California and Oeiras – looking to partner on renewable and environmental projects
A delegation from California including 10 elected state officials was in Portugal for 12 days in October to understand why Portugal is such a success story in terms of climate change and renewables and look at ways in which the Portuguese Republic and the US State can cooperate on current and future projects.
The welcome event, organised by the American Club of Lisbon, sponsored by Grupo Bel which operates in the US, FLAD (Luso-American Foundation) and American international school CAISL and supported by Oeiras Municipal Council, took place at Tagus Science and Technology Park.
It launched a series of meetings and visits in Oeiras and Portugal by Californian State Government (Assembly and Senate) representatives, board members and directors of California companies and agencies, environmental entities and guests with the aim of “exploring and deepening a potential business partnership between California and Portugal”.
The President of the American Club of Lisbon, Patrick Siegler-Lathrop pointed out that the US State of California is the “most populous in the country” with its economy — were it a country — “ranking sixth in the world”, ahead of even the United Kingdom and “both have introduced many initiatives in reducing greenhouse gasses”.
It is also known for its leadership in introducing climate change and environmental legislation, leading the way in emissions standards and ambitious private actions which many other US states have followed.
“These were designed to prove that success in reducing greenhouse gas emissions can be combined with a thriving economy”.
The CEO of Tagus Park, Eduardo Correia pointed out that the municipality of Oeiras accounts for 11% of Portugal’s GDP – 1.5% more than Portugal’s tourism industry — and has the most advanced science and technology park in Portugal which is also a showcase and a European case study, particularly in the area of environmental behaviour (recycling, environment and use of space).
He pointed out that the Californian population was four times larger than Portugal (40 million), 4.5 times larger than Portugal in terms of land area, produces 3.5x per capita productivity compared to Portugal and so “we have a lot to learn from California” although Portugal’s exclusive maritime economic zone will be four times the area of California. There is scope, he said, for common projects environmental, maritime and aerospace areas.
But Correia pointed out the shared threats of wild fires that have devastated both Portugal and California and also expressed a hope that there would be other projects that could be shared ventures in business, science and technology since Oeiras has some of the most important startups, four unicorns that already have a presence in Silicon Valley. “We are always keen on finding new ways of developing common projects”.
In fact there is an agreement signed between Oeiras Valley and Silicon Valley and San José that could be a launchpad for joint projects.
The Deputy Mayor of Oeiras, Francisco Rocha Gonçalves said that on the question of the climate and energy crisis, energy transition needed to be done while safeguarding the standard of living that population demand. “If we don’t have the population on our side we will not be able to make the necessary reforms.”
He pointed to that drone technology in part was advanced by technology developed at Tagus Park, Oeiras is geared towards technology, innovation and knowledge. In 1985 Oeiras’s economic model was based on polluting industries or in unproductive agriculture. In three decades the municipality transformed to an economic model based on digital information and communication technologies.
Jay Hansen, President of California Foundation on the Environment and the Economy – CFEE told the speakers, delegates and guests that looked for best practices in terms of energy, water, transportation, housing and technology, all of which were in the fore in the municipality of Oeiras.
“We’d been trying to come to Portugal for two years, this being the third time we’d planned this after other attempts had been cancelled because of Covid-19” he said pointing out that California has 500,000 people of Portuguese descent.
“We have an amazing relationship with your country, not only on environmental issues and in renewable energies Portugal is leading the charge and we have come to see what we can learn,” he said, adding “It’s remarkable, you really are in the top 3 or 4 countries in the world.”
While in Portugal the delegation will travel widely including to Lisbon, Porto, Madeira, Coimbra and Viana do Castelo to look at cutting edge green energy projects that Portugal is currently developing. “There is so much to learn and we want to share what we can too”, he said.
Chris Holden, Chair of the Energy Committee, California State Assembly referred to the visit as a continued opportunity to “strengthen our relationship” in a general sense but also in terms of saving the planet.
“As we try and get to grips with this existential threat we have to learn from each other and it was very difficult in California and other states to believe in climate change. Every year we have a catastrophic wildfire that devastates our state and sets a new record for hectares burned,” said Holden, not to mention “rolling blackouts” because of massive energy requirements to run air conditioning units due to heatwaves.
“What we’re seeing and what we and you know to be true is that this is a worldwide problem and we’re here today because we don’t have all the answers and we can learn from you regarding offshore wind platforms,” said Holden.
Lithium mining, in which Portugal is developing its own programme, is another energy-efficient area in which the state of California is looking to exploit to produce batteries that can last four to six days in what Holden called a “game-changer”. “The goal is to be aggressive, thoughtful and cooperate together”.
Kristin Kane – US Embassy Chargé d’Affaires who initiated the whole visit process said the initiative was “near and dear to my heart as I am a Californian”. Kane quoted President Biden saying climate change represented “an existential threat to humanity”. “We partner with countries around the world, including Portugal and in a virtual event Portugal’s environment minister Matos Fernandes participated in a panel a great collaboration and preparation on the road to COP26 in Glasgow.”
“We support what the delegation is doing, to make sure partnerships can happen, we have talked about fires and Calfire has been working with Portugal’s firefighting authorities to learn lessons and forge relationships that can come out this.”
“Healthcare is something we are looking at and let me sing Portugal’s praises because of the eligible population, 98% are vaccinated. Portugal was also very ahead in innovative companies in the digital sector and Portuguese unicorns that have their DNA in California such as Feedzai, Outsystems, Talkdesk and Remote.”
The diplomat also mentioned the exchange programmes such as Fulbright because “we are so tied to Portugal and that people to people relationship, 1.5 million Portuguese-Americans, most of them in California who take their ties from Portugal”. “We have talked a lot about revitalising the transatlantic relationship ties between the US and Portugal”, Kane concluded.
Closing the event, Portugal’s Minister of the Environment, João Pedro Matos Fernandes said that Portugal had been the first country in the world to decide to become carbon neutral by 2050 which would be accelerated and facilitated in a growing economy which means more mobility and energy.
“We have reduced or emissions by 26% and we believe that being the leaders in fighting climate change we will be the leaders of the most innovative sub-sector of the economy in the near future”.
“Portugal is a good country in which to invest where you’ll find universities, partners, but you don’t find lots of investment money. The financial system is still recovering from the financial crisis of 2008/9 but when the projects are good ones, we will always find ways to finance them,” he concluded.