Portugal on the path to carbon neutrality

Portugal - 
Cláudia Saavedra Pinto and Frederica Gonçalves, Department of Public Law at Garrigues in Portugal

Achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 is the central goal of European environmental policies in the coming years. With this in mind, the Portuguese government recently approved the Carbon Neutrality Roadmap 2050, establishing the main vectors of decarbonisation to be implemented, mainly in the electricity and mobility industries.

The 2015 Paris Agreement set the tone for a world more attentive to the state of the planet and the impact of human action on the environment, after decades of focusing on the progress of industrialisation while paying no attention to environmental concerns.

However, achieving the main goals set out in the Agreement will depend on joint, committed and effective action by the Parties that ratified it. To this end, the Agreement establishes the need to achieve carbon neutrality by the second half of the century, and the Parties must present, by 2020, their respective long-term development strategy with low greenhouse gas emissions.

Portugal ratified the Paris Agreement on 30 September 2016, and then committed to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. Following these lines, and trying to guide national policies to achieve this objective, the Portuguese Government developed the Carbon Neutrality Roadmap 2050 (RNC2050), approved by resolution of the Council of Ministers No. 107/2017 of 1 July 2019. RNC2050, which establishes the main decarbonisation vectors, proposed the electricity and mobility industries as the two main levels for action. In order to achieve the objectives set out, a number of alternatives leading to decarbonisation in these industries were proposed.

The main priority in the energy industry is the gradual discontinuation of use of fossil fuels in the generation of electricity, with a commitment to dismantle coal power plants by 2030 and cease production based on natural gas by 2040. Therefore, the goal is to ensure that the entire installed energy capacity in Portugal comes from renewable sources. Specifically, RNC2050 envisages an increase in the generation of photovoltaic solar energy, reaching 13 GW by 2050; of hydroelectric power, reaching, together with batteries, 7.5 GW of installed capacity by 2050; and of wind power (onshore and offshore).

At this level, it is important to highlight the important measures already taken. A significant measure is the incentive to investment in photovoltaic energy generation through auctions to reserve injection capacity into the Public Service Electricity Network for photovoltaic energy (with and without guaranteed remuneration). The first one already took place in July, and another one is expected at the start of the new year.

In parallel, changes in the mobility industry are expected. In this regard, RNC2050 set the goal of a 100% electrical domestic passenger car fleet by 2050, and the introduction of new fuels such as hydrogen for heavy vehicles.

Conscious of the urgent need to reduce emissions by one the most polluting industries, transportation, Portugal has already taken measures for some years. In 2010, an electric mobility network was created that integrates vehicle charging points throughout the country. More recently, we would also like to highlight, as an incentive to reduce cars in cities, the reduction of social credits and the implementation of light mobility models in large cities.

At this point, as we near the 2019 Climate Summit to be held in December, it is important to reflect on the implementation of the objectives proposed in the Paris Agreement. The conclusion is that, despite the suitability of the measures already implemented, there is still a long way to go. Therefore it is urgently necessary to apply measures that will achieve the goals established in RNC2050, which will undoubtedly require the adaptation of existing regulatory frameworks, especially in the electricity industry, resulting in the entry of new agents in the market.