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Special Report: Water Parallels Portugal-Cyprus

PORTUGAL, Lisbon: One of the first things I notice in the hotel in Lisbon is a familiar small, cardboard sign in the bathroom urging me to save water.

This little sign propped up on the sink has been with us for decades in Cyprus, where the hotels have to cope with accomodating up to two million tourists per year.

To someone like me who comes from a country with chronic water shortages, the small detail speaks loudly about the challenges faced by Portugal.

According to climate change researcher Tiago Capela Lourenço, Portugal suffered its worst drought ever in 2005, and every year since 1961, rainfall has decreased. The University of Lisbon's climate change projects highlight four main changes: a rise in the average temperature, higher water evaporation rates, a reduction of rainfall in spring and a mean sea-level rise.

And there is a fifth change which has resulted in flash floods in busy downtown Lisbon. Heavy rainfall is concentrated into a short period of time, leading to a rise in sea level and tides running inland. The research indicates that climate change is caused partly by increased levels of greenhouse gases and partly by natural fluctuations in weather patterns.

So Portugal certainly faces many of the same problems that Cyprus does, what is it doing to handle them? Although little can be done to control natural climate change, a lot can be done to control man-made changes like greenhouse gas emissions from cars and industry which raise the earth's temperature by trapping heat in the atmosphere.

The first step that Portugal has taken is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by turning to renewable energy sources like hydro-power and wind-power. By 2020, Portugal expects to have 31 percent of its energy from renewable sources, and is considered to be a role model for the rest of Europe in this context. Even today, up to 30 percent of its electricity comes from hydro-power generated by a large number of dams around the country.

This initiative is expected to go a long way in intervening in climate change in Portugal. But with renewable energy technology and infrastructure still carrying big price tickets, and Portugal's economy struggling under heavy government debt, some groups are questioning whether its committment to renewable energy can be sustained.

Nonetheless, the alternatives appear to be even less appealing to the Portuguese, who have steadfastly rejected the nuclear power option and seem reluctant to go back to a heavy reliance on coal and oil. A key aspect of the debate is securing the future of the climate, says Lourenço.

"Huge changes are projected; less rain, longer, hotter summers. None of our models project an increase of rainfall for the south of Europe," he says.

Thinking about the climate change realities that Portugal faces and the parallels with Cyprus, it could be a good move for our government's environmental committee to consult with Portuguese researchers and listen carefully to their recommendations. Learning from their experience would be a very wise move, particularly since it's already 2011 and Cyprus has only reached around seven percent of its 2020 target of 13 percent energy from renewable sources.

This is a special report from Portugal made possible by the European Journalism Centre.

Poll

Are the authorities doing enough to prosecute those accountable for Cyprus' financial crash?
Yes, but it takes time to find evidence
7%
No, they are not moving fast enough
75%
Don't know
19%
Total votes: 369