John Kerry, a former US Secretary of State, told an audience in Lisbon that the fight against climate change is being lost because none of the pledges made in the 2016 Paris Agreement are being kept to.

“The sad truth is we’re not winning,” Kerry said in an address on 15 September, the last day of the ‘Future of the Planet’ conference organised by the Blue Ocean and Francisco Manuel dos Santos foundations.

“There is not a single country that has done what it committed to in Paris,” he said, noting that at the 2016 convention, where more than 150 countries pledged to work to limit global warming, a green fund was set up that was supposed to receive $100 billion dollars (€90.2 billion euros).

“Do you know how much is there?” Kerry asked those at the Teatro Camões in Lisbon’s Parque das Nações. “Less than five billion euros. How can we tell someone we take this seriously? We’re not taking it seriously yet.”

“This does not concern only fish and turtles,” he said. “It concerns us, because 51 percent of the oxygen we breathe comes from the ocean. I learned this in high school and it is important to have …leaders who understand and believe in science.”

Record high temperatures have been recorded for decades now and “someone, presidents, finance ministers” should understand the message. The problem, he argued, is that governments are still too slow for a world where “ideas move faster, like lies, like consumer goods, people, technology or artificial intelligence.”

That, he argued, is why it is necessary to create a “mass movement” to make this a “voting issue” in all countries where there are elections next year.

The school strikes seen in Portugal, across Europe and even in the US are a sign that leaders are not doing enough, and should “shake us awake” and make us recognise that climate change is altering the oceans’ “basic chemistry” faster than it has in 50 million years.

“It is the challenge of our time, not only of our generation, but of all,” he said. “We’re here together [at the Lisbon event] because it’s the fight of our lives. If you don’t think that, there’s something wrong with you.”

Government Action

In Portugal various actions are being taken by the government to tackle climate change. The Minister of Agriculture, Capoulas Santos, has defended a “long-term” project to combat the problems caused by climate change that should be developed involving corporations, science and politics.

For Capoulas Santos, the Government is already fighting the problems caused by climate change, giving as an example the policies that are being developed around water and irrigation.

“We have currently approved and executed more than 320 irrigation projects, which corresponds to public support already allocated to the order of €333 million, and by 2023 we will invest a total amount of €560 million for more than 100,000 hectares of irrigation, half of which, or about half of which, means the expansion of the Alqueva dam,” he said.

“I would like to remind you that it was completed in 2012 on its current 120,000 hectares, so there is an increase of almost a third in the Alqueva irrigation area, using the same amount of water, which means that we are more efficient because we will irrigate more with the same water,” he added.

The Minister stressed, however, that there is a “need” to obtain answers about which varieties and methods consume less water, and this answer is emerging through technology and science.

Protecting The Oceans

While the government is taking forms of action, more is needed according to the veteran British explorer and documentary filmmaker Paul Rose who said that Portugal should create more marine protected areas, adding that he is tired of seeing more plastic and less fish in the ocean.

In an interview with Lusa at the “Future of the Planet” conference, Rose, who has been diving since the 1960s, said that in the space of decades we can see less fish and more pollution, considering it frightening that there are no more protected areas in the Portuguese maritime space, especially in the Azores, the most beautiful place in the world, he said.

“It would break my heart if Portugal and the Azores only decided to protect them a few years from now, going after everyone,” welcoming the decision, announced in February this year, to increase the protected areas in the Azores by 150,000 square kilometres.

He said that the decision is a sign of global leadership and an example to the whole world, the same as his generation and the politicians in power, should give to young people.

However, he said he believes that there will be a change of values with the new generations who look to politicians and are fed up, because they see nothing changing.

Rose said that the generation in power has a responsibility to establish a high standard for the following, so that they go in the right direction in protecting the planet, the same protection he would like to see extended to the Portuguese marine territory, which represents 97 percent of the total territory.

Raising Awareness

Raising awareness of the issues related to climate change is also being undertaken by individuals, including Natalie Fox, a surf and yoga instructor currently based in the Algarve, who will be setting sail with the all female eXXpedition crew for the first leg of their next ocean plastics campaign, starting in Plymouth, in October and finishing in the Azores.

Round the World (2019-2021) is a pioneering circumnavigation of the globe with the aim of raising awareness of, and exploring solutions to, the devastating environmental and health impacts of single-use plastics.

Natalie said: “This is the perfect opportunity to delve deeper into the “wicked” problem of plastic pollution and explore ideas of how to eliminate it at source, whilst out in the wild ocean surrounded by creative and innovative women. I’ve been cleaning beaches for years, including in the Algarve - every time I go surfing in fact, but I am anxious about witnessing the extent of this global problem”.

Fox has already spent time at sea in Antarctica as a Sea Shepherd Conservation Society volunteer but sailing will be a challenge for her: “I’ve spent a lot of time in the waves; but on a surfboard not a sailboat, so this will be quite different. I’m excited to arrive at the destination of the Azores - an archipelago often visited by fin, blue and sperm whales.”