Portugal: Keeping cool and zeroing down the carbon footprint

Three Portuguese cities and their steps towards climate-neutrality

Cristina Daniel



Cristina Daniel


Managing Director




Setubal, Portugal


In this episode we talk with Cristina Daniel who is the managing director of the regional energy agency ENA – Energy and Environment Agency of Arrábida in Portugal. ENA connects the dots between three municipalities that are located within the Lisbon Metropolitan Area and the agency helps those cities with their energy and environmental strategy. How is this meant to improve the lives of around 250.000 people living in the area? Cristina, who is currently doing a PhD on valuing ecosystem services, joins our podcast to share their recent work to cool down and carbon down the cities of Setubal, Palmela and Sesimbra.

Here’s the interview transcript:

(Miriam Eisermann from Energy Cities): Hi Christina, welcome to City Stories.

Cristina Daniel: Hello, Miriam.

Cristina Daniel: Luckily, in these last two weeks, Portugal has been spared from the extreme heat waves that have been hitting other countries. But in fact, for the last two decades, we have been having a greater number of heat waves. Last year, we developed a project that gave us a clear idea of what are the vulnerabilities and the risks of this territory in terms of climate change. And this helped us and our municipalities to define together with the community which measures, actions to implement to protect people and also the territory.

So, for example, ecological corridors have been installed and reinforced to safeguard and protect from rising temperatures. Also, flood risk management because the rain has been concentrating in some months of the year. Also, the municipalities have been investing in adapting the green areas with more adapted species. All these adaptation measures are focused on people trying to protect also the most vulnerable ones.

(Energy Cities) And what strikes me – when I was preparing for the interview – is that Setubal, Pamela and Sesimbra are actually pretty different. Setubal, for example, is a bigger city with over 120,000 inhabitants. While in Palmela, you have the automotive industry which contrasts with the rural world of wine growing and livestock farming, for example. And it has an older population. Then there is the much smaller Sesimbra, which is rather known for its sandy beaches and there’s also a fishing seaport. So, it’s a pretty contrasting setting with three places, three situations. So how different are their energy strategies then, and can you tell us a couple of measures that were implemented to drastically reduce their greenhouse gas emissions?

Cristina Daniel:

Yes, in fact, Palmela, Sesimbra and Setubal are neighboring municipalities. They share the mountain of Arrabida, the Serra de Arrabida. And this green patrimony, is very rich and very important for us, also holds the natural park of Arrabida.

Although they are very different, they created in 2006 the Energy and Environment Agency of Arrabida (where I work). And yes, with this agency they started to define together with us the path in terms of energy and environment sustainability. When we were created, we developed the maps for renewables. So, this territory was studied and analyzed in terms of what are the potentials in terms of renewables.

And we realize that this territory has great potential in terms of solar. And also wind. but it is complicated because some interesting parts in terms of wind energy are located in the natural park. And there it is not possible to intervene or to install these wind parks. It is mainly solar energy and some biomass. Although we are in a coastal area, the potential for energy production from the sea is still being studied for two of our municipalities. The waves from the tides…this is also interesting, but not yet completely analyzed.

Considering this renewable energy potential, the municipalities also started to work in terms of energy efficiency. They started first with their own activities and own buildings. They worked a lot on energy auditing, energy certificates of buildings and quite soon they started to look also at the companies and people: the people’s residences, the private sector, how to support people in terms of energy efficiency investment.

Setubal is really working on the energy efficiency of buildings and mobility.
Lots of investment has been made in terms of the creation of an interface connecting rail and road public transport, for example.

And Palmela, the biggest territory of the metropolitan area of Lisbon, has been working a lot together with private investors in terms of the creation of photovoltaic plants. At this moment, it is licensing 24 new photovoltaic plants for this territory. So, Palmela will become very soon a carbon sink municipality because of the production of clean energy from these photovoltaic plants. It is expected to have 1.15 GW of photovoltaic power installed with an annual production of around 2TWh. it’s already a municipality that’s investing a lot in this solar potential.

