Interview with Francisco Ferreira
At the end of January 2022, Portugal voted for a new parliament in a snap election. We asked our experts which importance the election results have for climate policy, as the upcoming decade is essential to combat climate change and decisive climate action is needed.
What is your general perception of the election results?
Francisco Ferreira: The results of the Portuguese elections came as a surprise.
First, a brief introduction. The socialist party in Portugal is a centre-left party, while the social-democrats are a centre-right party. Those are the two larger parties in the country. The socialist party in the government did not have a majority and therefore was supported in the Parliament by smaller parties, particularly the Left Block and/or the Communist Party.
This election was triggered due to the failure of the Parliament to approve the State Budget for 2022 due to a negative vote by both the two mentioned essential supporting parties. None of the polls during the weeks before the elections considered the possibility of an absolute majority by the socialists and there were questions if the outcome would be a centre-left coalition or a centre-right coalition.
The election outcome cleared an absolute majority of the socialist party with 42% of the votes but with 118 out of 230 total parliamentarians, enabling a stable government that will stay for four years. Two of the small green parties suffered a defeat – the green party with a coalition with the communists lost their representation; PAN (People-Animals and Nature), went from four parliamentarians to just one. A populist/extreme right raised from one to 12 parliamentarians. The social-democrats decreased 8 representatives.
There might be several explanations, but it is clear that the left “useful vote” against a possible right majority run from the Left Block and the Communist Party to the socialists – both with a strong decrease, particularly the first one.
What is the significance of the election result in terms of climate policy? What are the expectations towards the new government?
FF: There are a couple of contradictions in the socialist electoral program like a strong climate mitigation policy combined with the expansion of the Lisbon airport, and a lack of integrity in several environmental policies, from agriculture to circular economy. However, the socialists were the ones promoting the carbon neutrality goal for Portugal in 2050 five years ago, they stopped coal and are front runners in the promotion of solar energy expansion, they are against nuclear and gas in the taxonomy, and, unless there are evident damage foreseen to the Portuguese economy, they will favor green policies under the Fit for 55 regulation.
A so called eco-coalition, with the socialists, PAN and another left party called Livre, would have been a greener possibility, but it came out as unnecessary. Prime-Minster António Costa promised to govern in an open dialogue with the other parties. Let’s see how far that will go. For ZERO, there is still a lot of work ahead with moderate optimism, since the absolute power usually block negotiations (for better and worse).
Portugal ranks 16th in the latest edition of the CCPI 2022. What short-term measures should the next government implement to improve the country’s ranking? What are three key demands?
FF: The three most important short-term measures would be the expansion of renewable production, particularly when coal is no longer part of the electricity mix, the need to decarbonise transportation that now is the sector with higher emissions, and the need to substantially improve building efficiency and overcome energy poverty.
There has been a lack between the approval of several renewable projects, particularly in solar, and the real implementation outcome. The government says it is a consequence of the pandemic with a current huge demand from professionals in this area. At the same time, there have been problems with sensitive locations for some of the renewable projects that should be tackled.
Concerning road transport, Portugal should implement policies to penalise the use of the combustion engine cars and promote rail, from within the county to connections with Spain – currently there is no train between the two capitals Lisbon and Madrid. Finally, it is a priority to intervene in the rehabilitation of buildings, most with lower energy efficiency, and with 20% of the population under energy poverty conditions.
What are the biggest climate policy challenges for your country until 2030?
FF: Faster and sustainable implementation of solar power with connections with hydrogen for non-electrical use is probably the most challenging objective. However, climate change adaptation should also be a priority since severe droughts and forest fires have been affecting the country in the last years.
Where is Portugal a role model for other countries?
FF: Portugal is both one of the most vulnerable countries concerning the impacts of climate change and one with higher decarbonisation targets. Handling these two challenges while in the periphery of Europe, with limited electricity interconnections, lower GDP per capita, long distances for tourists as one of the major economic activities, makes climate neutrality much more difficult to attain.
Which developments in your country give you hope?
FF: There is a broader consciousness by the population that climate change action is a priority and deserves policies and measures to be implemented. We just need to make sure that a just transition takes place, which still has to be properly implemented, particularly when two coal power plants and one of the two refineries closed during 2021.
→ Find more interviews with our CCPI experts here.