Local councils play an important role in promoting green measures in their own areas. "Municipalities know their territory better than anyone else," said Susana Correia, legal advisor at DECO Algarve and researcher for a study entitled "What can your municipality do for you?", which aimed to find out what measures are implemented in each municipality, what kind of plans they have for the future and how they inform people living within their borders about climate change.
Of Portugal's 308 municipalities, the majority do not inform their citizens well. "Of the 308 municipalities we contacted in November 2021, only 18 replied to tell us what they were doing," Susana told The Portugal News.
In this sense, DECO, which is the Portuguese Consumer Protection Association, states that the role of local authorities cannot be underestimated. They can have an impact through various initiatives, such as creating green spaces, buying electric bicycles, as well as facilitating consumer access to public transport, and through financial support for consumers who want to make their property more energy efficient.
In addition, there are many other measures councils can take in terms of school meals or just gathering the information about sustainable practices so people can be more aware of the choices they can make. "This is what we've been hearing from consumers who also want this change to happen," she said.
Communication is key
When we want to know about the measures of a specific council, we usually visit its website straight away. This is what DECO did when it began analysing every single council in Portugal, but found out that environmental information is still not available in 93 percent of councils.
In this regard, Susana told me that Lisbon, Cascais as well as Porto and Maia and in the Algarve, Faro and Loulé are some of the municipalities that are doing very well in letting citizens know what they are doing with citizens, setting an example to others.
In fact, communication is not only a citizens' right, but also a good weapon to mitigate the impact of certain measures that usually have a negative response.
As an example, "when a council decides to ban cars from its streets, people's reaction is usually very negative, but if councils can explain to people the long-term benefits this will allow, such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions", it will increase compliance.
A country with different needs
Portugal is a small country of 92,212 km² and about 10 million inhabitants. Although we know that some problems affect some regions more than others, the country in general will soon face risks of fires, rainfall, rising temperatures and, on the coasts, a rise in the average sea level is expected.
However, the country faces different needs as some counties are more advanced in their environmental awareness than others. "Some people struggle with simple things. For example, they want a recycling bin and don't have one near their home, and they don't think their town is clean enough. On the other hand, there are people who are very eco-conscious and look for more in-depth measures, such as school meals with organic and local products," said Susana.
For this reason, DECO has created an interactive platform where consumers can check how their municipality is doing in terms of environment and sustainability.
"We have an interactive platform that allows consumers to see how each municipality is doing. We have found that while some are very good and tell us what measures are being taken, there are others where there is no information and we don't know where we can ask for it," she said.
As well as checking the assessment that DECO has given to each council, you can leave your own comments about your local council and DECO will take your feedback to the various meetings they are having with the councils.
"We ask consumers to see our assessment and also to assess their municipality. Furthermore, they just need to tell us what they would like to see changed in the various areas and then we take those indications to the appointments with the chambers to solve those problems," Susana said.
All in all, “I think we need to put the citizen at the centre of the discussion”, she pointed out.
If you would like to know more about what your local council is doing to tackle climate change or just want to leave your feedback, please see https://deco.pt/alteracoes-climaticas/ - it is in Portuguese but a quick Google translation is enough to use the platform.
Don't forget that DECO Algarve is always willing to help with consumer rights by calling 289 863 103 or by email email@example.com