Spotlight Report: Lisbon Deemed 2020 European Green Capital: Exemplifies Commitment to Sustainable Development and Decreasing Emissions

Spotlight Report: Lisbon Deemed 2020 European Green Capital: Exemplifies Commitment to Sustainable Development and Decreasing Emissions

This post was submitted by EU Country Manager Brittany Demogenes

In 2020, Lisbon was deemed the European Green Capital by the European Commission. The European Green Capital Award is an initiative of the European Commission that rewards cities who have committed to environmental, social, and economic sustainability. Lisbon has demonstrated its desire to create environmental change by being the first European capital city to sign the New Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy in 2016. It signed onto the Covenant after already having achieved an impressive 42% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from 2002 to 2014, surpassing the initial 40% 2030 goal laid out by the Commission. Lisbon is now focused on reaching a 60% reduction in emissions by 2030 under the commitments defined by this Covenant and on reaching net zero emissions by 2050. It hopes to do so through designing a more efficient and integrated energy use system that links energy sources and infrastructure since 90% of the primary energy consumption within the city occurs in the building and transportation sectors.

One of the primary areas where Lisbon has implemented climate policies to decrease its level of emissions is in its comprehensive response to growing urbanization. In 2012, Lisbon initially introduced a masterplan of how it planned to develop the city that outlined a new approach to land-use, higher-density housing, and re-zoning to curtail constriction in ecologically sensitive areas. The masterplan also aimed to transform Lisbon from a car-centric city to one more reliant on public transport.

This initial masterplan was deepened when the city reached an agreement with the Portuguese government to regain ownership of the public bus and tram company in 2017. Through Lisbon’s decision to invest in the tram network and three tram lines being opened, as well as the development of other transportation sharing schemes, Lisbon has already begun to witness 10,000 fewer cars per day—a number that will continue to increase in upcoming years.

Moreover, Lisbon is on track to complete the renovation of 30 city squares and plazas, which will create an even greater amount of space for pedestrians, bikes, and green connections. To incentive pedestrians to utilize public transportation, Lisbon has made public transportation free for children under the age of 13, a reduced price for adults over the age of 65 and offers unlimited journeys within the city for just 1 euro a day.

To further mitigate climate change, Lisbon has also implemented leakage control measures that yielded a 50% reduction in drinking water consumption from 2014-2018. These initiatives have largely been funded through public investment; for example, 170 million euros have been invested to protect the city against 100-year extreme flooding events. Finally, between 2017-2021 more than 100,000 trees will have been planted, which will serve to help curb and limit the impacts of the urban heat island effect while simultaneously increasing biodiversity.

Lisbon has also undertaken an energy efficiency program for its buildings that aims to reduce energy in municipal buildings by 30%, and in private buildings by 20%, by 2030, when compared to the base year of 2016. One project it is pursuing to achieve these ambitious goals is its “Solar City” project, which will double solar energy installed in buildings between 2018 and 2021, attaining a cumulative solar capacity of 8 MW in municipal facilities alone. By 2030, a cumulative capacity of 103 MW will be installed throughout the city.

On May 3, 2019, Lisbon launched SOLIS, which offers citizens, local authorities, investors, and businesses the possibility to gather information on solar energy potential in the city. The project is co-financed by Lisboa E-Nova and the Portuguese Ministry of the Environment. A multidisciplinary team of experts in Solar PV technologies, geographic Information Systems, cartography, communication, and marketing have worked on the platform to achieve optimal results. SOLIS allows users to see an updated solar radiation map, a solar electricity generation map and an informative map of PV installations in the city and its evolution over time. A key component of SOLIS is that it is interactive: citizens can register their own solar systems and provide feedback. A primary challenge of this project is that it can be difficult to reliably estimate the self-consumption figures of solar rooftop PV systems; however, SOLIS has attempted to remedy this problem by creating a simplified but largely accurate empirical model that can estimate consumption. Given that Lisbon is an extremely sunny city (in 2016 the solar radiation impinging in city rooftops was 7 times the amount of the city’s electricity consumption), this central focus on solar power promises to be an effective way to continue to considerably decrease greenhouse gas emissions.

Additionally, the non-profit organization, the Energy and Environment Agency of Lisboa, has acted as a shared platform for innovation and climate action between the municipality and stakeholders. City Hall has collaborated with this agency to set an example for other public actors in Lisbon and has showcased incredible results demonstrating how historic buildings can adapt to novel energy efficiency requirements. Through including 99 new insulated windows, 2200 LED lights, 60 solar panels and a high-tech monitoring integrated system, the building is saving 50% in energy consumption compared to 2015, which translates to savings of 83000 euros per year.

In summary, it is clear why Lisbon was named the 2020 European Green Capital. Given that such a large amount of the city’s emissions originates from the building and transportation sector, the city’s focus on increasing its use of solar energy and creating a city where public transportation becomes not just a potential, but the preferred and most cost-effective method of transport promises to help it successfully reach a 60% decrease in emissions by 2030. The engagement with the public and corporations that innovative projects like SOLIS provide also lays a strong foundation for change to occur that endures despite changes in the city’s leadership.

Learn More Sources:

Giovannini, Sara. “Lisbon, A Solar City.” Energy Cities, 27 June 2019,

“Lisbon Solar Platform.” Renewables-Networking EU, 2020.

Luxembourg, European Union, Publications Office of the European Union. Lisbon-European Green Capital 2020, European Union, 2020, pp. 1–39.


Cabral Sacadura

Environmental Coordinator

City of Lisbon

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