Biofuels and electromobility are key in Portugal’s transport decarbonisation

EURACTIV.com interviewed José Mendes, Portuguese First Secretary of State for Mobility - Environment and Energy Transition, on the sidelines of COP24 climate talks in Katowice, Poland. [Sarantis Michalopoulos]

This article is part of our special report COP24: Options to decarbonise transport.

Portugal will use both electromobility and biofuels to decarbonise its transport sector by 2050, José Mendes, Portuguese first secretary of state for mobility – environment and energy transition, told EURACTIV.com in an interview.

Last week, the Portuguese government presented a plan which aims to make the Mediterranean country carbon-neutral by 2050.

The plan provides several pathways for the different sectors of the economy. For transport, Portugal aims for a 50% emissions reduction by 2030, 84% by 2040 and 98.5% by 2050, which means it will be almost fully decarbonised.

“In 2050, we will still have some few emissions that will be compensated by the forest sector,” the Portuguese mobility vice-minister said on the sidelines of the COP24 in Katowice.

All options needed

Mendes said his government had considered the circumstances and tried to adopt an integrated approach instead of making a sudden energy shift to electric vehicles.

He explained that all available renewable options should be used. These options range from reducing unnecessary trips to using more public transport and even shared transportation and mobility models.

Part of the plan was also to explore ways to integrate energy that is renewable.

The Portuguese politician said electromobility technology advancement in the run-up to 2050 does not seem enough to fully decarbonise the transport sector and therefore biofuel will also have a role to play.

He said certain types of vehicles and transport means, such as aviation, shipping and long-distance transportation, were not easy to electrify.

“If we need fuel, this should be biofuels that are renewable,” he said.

“What we believe is that by 2030, we will have one-quarter of the consumption being biofuel; this is important mainly for aviation considering that it’s not easy to fully electrify an airplane,” he said.

He added that on average in Europe, a car is not in motion 92% of the time and when it runs, it transports only 1.5 people per trip. “We believe that by 2040, the country can have 1/3 of its trips using shared mobility,” he said.

“By 2043, all vehicles running in Portugal will be fully electric,” he emphasised.

Paris Agreement and the US

Referring to the ongoing climate negotiations in Katowice, Mendes said a global commitment is still feasible even without the US.

“There is a clear sign from the US community of states, companies and cities, which are willing to stay on board when it comes to the Paris Agreement,” he said, adding that it was crucial in this COP to involve subnational entities.

“The answer is there,” he added and cited as an example the State of California, which in September became the first North-American member of the International Transport Decarbonisation Alliance (TDA).

California has set a goal of 1.5 million zero-emission vehicles by 2025, and 5 million by 2030.

“Of course, we would like a clear political statement by the President of the US but we have to respect his different opinion. In any event, this is an effort that will take decades and I am sure the US will be fully committed in the future,” Mendes added.

Building bridges with China

Mendes also referred to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Lisbon on 5 December, which raised eyebrows in Brussels, regarding Beijing’s “One Belt, One Road” strategy.

The two countries signed a memorandum of understanding which focused on transport connections and energy. For Mendes, it is positive that China is investing heavily in electromobility mainly to tackle massive air pollution.

“The largest fleet of e-buses is in China. Beijing is really willing to contribute to the effort to decarbonise economy and transport and in many fields, the Chinese are even advanced when it comes to technology development,” the Portuguese politician said.

He added that it’s important for the EU and Portugal to partner with China.

“What has to be clear is that we all follow the same international rules and regulations and agree on the principle to decarbonise our economies around 2050,” he said.

He said Europe should be aware of China’s “enormous problems” mainly related to the dimension of its cities as well as of some leapfrogging technologies in some parts of China, which aim to advance through the adoption of modern systems without going through intermediary steps.

“We should also deploy this concept in other parts of the world, including Africa. It’s a matter of the planet and it’s important to build bridges with China,” Mendes concluded.

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