· Environment  · · T. Joana Rebelo · P. Rights Reserved

The climatological outlook in Portugal

From 0 to 100: from drought to floods 

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2022 was a year of climatological extremes in Portugal. There was a drought that, severely, spread throughout the country. Six heat waves. Episodes of torrential rainfall in the month of December, which broke century-old records in Lisbon due to its intensity. According to a study by the European Environment Agency (EEA), these types of climatic episodes have cost Europe 142,000 lives and almost 510 billion Euros over the last 40 years, and Portugal is among the European countries most affected in terms of premature deaths and economic losses.
Given the alarming climatological outlook, V&G sought to gather more information on the occurrence of these natural disasters. This is why board of directors member of IPMA (Portuguese Institute for Sea and Atmosphere), Telmo Carvalho, the WWF and Climáximo had a joint conversation that brings up harsh reflections.
According to the IPMA board member, «this year in particular there was, during the summer period, a persistence of an abnormal cyclonic circulation centred southwest of the Iberian Peninsula, in combination with an anomalous flow from the South/Southeast, which generated an entry of very hot and very dry air from the North Africa/Mediterranean region to the European continent, resulting in very high air temperature anomalies and the occurrence of heat waves. Mainland Portugal experienced a hydrological drought, which the authorities view as the worst in the last hundred years. But the events did not stop. After a severe drought, in December the Euro-Atlantic sector was dominated, «by an anomalous cyclonic circulation below a region located north of the Azores archipelago, which promoted a flow of warm and very humid air masses from the subtropical Atlantic, resulting in a period in which the temperature and precipitation values in the region of the Iberian Peninsula by far exceeded the monthly average for the month of December,» explains Telmo Carvalho. When we think of the Alentejo, we certainly don’t associate the idea of rain, but even in this part of the country there was an «atmospheric river», which fell from the sky and flooded everything in its path. Some towns in Portalegre recorded more rain in one day than in a whole month. Several areas in Lisbon and Oporto were flooded. A dramatic scenario which submerged houses, businesses and the memories of a lifetime.

Some towns […] recorded more rain in one day than in a whole month  
Facts are not debatable, but forecasts and views on what should or should not be done are open to discussion. Questioned about the possibility of Portugal being prepared to face a scenario identical to last year’s, the Climáximo collective, a group of activists driven by the urgency of combating climate change, is hesitant, revealing that there is no preparation or adaptation without reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. «How can we think about being prepared if private jets continue with their trips? How can we think about being prepared if GHG emissions are forecast to continue increasing?,» Climaximo asks. From the group’s perspective, only mitigation plans, based on climate science and aimed at social justice and energy democracy, will prevent a climate collapse. WWF, the largest independent global organisation for nature conservation, stresses that it is necessary to adapt to the effects of climate change, and that it is not enough to reduce GHG emissions. Catarina Grilo, WWF’s Director of Conservation and Policy in Portugal, explains her point of view: «The floods wouldn’t have had the impact they’ve had if we hadn’t, over the course of decades, built on river fronts, destroying habitats like marshland, or channelled waterways, thinking that this would control their flow better, or built on flood plains, because we wanted views of the sea or river. The drought would also not have had the effect it did if we had reduced our excessive use of water long ago.»
Only one final question remains: what needs to be done to make the population even more aware of environmental causes? Haven’t we learnt from the catastrophic events we’ve been experiencing? Climáximo quickly explains that the problem doesn’t lie in the lack of understanding or awareness, but rather in the choices made by those who could effectively reduce emissions and prefer not to do so. But the WWF shares another view: «The Portuguese are very aware of climate change – a subject that frequently makes the national and also international news.» Even so, Catarina Grilo points to the fact that the Portuguese have little awareness of the loss of biodiversity: «In the last 50 years, we have already lost 69% of mammal, bird, reptile and amphibian populations throughout the world,» the WWF member reveals.

The Portuguese have little awareness of the loss of biodiversity
Climáximo believes that, in the 21st century, there are still denialists, explaining that in order to meet the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 ºC, 40% of the reserves already being exploited will have to be left underground. Adding: «In the economic system in which we live, this means the bankruptcy of fossil fuel companies. To be a denialist is to deny that this has to happen. Any discourse that says it is possible to solve the climate crisis without disrupting the economy is a denialist discourse, which does not take into account the reality and the basis of the problem.» The organisation argues that there is an institutional denialism, which is reflected in situations where «the president of the next COP is a CEO of an oil company or when, at the last COP, the reduction of emissions was not even discussed, only money was discussed».

It is expected that the air temperature will reach even higher values

At the end of the conversation the IPMA board member makes a forecast, revealing that it is expected that the air temperature will reach even higher values in many regions of the planet, along with extreme phenomena of greater frequency, greater intensity and greater spatial and temporal extent. In its last message, the WWF clarifies that what is in danger is the survival of people, with the quality of life they are used to, because, in truth, «the planet will not disappear, it survives well without us». In the last moment, Climáximo requests people read up on the Campanha Empregos para o Clima (Jobs for the Climate campaign), which guarantees to cut emissions in Portugal by 85%, creating 200,000 new jobs. A conversation that requires reflection and openness, to be read in full today, not tomorrow.
Joana Rebelo
T. Joana Rebelo
P. Rights Reserved
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