Online Workshop: Landscape transition in Portugal

Workshop internacional ESPON: Rumo a paisagens mais resilientes e resistentes aos incêndios na Europa. Neste workshop esteve presente o presidente da Câmara Municipal de Monchique como orador a falar da experiência do território neste domínio

We are currently experiencing the challenges of reducing the effects of climate change; not only with regard to climate mitigation efforts (such as implementing the EU Green Deal to reduce the impact of people on our climate), but also with regard to climate adaptation (trying to deal with the impacts of climate change). The latter does not focus as much on the average temperature rise of our climate due to man-made air pollution, but mainly on the ongoing extremes of our disrupted weather system. Periods of extreme heat and drought are increasingly alternated with periods of heavy rainfall, storms, and (extreme) low temperatures. These extremes cause major hazards throughout Europe, with regard to floods, sea level rise, attacks on the coastal defence systems, avalanches, hailstorms etc., which can result in a lack of drinking water, depletion of crops, and therewith lack of food supply and ongoing migration. In this Peer Learning Workshop (PLW), however, we will focus predominantly on the ongoing rise of rural megafires, and its impact not only on the safety of our lives and general well-being, but also its impact on ecosystems, the liveability of the countryside, agriculture, tourism, etc. These challenges require significant landscape transitions to lower the impact of extreme weather circumstances and allow for better control over these hazards.

Territorial Focus

Here we will focus on the situation in Portugal, not only because Portugal is ranked the highest for rural fires in Europe, but also because Portugal is regarded ‘the canary in the mine’ in this respect. The situation in Portugal, and perhaps the situation in the whole of the Iberian Peninsula in general, is soon expected to move north into the unprepared lands of Europe. In this sense, Portugal can also be “a case study for the rest of Europe” (Portuguese fire chief Oliveira, cited in Elbein 2019).

In Portugal, 2017 proved to be a record year for rural fires. Forest fires that took place in June and October caused the death of around 100 people and resulted in the loss of over 520,000 hectares of forest, shrub, natural pasture, and agricultural land. Moreover, thousands of people have lost their homes and their businesses were affected. Before 2017, 2003 was a record year in terms of area burned in the mainland: about 425,000 ha. As such, we are witnessing the overture to a new age of mega forest fires (not only in the USA and Australia, but also in Europe), as a kind of nonlinear chemical reaction of the release of energy trapped in the carbon bonds of trees. This can’t be fought effectively anymore but only starved on the ground. In Portugal, this problem unfolds specifically when cold Atlantic winds meet a hot Mediterranean summer. However, fire researchers also point to other contributing factors, such as shifting demographics with the population moving from rural to urban areas, the adjoining fragmentation of land ownership that discourages investment in forest management and fire planning, and the changes in land use where frequently abandoned agricultural land is becoming naturally forested again, but now with fast-growing tree species, packed with essential oils that allows a wildfire to spread even further (Diário da República no. 14/2019, Series I of 2019-01-21).

Ver mais em