Innovation News Network speaks to João Pedro Matos Fernandes, the Environment Minister for Portugal about policies and plans after the Portugal 2020 sustainability programme.
The Portuguese Government is on target to hit its 2020 sustainability programme goals and over the past few years has transformed its ability to produce and store more renewable energy, in a bid to make the country cleaner and greener. Becoming carbon neutral is at the top of the agenda in Portugal and Innovation News Network spoke to the Portuguese Environment Minister, João Pedro Matos Fernandes to find out how the country plans to go forward after the Portugal 2020 sustainability programme ends.
How has the PO SEUR programme boosted sustainability throughout Portugal?
The Portgual 2020 sustainability programme, or PO SEUR, is a programme which is funded by the European Commission. It has a very important role in supporting investment in Portugal for sustainability and efficient resource use. It is divided into three different parts, the first being to support the transition and development of a low carbon economy; there are currently a lot of projects which are supported by this. The second part is about promoting action in climate change and preventing the risks associated with climate change in terms of floods, unstable cliffs, mountains, etc. The third one sets out to protect the environment and promote resource efficiency, which is very important.
Is Portugal on track to achieve the goals set out under the 2020 sustainability programme?
Yes, we are all very committed, we have achieved all of our previous goals in Portugal and we will achieve these ones. We are trying to do more than the 2020 sustainability programme goals as we have committed to being carbon neutral by 2050, which means that we are now in the process of developing a carbon neutral roadmap. The sustainability goals will be achieved before 2020 and I believe that in order to be carbon neutral in 2050, we will have to surpass them. I think with the right policies Portugal and other countries can achieve the same goals and make Europe clean and sustainable.
How has Portugal improved its transport and infrastructure to reduce carbon emissions and how effective have the improvements been?
We are investing a lot in the metropolitan areas of Lisbon and Porto. We have a big project to replace more than 500 buses, which will now run as electric powered vehicles. We are also investing in the two underground networks. These investments will mean that many of the trips that are generally taken by car can be replaced with trips on the underground system or via bus. The biggest challenge that we have in Portugal when we are talking about the environment is the mobility challenge and I have no doubt we are going the right way and in four or five years everything will be quite different in Portugal.
What are the mitigating factors to consider in the road map for creating a carbon neutral country?
There are two very important factors, the first one focuses on how we produce our energy. We are dealing with three or four companies and I think the stakeholders have noticed that there is a lot of work to be done.
The second factor is mobility and when we talk about transportation, we are talking about changing the behaviour of people. In terms of figures, the challenge may not be that big, but because we are talking about people, we have to remember that they have the freedom to make their own choices. We need more awareness and greater incentives to drive the traffic sector forward and in the right direction.
Despite producing enough renewable energy to power the whole country in March, Portugal is behind the 10% interconnected target. How do you hope to solve and improve Portugal’s interconnectivity?
At the end of July our government met with the EU and the Spanish and French governments to discuss this topic. We are quite aware that the interconnectivity problem is not between Portugal and Spain, but actually between Spain and France. We will work with the other governments and the EU to increase interconnectivity. We will make sure that all of the electricity which is produced in Portugal using renewable energy will be distributed between the three countries.
What can we expect to see after the Portugal 2020 sustainability programme?
Europe can expect to see Portugal as a country which is very committed to its circular economy. We have a national plan and at the top of this is circular economy and decarbonisation. There are a lot of investments which we need to look at and these will be both in energy and transportation.
Is enough being done at an EU level to encourage sustainability and to improve the European environment?
I think the most important thing is for all of the Member States to work together. I have big expectations around the result of the summit in Poland at the end of this year, there are different viewpoints within the European Union and I think that we can reach a unified commitment between everyone.
What areas of the energy sector need the most improvement and attention?
We have a lot to improve and we are working on it already. The biggest one is solar power, we get a lot of our energy from wind, however Portugal is a very sunny country and we need to use this to our advantage and generate more power from this. We are launching a big programme to have more energy coming from solar; I have no doubt that we can achieve a target of more than 10% of our total energy production arising from solar power over the next four or five years.
We haven’t focused on solar previously due to having more important areas of investment at the top of our agenda. We don’t produce the panels ourselves in Portugal, so that was never our main focus as it was a more difficult option. But now that we have transformed our wind energy, we can move onto solar.
João Pedro Matos Fernandes
Minister of Environment
Portuguese Ministry of Environment