In an ‘especially important’ year to advance green policy matters at the European level – with community negotiation on issues such as greening of the common agricultural policy (PAC) or the end of fossil fuel subsidies, among others—, the environmental sector in Spain and Portugal hopefully receives the Portuguese leadership in the Council of the EU, a responsibility that he will share with Germany (the outgoing presidency) and with Slovenia (the incoming one in the second half of 2021).
The mood improves, especially after Portugal arrived at this position in early January with a priority list ‘climatic’ under the arm. To begin with, he has committed to approving the first European climate law before June, as the Portuguese Minister of Environment and Climate Action stated at a press conference, João Pedro Matos Fernandes.
In climate policy, Portugal is only surpassed by Finland and Sweden, which occupy the first two positions at the European level
The Council of the EU is made up of the ministers of the governments of the Twenty-seven, and is the main decision-making body together with the European Parliament. With the latter, the Council is in charge of negotiating and adopting EU legislation, based on the Commission’s proposals.
Furthermore, Lisbon will have to mediate between European institutions on other issues key to accelerate the ecological transitionsuch as the end of indirect subsidies for fossil fuels, the reform of the PAC, which represents a third of the European budget, and the creation of an independent committee of scientists to measure progress in the climate fight of each Member State.
So sums it up Florent Marcellesi, co-spokesperson for Fair and former deputy of The European Greens, who emphasizes that “after the hottest year on record and extreme climatic events like Filomena, it is essential to bet on the greatest possible climate ambition to meet science and youth”.
From both political formations, they ask the Council to retain the European Parliament’s proposal of, by 2030, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 60% compared to 1990 levels, Marcellesi emphasizes, and concludes that “the footprint that Portugal will leave in its passage through the European presidency will largely depend on its climate ambition.”
In recent years, the green policies adopted in Portugal have made move the country up in the climate action evaluation rankings. So this year, for example, Portugal is already among the top 20 positions in the Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI) 2021, which examines the climate ambition of the 57 countries responsible for 90% of global greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), guilty of global warming.
While Portugal has climbed eight positions with respect to the results of the CICC 2020, Spain has dropped seven, and is now in the number 41, among countries with ‘relatively low’ climate performance.
“When it comes to climate goals, this government has been very ambitious, and public support for Portugal’s climate action has increased considerably, especially among the younger population, who has mobilized following the example of Greta Thunberg”, Value Carlos Teixeira, co-founder of the party Delivered, a Portuguese libertarian and environmentalist formation born in 2014.
Teixeira believes that one of the policies that illustrate this turn to green in Portugal is the inclusion of carbon tax in 2021 budgets. “We have been fighting for an environmental tax reform in Portugal for years and we see that it is finally happening. We wanted the Carbon tax will also apply to aviation, but we understand that this has to coordinate with the EU at European level”, He says.
As well Tiago Pitta e Cunha, an environmental specialist and former advisor to the President of Portugal, identifies this trend due to an increasing demand for green policies by Portuguese voters. Against this background, this expert thinks that “in everything that concerns climate, energy and the environment, Portugal will be on the front line of progress, which will probably help the EU to develop a progressive agenda during this presidency ”, although he believes that the pandemic and in particular vaccination will monopolize much of the efforts of the Twenty-seven.
In the European negotiations that try to define the content of the European climate law, Portugal has a “quite proactive” role, it judges for its part Luis Suarez, Conservation coordinator of WWF Spain, who predicts that Portugal will try to raise ambition, but in a measured way. “The timing is very important, because we are in the middle of a change in the financial structure and there are major international agreements on the agenda where the EU must position itself, not only in climatic matters but also in others. In these six months, work will be done on a law for the restoration of biodiversity, for example, and another to avoid imported deforestation [a través de la importación de cultivos como la soja o el aceite de palma]”.
His intuition is that the presidency of Portugal will be “very important politically, although with little visibility from the outside,” since the final decisions will surely be made during the leadership of Slovenia. In any case, it alleges that, “of course, it is very good news that the presidency in that period of tougher negotiations be from Portugal and not from Poland, for example”.
The great challenge of greening the CAP
Regarding the CAP, Celsa Hairstyle, Coordinator of Agrarian Policy and Sustainable Food in this same organization, is concerned that the Council of the EU tip the balance towards a more ambitious position to do, as requested from WWF, “that the PAC Be a instrument at the service of the European Green Deal, the tool to meet climate and biodiversity objectives ”.
“It is up to the Portuguese presidency to close the negotiations to define the regulations, something that will determine how the CAP will be from 2023-2027. We ask that, among other things, the robust conditionality proposal be maintained, with standards aligned with the ecological transition such as condition for farmers to access these CAP aid”Explains Peiteado, who adds that, for now, the Council is the one that wants to weaken the conditionality.
This expert considers the fact that Portugal is at the forefront of these negotiations encouraging, since the country faces environmental challenges very similar to those of Spain – such as water scarcity, fighting fires or loss of extensive livestock, for example— and therefore share the same interest in protecting biodiversity from a change in agricultural model.