is an increasingly widening
agreement that the swift progression of climate change is real and
that it will effect
the whole human population over the next generations.
Acknowledging this fact, world leaders have agreed in December 2015, that the time to stop the rise of global temperature has come. At COP21, 195 countries signed the Paris Agreement1, which, among other goals, aims to ensure that the increase of global average temperature lies below the 2ºC above the pre-industrial levels and to limit the temperature rise to 1.5ºC above pre-industrial levels2.
Portugal was one these countries, and the Minister for the Environment, João Matos Fernandes, claimed that Portugal was prepared to comply with the main decisions of the agreement: the reduction of greenhouse effect emissions by phasing out fossil fuels in 20503. From the date of this document’s publication, Portugal has 33 years to honour this international commitment.
Despite the long-standing political commitment of Portugal to the Kyoto Protocol and to the negotiations that followed, a set of organisations and citizens felt the need, just a few months before COP21, to found the Plataforma Algarve Livre de Petróleo (PALP - Oil-Free Algarve Platform). The ironic contention has motivated the rise of many similar movements (now spread throughout the country) and has generated outrage in citizens who do not understand how a country that is so dependent on activities such as fishing and tourism (and with no tradition in oil exploration) is - in the 21st century and ratifying the Paris Agreement4 – now moving towards the prospection and exploration of hydrocarbons.
At a time when, all over the world, alternative energies to replace fossil fuels are sought, the Portuguese government makes a clear investment in the exploration of hydrocarbons, although it has signed a firm commitment to the opposite environmental direction. Knowing that the use of fossil fuels has a significant contribution to global warming and the destruction of ecologically sensitive and economically important habitats, Portugal should take concrete steps to take advantage of renewable energies that exist in the large marine area under its jurisdiction. A first step should be the development of research and pilot projects to make use of solar energy, waves and tides, among others, to create alternative energy conditions that would make the country a worldwide pioneer in this area. This would allow not only taking advantage of the energetic resources, but also exporting knowledge and technology to other countries.
However, investing in innovation and the respective population’s skills and resources is not an exclusive responsibility of the Government. In our daily choices, we have the chance to contribute to a sustainable future. As citizens, it is tempting not to worry about our surroundings and get carried away by the comfortable illusion that we do not hold the power to stop the process. Movements like PALP, which has been leading the fight against oil exploration, have demonstrated the opposite by collating 42 thousand objections to the so-called Aljezur drill. PALP’s public demonstrations of popular discontent confirmed that citizenship can still be active and that there is a manifestation for concepts of “public domain” and “public good”.
Alternatives to deep sea mining are available, and can be found in the transition of economies towards more sustainable approaches. Reducing the demand for raw materials through better product design, sharing, re-use, repairing and recycling, the development of new materials, a transition to smart energy and mobility systems and structural changes in consumption patterns and lifestyles are key to the solution.
Up to 90% of the world's electronic waste is illegally traded or dumped. Every year in the EU, 100 million mobile phones go unused, less than 10% are recycled. This represents an enormous quantity of gold and other metals gone to waste. These figures indicate the huge potential of policies to increase resource efficiency world-wide, and the importance of focusing on e.g. urban mining instead of deep sea mining. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and in particular SDG 12 “Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns”, and SDG 14 “Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources” set the global frame for rethinking our economy. Unless we stop and think, we risk squandering one of our most precious ecosystems, which has a vital role to play in the health of our planet, for an obsolete dream of boundless growth.