

“The role of cities and municipalities is absolutely crucial. Because we must have energy and climate plans, we must make this a priority in all municipalities so that they become more resilient, safeguarding populations in the medium and long term”, he says.

However, there are other fields where adaptation to climate change is taking place , such as in some agricultural sectors, says Francisco Ferreira, such as wine growing, which is already planning what it can and should do to deal with the increase in temperature. ; or the production of cork, where the cork oak “will also be at risk from climate change” .

The president of ZERO says that there is “a whole set of ideas for adaptation that have to move from goal to action ”.

"We need to do much more and faster, it will not be easy, there will no doubt be a translation in the economy, which will reach the consumer, but we need to really accelerate these actions."

Francisco Ferreira admits that in recent years the emission reduction should have been stronger "than it has actually happened" , stressing that the sooner we act " the more effectively humanity is more safeguarded, especially the most vulnerable” .

For this reason, he considers it “very important” that there are more and more people aware and that understand the “urgency of these measures”, but what is essential is that the Governments take measures that “should be concerted on a European and international scale” .

“The big problem with climate change is precisely this issue of us having complete dependence on each other, it is not enough for the US to play its role, it is not enough for Europe to be in the front line, it is not enough for Portugal now to have a set of large investments in railroad or in various areas to be able to reduce their emissions, it is really necessary that everyone goes in that direction.”

For COP26 Francisco Ferreira explains that there will be a “complicated agenda”, with several issues on the table, but the“most important of all is really that which concerns the goals that the countries will set out and will commit to”: “We have to make these changes for our own good and mainly for those who will come next and who need to find a planet in conditions not as dramatic as the scientists foresee”.


Original article available in Portuguese at http://postal.pt/


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