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An opportunity for Portugal and the planet

portugalAs Portugal heads into a sizzling weekend, with historically high temperatures forecast and a possibility the European temperature record of 48º C will be broken, Europe`s new favourite country should seize the opportunity to ban fossil fuel exploration, reinforce the already strong Portugal brand and contribute to climate change leadership.

Let`s take a look at the evidence. 2017 went on record as one of the three hottest years of modern times. Now, in early August 2018, Europe is in the middle of a scorching heat wave, and not just Southern Europe but Northern Europe too.

Temperatures at Heathrow, in the United Kingdom, recently hit a record 35ºC, while in Norway reindeer have been sheltering in tunnels where temperatures are cooler. Germany has been affected by an inconvenient beer bottle shortage, and in Greece, wild fires recently claimed 90 lives around Athens.

This week the Global Footprint Network announced that humankind had consumed all the planet`s natural resources that can be replaced in a year… by 1st August, a date which is gradually getting earlier each year.

Defying all this evidence, the current American administration has withdrawn the United States from the 2015 Paris Agreement, making President Trump one of the last remaining climosceptic leaders on the planet.

In July, Ireland, a country with a population of less than 5 million people, committed to divesting public funds from fossil fuel companies. A bill has been passed in the Irish parliament (Dail), making Ireland the first country to adopt such a measure, although the country is still lagging behind in respecting climate change actions.

And how is Portugal measuring up in combatting climate change? The picture is contrasted, to say the least.

The Portuguese government has launched tenders for oil exploration off the Algarve coast, while stubbornly ignoring mass citizen protests in both the Algarve and the capital, Lisbon. Although one shouldn`t bandy the `C word` around too readily, it`s not certain exactly what`s going on here, as the royalties the government is planning to impose on exploration companies are peculiarly low… when you would have supposed that the whole idea of permits would be to secure maximum tax revenue for the state. Oil drilling could start as early as 15th September.

In March this year, Portugal generated more renewable energy than it needs (104%), with wind and hydroelectric power covering more than the country`s total energy requirements.

This was followed, on 12th July, by the signing of the Porto Protocol, a commitment promoted by The Fladgate Partnership CEO, Adrien Bridge, to develop climate change combat leadership through a platform sharing wine industry best practices.

The Porto Protocol was the culminating point of the Climate Change Leadership Porto Summit, at which the keynote speaker was former US President Barack Obama. Obama stated that businesses worldwide needed to take the initiative, implying that legislators would eventually follow suit.

Portugal has been enjoying an impressive comeback since it managed to exit a 78 billion euro IMF loan in 2014. This was achieved thanks to drastic austerity measures and skilful marketing of the country as an attractive tourism destination and fertile investment territory. Politics is often about showmanship, and Prime Minister António Costa has been particularly talented at hyping up his country`s recovery.

Portugal now has a historic opportunity to go for a European leadership position in the combat to mitigate climate change, while at the same time capitalizing on the country`s strong renewable energy potential. The government should act decisively and make a bold political move to ban all fossil fuel exploration and promote Portugal as a renewable energy focused economy, offering the appropriate tax incentives for investors.

This policy would be consistent with Portugal`s brand positioning as a quality tourism destination and provide a clear roadmap for sustainable development and foreign investment.

António Costa has the political bravura to bring this off and swap a corruption-friendly environment for a planet-friendly one. It remains to be seen whether he has the vision or the will.

©James Mayor, 2018

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The author is the founder of Grape Discoveries, the wine and culture boutique travel company - click HERE