How Portugal is preparing for climate change

Several cities are drawing up plans of action as a response to climate change. The causes and consequences of a global phenomenon measured on a local scale. Get to know examples of cities including Lisbon, Porto and Viseu

The data is eye-opening: it is estimated that concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the earth´s atmosphere have increased by 40% since the pre-industrial age. And while climate change is already present in our day-to-day, it could be more prominent in the future: the continued emission of greenhouse gases (GHG) is expected to give rise to an additional increase in the average global temperature and a number of changes in relation to the climate, with extreme daily and seasonal heat waves – and increasingly less cold weather.

The topic is now on the global agenda, but the strategy is local: how are Portuguese cities preparing for climate change? In Lisbon, the approach has involved the recreation of natural systems, with ecological corridors through valleys connecting riverside areas and the inner city. This “reduces the exposure of buildings and urban infrastructure to damage caused by extreme climatic phenomena”.

It is estimated that rainfall will diminish by between 11 and 35 days per year in Lisbon by the end of the century

“We have achieved excellent results in relation to climatic mitigation, with a 50% reduction in CO2 levels between 2002 and 2012, and a 23% reduction in the consumption of electricity”, declares Manuel Salgado, councillor for Planning, Urbanism, Urban Rehabilitation and Public Areas, in the strategic document published by the Lisbon City Council. It is estimated that rainfall will diminish by between 11 and 35 days per year in the capital by the end of the century. Moreover, temperatures are likely to increase, with more frequent heat waves.

The 27 strategies

With the ClimAdaPT.Local project as the launch pad, headed by the University of Lisbon School of Sciences CCIAM/cE3c research centre and managed by the Portuguese Environmental Agency, 27 towns and cities began drawing up their plans of action in 2016. The project enjoyed international financial support: 1.2 million euros from Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.

These Portuguese cities – including Amarante, Braga, Castelo Branco, Evora, Funchal, Lisbon and Porto – spent two years striving to establish methodologies and plans of action to combat climatic phenomena caused by the emission of GHG on a local basis. The process involved specialised training workshops, resulting in 52 trained technicians, 2 for each of the 26 municipalities benefitting from the “Municipal Strategies for Adaptation to Climate Change” programme.

The Municipalities for Adaptation to Climate Change Network was also founded. Its mission is to increase the capacity of local structures to include the issue in its policies, planning tools and activities.

In Porto, the main concern – and consequence – has been the sea: an increase in heavy swells and coastal erosion due to rising sea levels is forecast by the middle and the end of the century, in addition to excessive rainfall and urban flooding, landslides, extreme temperatures, heat waves and cold fronts. In light of this scenario, the document published by the Porto City Council states that “52 strategic options have been identified geared to gradually preparing the city to absorb the impacts of climate change, to adapt and to be retroactive”.

The expansion of the bicycle path network was one of the measures defined in the Municipal Master Plan for Porto

Measures were established as part of the Municipal Master Plan geared to preparing buildings in relation to energy sustainability, pedestrianising streets, expanding the cycle path network, planting more vegetation, mapping ‘urban heat islands’, developing a maintenance and operating plan for the city´s drainage networks, revamping inhabited riverside areas, among others.

Forest fires

The municipal strategy is in line with the Government's guidelines and the plan for 2020 - 2030, involving an investment of 300 million euros by 2020 and over 1.3 billion euros over the coming decade. Some cities have submitted applications to community programmes. This is the case of Viseu, which recently saw funds of 2.4 million euros approved after applying to the European LIFE - Environment and Resource Efficiency programme.

Viseu has had funds of 2.4 million euros approved for a project geared to the implementation of innovative forest firefighting techniques

Conducted in partnership with the Extremadura City Council, the Sierra de San Pedro Association of Municipalities, the University of Extremadura and the Polytechnic Institute of Viseu, one of the goals consisted of the implementation of innovative forest fire fighting techniques, such as controlled fire and silvopasture to create fuel management strips, thereby splitting up the countryside. “Furthermore, this project complies with the measures defined in the Intermunicipal Plan for Adaptation to Climate Change”, said the Executive Secretary of CIM Viseu Dão Lafões, Nuno Martinho.