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Country profile (Portugal)

What distinguishes the country?

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 23 Nov 2010


Portugal is a coastal nation in south-western Europe. It consists of a mainland on the Iberian Peninsula and the Atlantic archipelagos of the Azores and Madeira. It has a total area of 92 090 km2. The only land borders are with Spain in the east and north. Portugal has an extensive coastline − 943 km on the mainland and 917 km in the islands. Its peripheral location in European terms implies certain handicaps such as higher transportation costs and a greater distance to major markets and production centres.


Portugal is a democratic republic which was established at the beginning of the twentieth century. The origins of the Portuguese nation can be traced back to 1139[1].


In 2008, Portugal had 10 627 250 inhabitants and a population density of 115 inhabitants per km2 with significant agglomerations in major cities such as Lisbon and Oporto. This asymmetric occupation of the territory, with a markedly higher population density along the coast, is the result of the abandonment of agricultural and forestry areas.


The Portuguese population has grown slightly in recent years, more due to immigration than natural growth. For this reason the population is ageing fast and this is expected to have severe implications for future generations. In addition, the birth rate has been steadily decreasing[2].


Portugal has a mild climate with rainy winters and warm summers. Extreme temperatures occur in the north-eastern parts of the country in winter and the south-eastern parts in summer. The Madeira and Azores Atlantic archipelagos have a milder temperature range[3].


Portugal is included in Annex IV (Northern Mediterranean region) of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). It is one of the European Mediterranean countries where desertification has the highest environmental risks. The phenomenon of desertification is associated with soil degradation, caused by water erosion. Water scarcity is also an issue, depending on the region and the season. Given the importance of this issue for the country, water scarcity was selected as one of the priorities for the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the European Union, in the second half of 2007.


Portugal is also a country very much dependent on external energy supplies. There is no coal, oil or natural gas to be found on Portuguese territory[4].


According to the Habitats Directive, Portugal is part of three biogeographical regions: the Mediterranean, Atlantic and Macaronesian. In 2008, around 22 % of Portuguese territory was included in the national network of protected areas or designated as Natura 2000 Sites[5].


Portuguese territory includes the Macaronesian biogeographical region, referred to in the Natura 2000 Directive, which comprises two Portuguese archipelagos (Azores and Madeira) and one Spanish (Canary Islands) in the Atlantic Ocean, as stated in the Commission Decision C(2001) 3998. These archipelagos consist of several islands of volcanic origin, housing a rich biodiversity, including many endemic flora. On the other hand, there is, as yet, little known about the marine environment.


The list of Sites of Community Importance (SCI) for Portugal’s Macaronesian biogeographical region includes 23 Sites of Community Important (SCI) and 15 Special Protection Areas (SPA) in the Azores archipelago, and 11 SCIs and 3 SPAs in the Madeira archipelago.


In the Macaronesian islands of the North Atlantic (the Azores, Madeira and the Canary Islands) there is an endemic type of humid, subtropical laurel forest called Laurisilva. Many of the species found are endemic to the islands, and contain a rich biota of plants, invertebrates, birds and bats. Despite representing only 0.3 % of EU territory, the Macaronesian region hosts no less than 19 % of the habitat types in Annex I of the Habitats Directive and 28 % of the plants in Annex II. The forests in the Macaronesian region are relics of a vegetation type which originally covered much of the Mediterranean Basin when the climate of the region was more humid. These forests have also been reduced, due to logging, clearance for agriculture and grazing, and the invasion of exotic species. The most extensive Laurisilva forests remain on Madeira where they cover 149.5 km2. These forests were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999[6].


Approximately 64 % of continental Portugal is part of the catchment areas of international rivers which are shared with Spain and regulated by a convention on cooperation and sustainable use of water (Convenção de Albufeira).



[1] Government portal


[3] Institute of Meteorology


[4] Directorate General for Energy and Geology


[5] Institute for Nature Conservation and Biodiversity


What have been the major societal developments?

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 23 Nov 2010


In the fifteenth century, Portugal was a country of sailors, mapmakers, astronomers, shipbuilders and instrument makers who were interested in discovering new lands. Portugal was known for its explorers, who were the first Europeans to sail to Africa, the distant Orient and the heart of South America. The discovery of new territories led to the accumulation of an overseas empire which stretched from Africa to America and Asia.


In the nineteenth century, Portugal lost Brazil, its largest territorial possession abroad, which resulted in a period of disruption to its political stability and potential economic growth. After the Portuguese Colonial War and the Carnation Revolution coup d'état in 1974, the ruling regime was deposed in Lisbon and the country handed over its last overseas provinces in Africa. Portugal's last overseas territory, Macau, was handed over to China in 1999.


Over the last 40 years, Portugal has been transformed from a colonial country with territories across the world to a European country of medium dimension. On the other hand, thanks to its island territories, the Portuguese Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) covers an area of almost 1.8 million km2.


Portugal has been a member of the United Nations since 1955 and is a founder member of the Latin Union, the Organization of Ibero-American States, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the Community of Portuguese Language Countries.


