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date: 23 April 2017

Climate Change Communication in Portugal

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Climate Science. Please check back later for the full article.

Severely threatened by heat waves, droughts, fire hazards, water restrictions, coastal flooding, and climate-related impacts on the economy, among other socio-ecological disturbances, Portugal is an interesting case for the analysis of climate change communication.

In view of those risks, public debate and policy action towards adaptation are lacking. National climate policies have been formulated mostly in response to external impulses coming from the European Union membership. There has been almost no political conflict regarding climate change, and levels of skepticism regarding its anthropogenic causes are low.

Media coverage of climate change tends to focus on global political issues and international negotiations, relying heavily on political sources, the dominant—but quite mistrusted—voices in media discourses. National policy makers tend to adopt a technical discourse that comes across as “rational” and fairly optimistic, with little contestation by environmental groups or others. Climate change is thus mainly (re)presented as a global issue, distant from local realities, and scientists seem to avoid dramatizing its consequences for the country.

Climate change is closely tied to energy issues. In the 1990s, national governments initiated significant investments in renewable energy sources and publicly depicted climate change through a green economy discourse. Since then, the weight of wind power in energy generation has increased significantly, and its expansion has not faced major opposition. The mega-dams that are currently under construction and were also officially justified by climate change (as well as energy sovereignty), have encountered some civic resistance, but it is disproportional to the large environmental and landscape impacts the dams will cause.

Although public opinion surveys have shown that the population considers climate change a serious problem, surveys have also revealed levels of ignorance and self-evaluated lack of information among the Portuguese that are considerably higher than in other European countries. Behavioral commitment to address climate change is rather weak. Moreover, public participation is generally low in Portugal, and the environmental movement is traditionally weak. This particular set of conditions seems to contribute to low levels of awareness of the country’s vulnerability to climate change and a lack of effective measures to deal with its impacts, in spite of the fact that Portugal is included in a group of countries—the European Union—that is considered watchful, and a frontrunner regarding climate change.