Cablegate: Portugal Environment Overview: Many Positive Steps

Published: Fri 8 Jan 2010 03:00 PM
DE RUEHLI #0012/01 0081500
R 081500Z JAN 10
E.O. 12958: N/A
REF: 09 LISBON 564
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1. Portugal's environmental programs, managed by the
Government of Portugal Environment Agency, have produced
impressive results in recent years. Ambitious renewable
energy programs should enable Portugal to meet targets for
greenhouse gas emissions under the Kyoto Protocol. Air and
water quality are improving, and water treatment services are
covering an increasing majority of the population.
Comprehensive waste management guidelines are increasing
rates of recycling/reuse and decreasing the generation of
industrial waste, although its disposal through
co-incineration remains a contentious issue. Conservation
and forest management plans are helping to ensure effective
stewardship of Portugal's biodiversity, but forest fires and
the pinewood nematode continue to threaten important forestry
2. Comment: Portugal has a robust environmental management
program, and despite limited resources, its agencies are
producing results. While climate change continues to be the
centerpiece of environmental and sustainable development in
Portugal, other more mundane initiatives such as recycling
are not being neglected and continue to improve the overall
environmental outlook in Portugal. End summary and comment.
3. The Portugal Environment Agency, APA, a component of the
Ministry of Environment, has responsibility for the GOP's
environmental and sustainable development policies. APA
authority covers many aspects of Portugal's National Program
for Climate Change (NPAC) as well as air and water quality,
waste management, and nature and biodiversity. The APA
oversees environmental assessments of major construction
projects, coordinates with nongovernmental and international
environmental organizations, and promotes environmental
awareness through educational programs and environmental
4. Climate change has dominated the Portuguese environmental
scene since EU ratification of the Kyoto Protocol in 2002.
The EU Agreement for Sharing of Responsibilities under Kyoto
established that Portugal should limit the growth of
greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to 27 percent above 1990
levels, which equates to a total increase of 382 million tons
of CO2-equivalent (Mt CO2e) during 2008-2012, an annual
average of 76.39 Mt CO2e.
5. Portugal's key tools to meet its climate change targets
are: (i) the National Program for Climate Change (PNAC),
which defines the national monitoring strategy and emissions
reduction by different sectors; (ii) the National Plan of
Allocation (NAP), which outlines implementation in Portugal
of the European Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS); and (iii)
the Portuguese Carbon Fund, which plans for development
activities to obtain credits for GHG emissions, including
investment in flexible mechanisms established under the Kyoto
6. In 2007 the GOP increased the targets in the PNAC based
on more ambitious measures in the energy supply sector and
increased use of biofuels in the transportation industry.
The additional measures of "New Goals 2007" have the
potential to reduce GHG emissions by 5.25 Mt CO2e per year,
almost 9 percent of the 1990 base level of 59.3 Mt CO2e,
through an increase from 39 percent to 45 percent in
electricity generation from renewable sources, expansion of
natural gas-fired electricity generation, and replacing 5 to
10 percent of coal with biomass to fuel two coal-fired power
plants (Central Sines and Pego.)
7. Francisco Ferreira, head of Quercus, a major Portuguese
environmental NGO, told us there is strong public support for
renewable energy initiatives in Portugal, but his group
recommends the GOP invest more in energy efficiency measures
instead of large, costly renewable energy projects such as
dams. Ferreira said Quercus does not oppose all new dam
construction, but says marginal projects like the Sabor dam
in northern Portugal, which will meet less than 1 percent of
the national electricity demand, are not worth the
environmental cost. A comparable investment in energy
efficiency, such as rehabilitating existing buildings or
expanding public transportation, would save much more energy
than Sabor will produce, would create additional jobs, and
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benefit the environment more, claimed Ferreira.
8. Fausto Brito e Abreu, an advisor for climate change at
the Ministry of Environment, told us that 2006 and 2007
national emissions of greenhouse gases, excluding emissions
and removals from forests and changes in land use, were 38
percent and 32 percent above values of 1990, respectively, in
other words about 11 percent and 5 percent above Portugal's
Kyoto target. Given this trend and future planned measures,
Brito e Abreu opines that Portugal will meet its Kyoto
Protocol targets.
9. Overall air quality in Portugal is good. Air pollutants
are primarily caused by industry, transport, and agriculture.