Portugal has been a member of the European Union since 1986 and since joining it has become a diversified and increasingly service-based economy. There has been a considerable improvement in GDP – from EUR 8 400/inhabitant in 1988 to EUR 12 400/inhabitant in 2008. During the same period, the inflation rate decreased from 11.7 % to 2.6 %.


Tourism is one of Portugal’s main activities and accounts for roughly 10 % of GDP[1].

In social and economic terms there has also been improvement, with a decrease in infant mortality from 13 % in 1988 to 3.3 % in 2008. Moreover, between 1988 and 2006-2008, life expectancy increased from 70.7 to 75.49 years (for men) and from 77.6 to 81.74 years for women.


Over the past two decades, successive governments have privatised many state-controlled firms and liberalised key areas of the economy, including the financial and telecommunication sectors.


In 2002, Portugal entered the Economic and Monetary Union together with 12 other Member States, having adopted the Euro as its official currency.


For much of the 1990s, economic growth was above the EU average, but then decreased during the period 2001-2008. GDP per capita is roughly two-thirds of the EU-27 average. As stated in the OECD report[2], progress towards convergence with average OECD living standards has suffered a reversal since 2000, due in particular to weak labour productivity growth. Recent reforms have included some easing of employment protection legislation and improvements in upper-secondary education. Other key areas which need further reform include the improvement of standards in secondary education, the reduction of the administrative burden on businesses and the reform of employment protection legislation.


What are the main drivers of environmental pressures?

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 23 Nov 2010


In 2008, environment policy focused mainly on two areas – energy and health. A number of key policy documents and laws were approved, including the National Action Plan on Energy Efficiency, the Coastal Action Plan 2007-2013 and the Portuguese Environment and Health Action Plan 2008-2013 (Environmental Policy Review – Highlights in 2008).


Climate change is a very important issue, particularly in relation to energy efficiency. Together with the National Climate Change Strategy, which sets the goals to meet under the Kyoto Protocol, the Action Plan on Energy Efficiency includes a set of efficiency measures to be introduced in transport, services, industry and the public sector.


In 2007, Portugal produced 42.3 % of its electricity from renewable sources, mainly hydropower. Wind energy is becoming a very important industry in Portugal along with solar energy, the capacity of which increased tremendously in 2009 with the construction of one of the largest solar power plants in Europe.


In terms of water resources, Portugal shares the hydrographic basins of five rivers (Minho, Lima, Douro, Tejo and Guadiana) with Spain. Three of Portugal’s major rivers (the Tejo, Douro and Guadiana) originate in Spain, making Portugal dependent on Spain in terms of the quantity and quality management of these resources. Southern Portugal often suffers from water scarcity, which highlights the need for an effective river basin management plan for shared rivers.

In the early 1990s, central and southern areas of the Iberian Peninsula suffered a serious drought, emphasising the need for good planning and management of water resources in both countries. Historically, Portugal and Spain have had bilateral agreements on the management of transboundary rivers for many years. The most recent agreement, which dates from 1998 and has been implemented since 2000, incorporates new requirements from the Water Framework Directive in an attempt to regulate both water quality and availability, particularly during periods of drought.



What are the foreseen developments?

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 23 Nov 2010

The Portuguese economy is currently undergoing a process of structural adjustment, reflecting the adaptation to globalisation. This process has been particularly influenced by the growth in emerging economies on the global market, as well as by increasing energy costs[1]. The tourism sector is expected to grow, although there is an uncertainty regarding the potential impact of climate change, especially in the south of the country. Other sectors that are expected to grow are the pulp and paper and chemical/petrochemical industries.

Major infrastructural investments have been planned in Portugal, such as the new Lisbon airport, an additional bridge over the Tagus River in Lisbon and a new high-speed train connection between Lisbon and Madrid. These are presently being evaluated as part of the new Stability and Growth Package recently submitted to Brussels.

In the energy sector, there are improvements planned at several hydroelectric power plants which should increase production to 910 MW in 2015. A further 10 new hydroelectric power plants are planned to be completed by 2020, providing an extra 1 100 MW. Portugal also has EU commitments relating to renewable energy capacities which it is expected to meet in 2010: wind 5 800 MW; biomass 150 MW; solar 150 MW; waves (pilot plant) 250 MW and biogas 100 MW. A new energy strategy was announced in March 2010[2], with its basis in the renewable energy and energy efficiency sector, and setting new goals for 2020.

Following the adoption of the climate and energy package in December 2008, Portugal committed to a maximum increase of its greenhouse gas emissions by 1 % until 2020 against 2005 levels for non-ETS sectors (e.g. buildings, road transport and farming).

In the coming years, more efforts will be needed to address the issue of sustainable transport. A strategy for achieving national targets for blended fuels in transport, which has already been approved, aims to promote the use of biofuels in the transport sector.

[1] Department of Foresight and Planning and International Affairs, 2008


The country assessments are the sole responsibility of the EEA member and cooperating countries supported by the EEA through guidance, translation and editing.

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