Country profile - Distinguishing factors (Portugal)

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SOER Country profile from Portugal
Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 21 Mar 2015


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



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