October, month of the State Budget. With or without Covid, the annual ritual of the discussions is repeated: the value of increases (or not increases) in the civil service, what are the tax benefits that companies will benefit from, what are the values of macroeconomic forecasts (which everyone discreetly knows that will not occur) and the ping-pong of declarations between party leaders will continue until the (eventual) approval.
Another year has passed, and even in the face of a global pandemic, the most impactful legislative moment promises only to prolong the “business as usual” of profit and leave the climate crisis as a subordinate.
Climate change appears as an issue in the Climate Action Environment section, in which carbon neutrality is pointed to the late date of 2050, and even to achieve it, efforts do not look promising. Actual expenditure for the responsible ministry represents less than 2% of the total State Budget. Certainly a modest amount considering the urgency of an energy transition.
Among the existing initiatives, transport stands out, with a marginal investment in initiatives to expand rail transport in the metropolitan areas of Lisbon and Porto, with a total of 816 million euros for the year 2021. After decades of neglect in the sector railways, all that the Government is able to present are expansions in metropolitan areas, stopping expansions outside these areas.
The most recent announcement via the high-speed press between Porto and Lisbon could be encouraging, but the non-reference to this in any line of the State Budget joins to be exactly the same announcement made 21 years ago, leaving doubts as to to the seriousness of this project.
The very priority of establishing high speed between Porto and Lisbon leaves doubts, being a decently served connection in relation to the general panorama of the country. Cases such as the West line, stagnant, irregular and not yet electrified, are a reflection of the transport negligence policy that has marked Portugal in recent decades, which leaves much to be desired in the great coastal metropolises and is always descending to the impoverished interior.
What about international calls, such as the connection between Lisbon and Madrid, recently interrupted? Shortly before the presentation of the State Budget, the Minister for Territorial Cohesion declared that Lisbon and Madrid are already well served with a connection by plane, not requiring connection by train. And air transport is not forgotten, with another 500 million for TAP, adding to the previous 1.200 million. So, what carbon neutrality does the Government want, given the explicit preference for air transport, the mode of transport emitting greenhouse gases par excellence?
The Budget discusses abandoning coal as a source of energy production - a necessary condition for the energy transition, however not a sufficient condition. The replacement of this one by fossil gas is where the biggest questions go, and the presentation of the State Budget clearly expresses the bet in the capacity of the Port of Sines to receive more liquefied fossil gas, coming from the fracking of the United States.
Doubts about the Government's intentions to mask a change in mix fossil fuels as part of the energy transition. For those less convinced, the recent record on October 16 of consumption of fossil gas for the supply of thermoelectric power stations may help to clarify doubts.
With the closure of the Sines and Pêgo coal plants, the answer would have to be a drastic training in the production of renewable energy, but all the Budget points out are minor increases in production via solar energy and the intention to continue with the agenda hydrogen, with the only guarantee that the latter will be delivered to private businesses. Even without producing enough solar for the electrical system, they are already delirious in exporting it in the form of hydrogen.
However, the silence about the situation of workers in polluting industries remains, being consistent with the rest of the government's social policy: anyone who works who expects something from the companies.
This is the State Budget that clings to the hope that, when the confinement is over, the system is still more or less intact, in order to be able to deliver the drawing of the resumption of the productive apparatus to the plans of the oil baron - meanwhile appointed paraminister - António Costa Silva.
After seeing his hopes of drilling Portugal in search of oil dashed, the paramedic now turns to mining rampant under the lithium alibi. The great objective is more than explicit in the State Budget: to launch the public tender for the creation of the cluster mining in 2021. The intention to have “the mitigation of environmental damage and environmental and landscape rehabilitation” is supposed to serve as a mitigation for the disaster that mining fever represents.
As a whole, it is a State Budget to rescue the old fossil economy from the exploitation to which we are used, without solving the crises, whether the social emerged by the pandemic situation or the climate that looms over our heads. An agenda that meets the real needs of people and not business is left behind.