SUN, SEA, AND WIND

Portugal 2019 | ENERGY & GREEN ECONOMY | INTERVIEW

The Ministry for the Environment and Energy Transition is focusing on decarbonizing the economy, valuing the territory and its habitats, and striving for a more circular use of the country's resources.

João Pedro Soeiro de Matos Fernandes
BIOGRAPHY
João Pedro Soeiro de Matos Fernandes has been Minister of the Environment in the XXI Constitutional Government since November 2015. He graduated in civil engineering from the faculty of engineering of the University of Porto and completed his masters in transportation at Instituto Superior Técnico. He previously worked for the Coordination Commission of the Northern Region (Territorial Planning) and was the coordinator of the transport sector. He also served as Deputy Secretary of State for Natural Resources and Chief of Staff of the Assistant Secretary of State for the Environment Minister, in addition to having been Administrator of Quarternaire Portugal, Consultoria para o Desenvolvimento, SA, among other positions.

What is the role of the private sector in advancing the Portugal's agenda to become a clean energy country?

One of the things we have seen during this mandate is a growing awareness by companies that change is coming, and sooner than they expected. I am glad to see more industries in Portugal placing decarbonization and the circular economy at the front and center of their business models. Several sectors are investing in R&D and thinking about new business models that first reduce costs and second guarantee materials for their future, the while striving to emit less and preserve local jobs. For me, that is sustainability. And, last but not least, high-tech start-ups are redirecting their solutions toward fulfilling the Sustainable Development Goals. One clear example was the great success of the Govtech competition by the Ministry of Administrative Modernization.

What have been the main highlights and achievements of your mandate to date?

We started our mandate based on three integrated policy areas that are fundamental to guaranteeing long-term prosperity: decarbonizing our economy, valuing the territory and its habitats, and striving for a more circular use of our resources. As of now, all these strategies are being deployed in the field: The National Program for Territory Ordinance (PNPOT), the National Plan for Circular Economy (PAEC), and the National Roadmap for Carbon Neutral Portugal 2050 (RNC2050). To make the third happen, we have our Environmental Fund, which has been crucial to financing the integration of these principles among municipalities, companies, and citizens.

What are the main advantages of investing in the green energy sector?

Portugal has a trifecta of highly valued assets, such as the sea, sun, and wind, and I would risk a fourth: skill. We have an extremely high-value industry both in hardware (e.g. metalworks) and software (e.g. electronic systems). It is not by chance that we attract companies such as Siemens, which benefit from experienced PT companies like A. Silva Matos and others; however, the green energy sector is also made of smaller projects. Take the bio-economy, for example, in which we have an enormous potential for development. We certainly have a solid and growing pool of companies and competences, from north to south of the country: CIIMAR in Leixões, BLC3 in Oliveira do Hospital, Católica School in Porto, and companies like SilicoLife and A4F.

What are your primary ambitions and goals for the ministry in 2019?

In 2019, we will continue moving forward with our main orientations, chiefly in decarbonizing the public transport sector. The most evident effort will certainly be in continuing the expansion of the subway lines of Oporto and Lisbon. But there is another area in particular that we want to focus on, and that is financing. Having the right mix of public and private financial support is crucial in guaranteeing a safe and just low-carbon and circular transition of our economy; there is a lot to tackle. It is impossible to expect that public funding alone can support this. On the other hand, we have a financial system that is still very much focused on short-term and linear forms of value. That, in general, runs away from innovation and environment-based solutions and deems it risky. The commission is working on a taxonomy for sustainable finance; the European Investment Bank is pulling out all the stops to support projects on circular and bio-economy; and the next Cohesion Fund will demand an allocation between 65% and 85% of support to smart, sustainable (low-carbon and circular) projects. We have 12 years to come to a full stop on the climate breakdown of our natural system. I am confident in Portugal's resilience and ingenious drive to tackle these challenges.