The last remaining coal plant in Portugal closed in November 2021, making Portugal the fourth country in the EU to end coal-sourced energy. This move marks progress in environmental protection, sustainability and poverty reduction. As coal use declines and awareness of renewable energy increases, experts hope to help those in poverty obtain better energy sources. The development of renewable energy in Portugal and the country’s movement away from coal holds many benefits for the nation.
Portugal’s Coal Plants
The Pego plant’s shutdown came nine years earlier than planned since Portugal’s target year to eliminate coal use is 2030. Countries around the world are agreeing to implement renewable energy sources, with Portugal doing exactly that. While Portugal was not the first to go coal-free, it is inspiring other nations to do the same. Austria, Belgium and Sweden all ditched coal-sourced energy with more European countries following their examples. However, the nations prefer different plans and estimates for their energy trajectory. For example, Germany plans to end coal energy by 2038 and France by 2022.
The Pego coal plant was the second-largest carbon dioxide emitter in Portugal. Environmental groups applaud the elimination of coal energy as a large step toward improving the quality of life in the nation. However, while the Pego closure resulted in an obviously positive impact on energy, coal’s impact on poverty constitutes a very different relationship.
Poverty and Coal
It is a worldwide goal to implement renewable energy sources. However, some areas feel the loss of coal energy more than others. It is not always easy to replace coal, especially for those who have no other option. The Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration (SME) explains that “As much of the world lacks access to modern, clean energy, coal is still essential to alleviating worldwide energy poverty.” For example, rural communities that lack access to electricity often depend on coal for cooking, heating and lighting. Coal fuels more of the world’s electricity than any other energy source. However, impoverished and rural populations that depend on coal for energy also risk the negative impacts of coal-sourced energy.
The issue with coal-dependent energy is not with its usefulness but with its aftermath and effects. Coal energy impacts air and water supplies, making it a less than ideal method of energy production. Coal plants compete for water with local farmers, which ultimately leads to tension and societal backlash. With these consequences of coal energy, people in poverty struggle to better their lives. The chances of escaping poverty decrease when people’s health becomes deficient and water and food supplies diminish.
Reasons to Transition to Renewable Energy
Mining displacement affects many communities around the world due to coal consumption. In the 40 years between 1950 and 1990, 2.55 million people suffered displacement in India alone as a result of coal mining. Mining threatens to displace hundreds of thousands more people, with the brunt of difficulty falling on citizens of developing nations that lack strong laws regarding involuntary displacement.
Coal energy and mining directly impact impoverished communities while wealthier communities do not fully see the effects. Debates arise concerning the use of coal energy versus renewable energy, particularly since those in poverty require cheap and effective energy sources. While a switch from coal energy to renewable energy seems far-fetched, this change contains major benefits. In a study by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), experts foresaw significant positive benefits to doubling worldwide renewable energy use by 2030. The benefits include a 1.1% increase in global GDP, a 3.7% increase in welfare and the creation of more than 24 million jobs. With the possible environmental and economic benefits that renewable energy provides, coal seems to be an unfavorable option.
An Optimistic Future for Renewable Energy in Portugal
New forms of energy production are not always available in developing countries. In these regions, coal use is vital to the lives of citizens. Yet, coal energy has a short future ahead of it. Major nations are pledging to stop coal energy use completely and utilize new forms of renewable energy. Replacing inefficient energy sources and production methods will greatly improve clean energy and reduce poverty. As Greenpeace explains, “The rapid expansion of clean and sustainable energy offers a win-win for the [impoverished] and the environment. For the [impoverished], particularly the rural [impoverished], without basic energy services, renewable energy is often the cheapest option.” Energy is instrumental in improving the lives of those in poverty. The European Union sets a remarkable example in the sustainable energy movement and developing countries will soon follow suit.
– Anna Montgomery