Porto talks climate

“The path to carbon neutrality requires collective action if we want to achieve collective benefits”, remarks Filipe Araújo, Vice Mayor of Porto. “We can only achieve climate neutrality if everyone contributes to it.”

Over the years, Porto committed to crucial climate targets, like signing the Covenant of Mayors in 2009, the Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy in 2019, and the Green City Accord in the same year. By being selected as one of the more than 100 cities to be part of the EU Mission ‘Climate-neutral and Smart Cities by 2030‘, the city recognised the urgency to escalate its efforts.

The Porto Climate Pact

Porto’s ambition is to be a national and European leader in climate action, achieving carbon neutrality by 2030. Yet, in a city central to a region of over 1.7 million, neutrality is a demanding and complex task and one that naturally calls for collective action.

In fact, municipal assets account for only 6% of total greenhouse gas emissions, while most come from buildings, residential and service sectors, and transportation.

In early 2022, the city launched the Porto Climate Pact to mobilise citizens and organisations towards climate action. The pact seeks to forge a community focused on learning, sharing, and supporting each other in the journey toward a carbon-neutral, resilient, fair, and participatory city.

The Pact is voluntary, free, and non-binding, enabling everyone, whether an organisation or an individual, to contribute to a carbon-neutral Porto.

Engaging a diverse community

“The Pact represents a commitment from all,” emphasises the deputy mayor. “Proof of this lies in its quick acquisition of hundreds of subscribers eager to contribute.” Indeed, the Pact has already attracted over 600 signatories, with two-thirds being individuals and at least one-third representing organisations and institutions.

More than 400 citizens have signed the Pact. “They are making a difference in the community, by being positive enablers of change,” notes Araújo.

Photo credit: Porto City Council

In addition to involving different types of actors, climate neutrality also affects a wide range of sectors and subjects, such as mobility, energy, construction, food production and consumption, water management, or nature-based solutions.

“In fact, part of the challenge is that carbon neutrality and carbon emissions reduction encompass very diverse topics,” acknowledges Filipe Araújo. Such a breadth of issues poses a challenge when organising everyone involved in the transition to net zero.

Porto orchestrates the action

“To drive our goals, we established a dedicated team in the municipality, focused on climate goals, acting as the ‘maestro’ of the orchestra,” Araújo shares.
The Municipality of Porto stands as the driving force behind the Porto Climate Pact, which is endorsed by the Presidency of the Portuguese Republic. Since 2008, the municipality has been measuring greenhouse gas emissions through the Porto Energy Agency.

If the city of Porto is the conductor, the signatories of the Pact are the musicians. Those who were already active, well-informed, and committed to climate action were the first to take the stage. “Recognising the strength within these key partners, we sought to understand who they are, what they are doing, and what challenges they face in achieving climate neutrality,” says Filipe Araújo. “Essentially, we wanted to grasp a comprehensive landscape of our city.”

The landscape of the city

Therefore, following the launch of the Pact, an initial step was to organise some meetings and discussions to gain a deeper understanding of how the city ecosystem works. “We wanted to know the extent of their commitments, and explore avenues for mutual influence, accelerating the collective progress.”, acknowledges Daniel Freitas, Head of Carbon Neutrality in Porto.

Through these discussions, Porto understood two relevant insights. “What we’ve noticed is the diverse range of entities involved in this process. Some of them have joined the pact, while others are not yet inclined. Some are taking significant actions, and some are not so active. Bringing everyone on board with our commitment is an ongoing, never-ending process.”

Secondly, the city’s role as a facilitator brings considerable value to the community. “We’ve observed a genuine interest among people to comprehend the municipality’s values and advocacy,” shares Freitas. “They see us as effective facilitators, capable of bringing to the table diverse interests that had not been widely explored before, except within specific domains such as mobility or energy.”

Porto talks climate

To maintain engagement with signatories of the Pact, interact with residents, and encourage dialogue, the city decided to launch the ‘Porto Towards Carbon Neutrality 2030’ talk series.

This series of sessions had the goal of encouraging thought, reflection, and discussion about the future of the city within different groups, aiming to align the city’s future with sustainability, decarbonisation, and achieving carbon neutrality by 2030.
The series, conducted over three months, invited specialists in diverse fields of climate action. “We identified the issues most relevant to our climate challenge, narrowing the list down to ten in total,” explains Freitas. The top ten subjects were energy, mobility, construction, food systems, community involvement, carbon sequestration, the just transition, data, financing, and nature-based solutions.

Photo credit: Porto City Council

Short and sweet

The series, open to both institutional signatories and citizens, brought together more than 500 participants and 40 speakers. According to Freitas, the key to the success of these talks was to keep them short and focused on different subjects.

As a result, the commitment is evident across various sectors in the city, such as companies, hotels, sports, culture, and academia. For instance, subscribers to the Porto Climate Pact have launched several projects in these domains over the past year.

Climate, the life of the party

Such is the case of the ‘Pacto da Queima das Fitas do Porto para o Clima’. Following one of talks targeting higher education students, and inspired by the overall commitment of the city, the Porto Academic Federation launched their own initiative to contribute to climate neutrality.

“Young people have a very significant role in how they want to change the planet and in how they want to ensure that there is an increasingly smaller impact in terms of the ecosystem,” says Daniel Freitas.

This year, climate took centre stage during the Queima das Fitas (‘Burning of Ribbons’) festive activities. Through their own Pact, the Porto Academic Federation aimed to mitigate the environmental impact of Porto’s largest university festival, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, curbing resource consumption, and enhancing waste management via reduction, reuse, and recycling efforts. They proposed measures such as promoting public transportation, slashing single-use plastic, and conducting awareness campaigns to achieve it. This resulted in over 700 bus trips for students and recycling of about 70% of event waste, in partnership with Porto Ambiente.

Scoring a goal for a greener future

Futebol Clube do Porto (FC Porto) is another recognised Pact member taking direct action. Teaming up with Greenvolt, a renewable energy company from Portugal, FC Porto is establishing two Renewable Energy Communities at the Dragão Stadium and the Olival Training Centre.

Photo credit: FC Porto

This partnership aims to slash the club’s carbon footprint by an estimated 420 tons per year, a stride comparable to planting nearly 20,000 trees.

Moreover, FC Porto’s is inviting more participants, including nearby families, into these Renewable Energy Communities. By reducing electricity bills and encouraging renewable energy adoption, the club hopes to drive broader societal change.

What now?

“We would like to repeat this experience,” assures Freitas, aiming to engage a larger community. “But instead of traditional discussions in closed rooms, we want to create an interactive setting.”

By organising interactive tours, Porto intends to showcase various practices related to a specific topic, such as the communities created by FC Porto. The goal is to highlight impactful projects and create opportunities for people to see in real life how the city is committing to a climate neutral future.

“Our collective action today sets the stage for a sustainable tomorrow”, says Freitas. “Our commitment to a carbon-neutral Porto requires ongoing engagement from everyone. Let’s forge ahead, as we journey towards a greener, brighter future.”

Lucía Garrido Eurocities Writer