Accelerate rights-based climate and environmental action, says UN expert: Portugal


LISBON/GENEVA (27 September 2022) — Portugal’s global leadership in recognising the human right to a healthy and ecologically balanced environment needs to be matched by urgent, accelerated actions to address the climate emergency, a UN expert said today.

“This year Portugal has endured more than 1,000 deaths related to heatwaves, lost 110,000 hectares of forest to wildfires, and suffered a severe drought affecting the entire nation, with enormous impacts on human rights, including the right to a healthy environment,” David Boyd, the Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, said after a nine-day visit to the country.

In his end-of-mission statement, Boyd issued recommendations on a series of issues, including Portugal’s legal framework for human rights and the environment, the climate crisis, air pollution, the rights of children, solid waste management and the transition to a green economy.

“Portugal has a very strong legal framework for protecting human rights and the environment, from the pioneering provisions in the 1976 Constitution (Article 66) to the new Basic Law on Climate”, the UN expert said. Further, key actions have been taken, such as closing the last coal-fired power plants, achieving 99 per cent access to safe drinking water and creating an Environmental Fund with a 2022 budget of more than €1.1 billion.

“However, Portugal needs to raise its level of ambition and most importantly increase the pace of implementation in addressing key human rights concerns such as air pollution and waste management, applying a rights-based approach to all climate and environmental action,” Boyd said.

Portugal has huge solar potential but only ranks 13th in the EU in generating electricity from sunlight. Wind energy production has only grown two per cent annually in Portugal since 2012, compared to more than 20 per cent annually for the world. Recycling rates have failed to reach EU targets, air pollution in urban areas ­– mainly from traffic — exceeds healthy levels, and many low-income Portuguese still live in buildings that are not energy efficient.

To prevent wildfires and protect the population, more sustainable landscape management is urgently needed such as replacing the coverage of non-native species like eucalyptus with native species that are more fire resistant — oak, cork and chestnut — and replacing large monocultures with diverse mosaics of farms, pastures and forests.

Actions to advance the transition to a green economy, from large renewable energy projects to proposed lithium mines, must not proceed unless they meet the highest environmental standards, maximize public benefits, and respect human rights.

The Special Rapporteur noted that Portuguese youth are among the most concerned and outspoken in the world about the climate crisis. “To fulfil their rights, the government must give them a seat at the table, listen to their concerns and act upon their recommendations.”

During his visit, Boyd met with Government officials from national and local governments, representatives of civil society, business, academia, youth, UN agencies and other experts. He had field visits to Porto, Covilhã, Serra da Estrela, Boticas, Covas do Barroso and Reserva Natural das Dunas de São Jacinto.

The Special Rapporteur will present a full report to the UN Human Rights Council in March 2023.

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