And Sesimbra has a really very interesting potential in terms of energy efficiency of buildings, also in tourist parts. It has a lot of hotels, restaurants, and these are very important areas for the municipality to invest in and to encourage private companies to invest in.

We are now talking about the electrification of the nautical sector. This is a very interesting field that is being analyzed by the owners of small boats, tourist boats, also for fishermen and fishing companies.

Then, over the years, we started to feel that more and more people are getting involved in these issues. Last year we had debates about the construction of these adaptation plans. And the participation of people was incredible. Now there are some citizen associations. Informal associations in which people get together, having the same objectives in terms of sustainability in our territory.

So, since 6 – 5 years up to now, there has been a growth of interest among not only people, but also among companies.

(Energy Cities) Your municipalities are also a pilot in the EUCityCalc project. How does the tool, which is currently being developed, help you in making Setubal, Palmela and Sesimbra more carbon neutral? How are you using it?

The municipalities established some paths, defined some measures that will be implemented to reach specific targets, in terms of avoided emissions. Before using this tool, we felt lost, because it was a little bit complicated and difficult to understand and to define scenarios for these measures.

The EUCityCalc tool is helping us to systematize information and to say, “OK, let’s see if this measures in here and there, how much avoided emissions will result from here”. So, yes, it is supporting us to establish our plans in a very concrete way to reach our objectives.

In 2019 the sector that most contributed to the emissions was the transport. In 2021, we updated the information. And then we realized that in Setubal it was still the transport sector, but in Palmela the industry has become the one that most contributes to the emissions – while in Sesimbra it is the building sector.

Nevertheless, our focus together with the municipalities and working with the EUCityCalc tool is considering these sectors to test and see how the measures will help us to reach the objectives. And so, yes, it has been quite interesting to work with the EUCityCalc tool.

(Energy Cities)
And within the same project I know that you’re collaborating also with other places in Europe and that you work, for example, with city changemakers and Croatia and Czech Republic and maybe some others as well around those climate mitigation challenges. Who can learn most from whom?

Cristina Daniel
It is very rewarding, you know, all projects we have been participating in, also, especially in EUCityCalc we always learned from the examples of other municipalities. They have different experiences and different paths and different territories. And we have been learning a lot, for example, in terms of the creation of energy communities.

So, we are trying to learn with these municipalities, that participate in EUCityCalc how they overcome obstacles – for example in terms of the creation of energy communities that involve municipalities. And also projects related to the production and consumption of energy. In our houses, for example. In Portugal at this moment, there is a program that supports individuals to invest in their houses and become prosumers.

We are trying to help citizens to do it and we realize that other municipalities, that are in EUCityCalc have already made some important steps towards this area. We feel happy to contribute, also, with some of our experience in these areas. So, I think it’s a win-win relationship with this group.

(Energy Cities)
Well, in any case, you already contributed by sharing your experience here, this morning through the interview. Thanks a lot, Christina, for bringing us through the different challenges that you have in your area. You seem to be pushed by all the great visions that you have, and, at the same time, you were saying, it’s a very sensitive environment, within which you’re operating?

And they’re always tradeoffs to do between, let us say, the urgent measures that need to be put in place – and probably also some economic considerations. At the same time you need to make sure that the impact in terms of landscape or land occupation isn’t too important so that you carefully balance all the different needs.

The fact that you have this agency which is bringing together three neighboring cities is one excellent way of creating mutual learnings and projects and just at the very end. You also mentioned that you’re reaching out to places elsewhere. So that’s probably the biggest advice that you can give to get together with others, because challenges are often similar, and you can learn so much from each other.


The EUCityCalc project supports cities in data-driven decision-making: With funding from the EU Horizon 2020 program, the project will release the European City Calculator webtool. This is an open-source instrument with which cities can plan their measures to bring CO2 emissions down to zero.