Air quality monitoring focuses on the levels of nitrogen
dioxide (NO2), ozone, acidification and eutrophication agents
(potentially causing acid rain, reduced water quality, and
oxygen depletion in bodies of water), and inhalable
10. Primary sources of NO2 are road transport, power plants,
heavy industry and the burning of biomass. The annual
average concentration for NO2 remains within acceptable
levels but is increasing. In 2007 the only measurement
exceeding acceptable levels was at Entrecampos, a high
traffic area in central Lisbon.
11. Ground level ozone pollution usually occurs in the
summer, with sunny days, high temperatures, and light winds -
conditions that occur frequently during summer months in
Portugal. Incidences of harmful levels of ground level ozone
vary from year to year with changing weather conditions. For
example, in 2007, one of the wettest years this century,
there were only 20 days exceeding acceptable ozone levels,
less than half the number observed in most preceding years.
By contrast, there were 69 days with dangerous levels in
2005, an extremely hot and dry year. The annual average
concentrations have remained relatively stable.
12. Acidifying and eutrophying pollutants may affect land
use and influence development of certain species of plants
and animals. Gases that contribute to acidification and
eutrophication are sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides
(NOx), and ammonia (NH3), and therefore emission levels of
these gases are used as indicators to assess the evolution of
these phenomena. Between 1990 and 2006 the emissions of
these substances had decreased 21 percent, largely
attributable to mandatory use of low-sulfur fuels beginning
in 2003. Portugal has made impressive progress in reducing
these pollutants and by 2006 had already attained 2010 target
13. Air pollution caused by inhalable particulates, sized at
10 microns or less (PM10), represents the highest air
pollution risk to public health. In Portugal, annual PM10
concentrations have been on a downward trend. Since 2000,
only in 2001 did the annual average concentration exceed the
acceptable level of 40 micrograms per cubic meter (mg/m3).
14. Portugal has a goal of providing 90 percent of the
population with treated water, and although this goal has
been reached in some areas, for much of the country coverage
rates are lower. Water treatment continues to expand,
reaching 70 percent of the population of continental Portugal
in 2006, a 3 percent increase from 2005. In the Portuguese
islands of the Azores and Madeira, water treatment services
were provided to 75 percent and 90 percent of the population,
15. Surface water quality is improving. In 2007 the surface
water quality ranking "Good" or "Excellent" rose to 26
percent, up from 21 percent in 2006 and 14 percent in 2005,
while "Bad" or "Very Poor" results were found for 36 percent
of tested sites, down from 39 percent in 2006 and 38 percent
in 2005. The primary factors for surface water contamination
are nutrient enrichment, especially nitrogen and phosphate,
from the use of fertilizers in agriculture, and urban sewage
discharges. The highest incidence of poor water quality
continues to be found in rural systems supplying fewer than
5,000 inhabitants.
16. Bathing water quality at beaches and in rivers is
monitored annually due to its impact on tourism and as an
indicator of overall environmental quality. In the 2007
bathing season (June 1 through September 30) over 94 percent
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of areas tested were acceptable, but 5 percent failed to meet
minimum standards and bathing was banned in 0.5 percent of
them. The tourist destination regions of the Algarve and
Lisbon and the nearby Tagus Valley had the best results.
17. There is a high volume of maritime traffic in areas
under Portuguese jurisdiction, and vessel accidents resulting
in pollution are a concern. Since the 1990 total of 130
polluting incidents, the number of incidents has been
steadily dropping, with only 25 incidents in 2007. This
reduction is largely credited to increased vigilance,
incident supervision, and expanded technical capabilities,
including the "Clean Sea Net," which provides satellite
images to locate incidents of marine pollution and
expeditiously mitigate their effects.
18. Between 1995 and 2006 production of municipal waste in
Portugal increased by about 29 percent, matching the gross
domestic product (GDP) increase over the same period. In
2006 4.6 million metric tons of municipal waste were
collected. This equates to roughly 1.3 kilograms of waste
produced per inhabitant per day, just below the EU average of
1.4 kilograms.
