Odemira fire: flames raging close to Aljezur on Monday, August 7 – Photo: LUÍS FORRA/LUSA
Odemira fire: flames raging close to Aljezur on Monday, August 7 – Photo: LUÍS FORRA/LUSA

Drought, wildfires, rising temperatures worst events of 2023 – Quercus

But there were positive aspects too…

One of Portugal’s longest running environmental groups Quercus has marked the end of 2023 with both the ‘best’ and ‘worst’ environmental events of the last 12 months: drought, major fires and rising global temperatures being the worst, but the creation of more marine protected areas, and the mobilisation of civil society in defence of environmental struggles being seen as the most positive aspects.

In a statement released today, Quercus also gives its expectations for 2024, referring to the outcome of the November climate summit in Dubai, which produced a final text that directly alludes to the end of fossil fuels.

“It is now important to move forward with coherent measures towards this goal in a balanced way, while respecting the renewal capacity of the planet’s resources,” says the text.

In the group of the six worst environmental facts for 2023, in addition to major fires such as the one in Odemira, drought and rising global temperatures, Quercus points to the felling of trees in the name of energy transition and the European Commission’s approval of the herbicide glyphosate for another 10 years.

“This decision comes as a surprise given the growing scientific evidence of the health risks of glyphosate, in particular the fact that the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified glyphosate as carcinogenic to animals and probably carcinogenic to humans,” says Quercus, pointing out that “the highest level of contamination in a sample” was detected in Portugal, with 30 times above the legal limit for each substance.

The wars in Ukraine and Gaza were also named as the worst environmental events of the year, with environmentalists pointing out that, on top of the humanitarian tragedy, there are also environmental impacts due to the destruction of land, greenhouse gas emissions and the consumption of resources for the war effort.

On the positive side, Quercus highlights four of the best environmental facts of 2023: the growing mobilisation of civil society for environmental issues; the creation of more marine protected areas in the Azores; the unfavourable environmental impact statement for the Estoi photovoltaic plant project in the Algarve, and the creation of the European Alliance for Regenerative Agriculture.

As a wish for next year, the association mentions the need to move forward with “coherent measures” for the end of fossil fuels, as defined at COP 28.

“In our country in particular, and despite the delays in drawing them up, municipal Climate Action Plans can be opportunities for this goal in processes that are as participatory and collaborative as possible,” says the statement.

Quercus’ expectations for 2024 also include improved policies for the conservation and restoration of ecosystems, “by updating the scientific knowledge of fauna populations made public in 2023” and better performance in waste management, the realisation of structural measures in the face of water scarcity, especially in the south of the country (where the situation of drought has barely improved, in spite of some rain since October).

The new Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), namely organisms obtained by new genomic techniques (NGT) and the increase in environmental litigation, with “foreseeable recourse to legal action” in various matters, are also among Quercus’ less than upbeat expectations for the coming year. Regarding the former, the situation involves two proposals which essentially remove consumers’ (and farmers’) rights to know whether or not they are using genetically modified organisms – even in organic farming.

“At the last European Council of agriculture ministers, held on December 10 and 11, a qualified majority was not obtained and so, contrary to the approval sought by the Spanish Presidency, the issue was postponed until 2024″.

Quercus assures that it will be following this issue “very closely” in the coming year.

Source material: LUSA/ Quercus