Let’s Tune In To The EU’s Periphery: Portugal Sued By Environmental Groups

Let’s Tune In To The EU’s Periphery: Portugal Sued By Environmental Groups

Nicholas Zalewski
Protestors in Lisbon wear face masks at a global environmental protest last March. Source: REUTERS/Pedro Nunes/ File photo

While COP28 kicks off in Dubai to discuss climate change, the Portuguese government is in the hot seat. Three environmental groups are suing the Portuguese government for failing to meet its environmental goals. The nation also aims to be carbon neutral by 2050 along with all other EU member states, yet Portugal and the rest of the EU are a long way off from achieving this goal. This is why Ultimo Recurso, Quercus and Sciaena have all sued the Portuguese government in order to legally force them to fulfill their goals rather than allow them to become unfulfilled promises made only for politicians to look good on paper when running for reelection. By 2026 the Portuguese government aims for renewable energy to be responsible for 80 percent of the nation’s energy needs. With only a little two years to go until 2026, 68 percent of energy comes from renewable energy. The London School of Economics believes these lawsuits can be beneficial, as slightly more than 50 percent of these lawsuits do force governments do abide by their governments.

Infographic with economic indicators about the Portuguese economy. Source: Creative Fabrica

Portugal’s Economic Situation

Portugal has also seen a sharp rise in the cost of living and there is anger over Portugal attracting wealthy foreigners to move to the nation and some Portuguese blame them for the soaring property prices. Higher prices are unfortunately pricing out Portuguese from the Lisbon property market. The harsh reality is that while it is increasingly difficult to buy homes in the Portuguese capital, it is where workers are most likely to find employment opportunities. Even then, in Portugal overall wages are much lower than the average in the EU while everyday goods still cost significantly. Portugal’s minimum wage will be raised to 820 euros a month in January, 2024. In Portugal workers get paid two months extra a year, once in august when workers tend to get their annual vacation and another payment near Christmas. These two extra months still do not make up for low wages overall and are still far away from wealthier member states. Luxembourg has the EU’s highest minimum wage of 2,504 euros a month. 

Portugal has struggled to balance protecting the environment and its economic interests. Portugal is the poorest western EU member state and is struggling to improve its economy for the benefit of its citizens. Last year, 17,5 percent of Portuguese could not afford to heat their homes. This was the fourth highest rate in the European Union, almost double the EU average of 9,3 percent. Only Bulgaria, Cyprus, and Greece, have higher percentages of citizens struggling to heat their homes while Lithuania is tied with Portugal. While protecting the environment is important, people also need to be able to provide for themselves and afford the basic necessities. Heat in winter should not be considered a luxury. As a result, 20 percent of citizens live abroad in order to earn higher salaries. This can be seen with the nation’s decision to open up lithium mines. The mineral has become increasingly more valuable but the mines risk heavy environmental damage. Villagers in Covas do Barroso are worried their traditional way of life will be threatened by the mines. Ironically, lithium is considered a key element to the EU’s transition to a “green economy” and yet lithium mines themselves are not environmentally friendly. The mines near Covas do Barroso are expected to only be operational for 14 years making it debatable whether it is worth risking environmental damage in the first place. While Savannah Resources, an Australian mining company is trying to appease the villagers, it has also admitted that “Savannah Resources”.

Wildfire in Coimbra, Portugal. Source: Patricia De Melo Moreira / AFP / Getty

Wildfire Woes

Part of the push for efforts to protect the environment come from the fact that Portugal last year was the second worst nation for wildfires, only behind Spain. Last year Europe experienced the second-worst wildfire season since the beginning of the second millennium. While it is costly to protect the environment, it is also costly to do nothing. It is expected that the economic impact of wildfires last year was 2 billion euros. Portugal and the EU will have to learn how to achieve annual economic growth while also not degrading the environment to achieve it. Since 1980 and 2021, the EU has lost 560 billion euros due to extreme weather making the issue unavoidable. Simultaneously however the issue of the tragedy of the commons exists and the EU cannot prevent further environmental degradation alone and instead all other nations must participate. 


While it is important to try to ensure the environment is protected, Portugal is in a difficult balancing act between attempting to honor its goals of cutting emissions while also stimulating economic growth for the benefit of its citizens. If wages remain low compared to other EU member states, Portugal will continue to see citizens move away. The other difficult aspect of environmental protection is that nations must work together. Even if Portugal does make sacrifices to lower its emissions, the environment could still be negatively impacted globally if other nations do not do the same. Portugal will also have to consider how crucial these lithium mines are to the Portuguese economy given their short functionality yet potential negative environmental impact.

Please Read The Following For More Information:

Tsamny, Fiona. “Portugal sued by environmental groups over failure to fulfill legislation tackling climate change” Jurist.org. 28 November 2023.

Beachey, Anthony. “Why Portugal is so much poorer than other European countries”. Portugal Resident. 5 May 2020.

Bayley, Caroline. “Portugal’s Barroso lithium mine project faces villagers’ ire” BBC News. 19 October 2023.

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by Nicholas Zalewski time to read: 4 min