19. 56 percent of typical municipal waste in Portugal is
biodegradable, underscoring the need to prioritize disposal
through organic recycling, paper/cardboard recycling and
incineration with energy recapture, instead of landfill
20. There has been a marked shift from waste disposal at
uncovered landfills to the use of sanitary, covered disposal
sites and recycling. In 1995, 73 percent of waste was
deposited in open landfills, but by 2007 64 percent of waste
was deposited in covered sanitary sites, with the other 36
percent disposed of through incineration with energy recovery
(18 percent), organic recovery (11 percent) and collection
for recycling (7 percent). Measures passed in 2002 impose
phased reductions in landfill disposal of biodegradable
waste; in 2009 no more than 50 percent of biodegradable waste
may be disposed of in landfills, reducing to no more than 35
percent in 2016.
21. In 2005 the total production in Portugal of Industrial
Waste (IR) was about 31 million tons, a 50 percent increase
from 1998. Production of Hazardous Industrial Waste (RIP)
increased 7 percent over the same period, reaching 2.6
million tons. A National Plan for the Prevention of
Industrial Waste (PNAPRI) is being developed to reduce the
quantity of this material, seeking a 20 percent reduction for
all industrial waste.
22. RIP generated in Portugal is typically shipped abroad
for disposal. In 2000 co-incineration in cement kilns was
first proposed for disposal of RIP, and initial test results
were favorable enough for an environmental license to be
granted to cement manufacturer Cimpor to begin
co-incineration in January 2008. However, a class action
suit filed by a citizens group resulted in an injunction
which blocked the process until December 2009, when the
courts said the project could go forward. Legal maneuvering
continues, and on January 4, 2010 a CDS-PP (Democratic and
Social Centre - People's Party) legislator from Coimbra, near
the projected co-incineration site, said he will introduce a
bill in parliament to block the process.
23. Legislation passed in 2006 established strict guidelines
and responsibilities for the disposal of "special" waste
categories, including packaging, electrical components,
batteries, tires, oils, and vehicles. The legislation
includes requirements for recovery and recycling, use of more
eco-friendly designs to minimize hazardous waste, and
producer/importer responsibility in downstream recycling and
reuse. The guidelines have been very effective; recycling
increased by 26 percent from 2006 to 2007, and performance
targets for most categories have been met.
24. Portugal has adopted a National Strategy for the
Conservation of Nature and Biodiversity. In 2007
approximately 21 percent of the land in continental Portugal
was under some protection status.
25. Identification and preparation of lists of species
protected at the national and international level are key
steps for the preservation of species diversity. In 2005 the
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Portuguese Institute for Nature Conservation and Biodiversity
(ICNB) concluded a review of endangered species of flora and
fauna and their habitats, which revealed that Portugal now
has 19 regionally extinct species including sturgeon, the
grizzly bear and 17 species of birds. The main threats to
endangered species in Portugal are the destruction,
degradation and fragmentation of natural habitats resulting
from human activities and the introduction of non-native
26. In 2005 the forest area of mainland Portugal was
approximately 3.4 million hectares, or roughly 38 percent of
the total territory, mostly consisting of pine, oak, and
eucalyptus trees. There are oak reforestation efforts
underway, as oak ecosystems are rich in biodiversity and,
because they thrive in more arid areas, play an important
role in combating desertification.
27. Forest fires are major threats to Portugal's forests.
Increasing fragmentation of forest ownership and the growing
abandonment of many agricultural areas complicate forest
management and the prevention of fires. In 2006 the National
Forest Defense Against Fire plan was adopted, including the
definition of a strategy for active management of the forest
and the progressive reduction of forest fires. Since the
plan was adopted firefighting capabilities have increased,
but they have not yet been tested in heavy fire seasons
28. The pinewood nematode (PWN) is a significant threat to
Portugal's pine forests. Portugal has been working to
control and eradicate the PWN since it was first detected in
the pine forests of Setubal (central Portugal) in 1999. The
PWN is classified as a quarantine organism by the European
Community, and its presence forced Portugal to begin taking
costly measures to prevent its spread throughout Europe.
Because the maritime pine is the species covering the
greatest area of mainland Portugal, the PWN created a severe
challenge for the GOP and the Portuguese forestry industry,
which led to creation of the National Eradication Program of
the Pinewood Nematode (PROLUNP) in 1999. Despite significant
efforts to prevent the spread of the PWN, since 1999 it has
been found in broader areas of the country, and will continue
to threaten Portugal's pine resources for years to come.
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