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  /  CityChanger   /  Lisbon’s Colour-Coded Approach to Improving Quality of Life

Lisbon’s Colour-Coded Approach to Improving Quality of Life

From its streets adorned with ancient ceramic tiles to its 290 days of sunshine to its yellow, green, orchid and blue official logo, Lisbon has a deserving reputation as a city of colour. It is fitting that this year, in addition to being the host city for the Urban Future Global Conference, Lisbon also had the honour of winning the prestigious 2020 European Green Capital Award (EGCA).

As Head of Cabinet of the Deputy Mayor for Environment, Green Structure, Climate and Energy of the Municipality of Lisbon, and one of the main drivers behind efforts to win the EGCA, Duarte Mata says the pursuit of the award since 2014 has been just as important as actually winning it, in terms of making Lisbon a greener, more resilient city.

“Before winning in 2020, we tried to win the award three other times. For us it was very interesting because we knew we were strong in green infrastructure and biodiversity, but not so strong in other areas such as climate mitigation. So, we knew there was still a lot of work on the part of the municipality,” observes Mata.

Blue is for water, yellow …

But when falling short of the award, the very process of competing in the first place helped the city to come to terms with how to create a more all encompassing sustainable growth path that would result in a better quality of life for residents and lead to continued improvement for years to come. And this in turn led to the creation of Lisbon’s Sustainable Vision roadmap, which not surprisingly is colour coded, with yellow representing Efficient Energy, blue for Water Wise initiatives and green for Green Solutions.

“For energy efficiency, we are working very hard to reduce emissions and we have achieved a 42 percent reduction even though our initial target in 2008 was to reduce it by 20 percent. So, we have actually doubled that target,” says Mata. “One of the things we have benefitted from the most has been our clean energy mix. Mostly wind and solar energy.”


© Lisbon – European Green Capital 2020


© Lisbon – European Green Capital 2020

As a result, he says “sometimes when it is raining and windy in Portugal, we’re running on 100 percent renewables and extra energy is being sold to other countries. We’ve also started the process of cutting energy emissions from traffic to streetlights, where we’ve reduced the energy consumption by more than 50 percent. And we’ve been actively promoting electric vehicles.

But more than anything, we are focussed on solar energy. We want to become a solar city, with a focus on local energy production and providing charging for electric vehicles.”

Mata says other initiatives tied to improving air quality include measures to restrict car traffic, the establishment of over 80 air quality monitors around the city, establishing zero emission zones and the development of e-bike, e-car and e-scooter sharing systems.

As a coastal city, Lisbon is particularly vulnerable to climate change centered around water, with sea levels expected to rise between 17-39 cm by 2050, rainfall decreasing by as much as 29 percent by 2100 and like many other major cities around the world, the increased incidence of flash floods and ‘century storms’. This helps to explain just how vital the blue Water Wise initiatives are as part of the efforts to promote a more sustainable lifestyle.

“With our water strategy, we are transforming the treatment of water from three wastewater plants, so that it can be reused around the city. So, we are building an infrastructure that has never been seen before, with new pipes and a new pumping system that can be used to irrigate the parks and gardens in the city,” Mata points out.

“We’ve reduced the potable water used in green areas by 49 percent over the past five years. At the same time, we’ve increased the number of green areas by more than 20 percent. Which means we’re making a much more efficient use of water.”


© Lisbon – European Green Capital 2020


© Lisbon – European Green Capital 2020

These green areas are providing multiple benefits for the city ranging from heat mitigation, to serving as retention basins for flash floods, to improving active mobility. “We are creating nature-based solutions and areas that don’t necessarily use a lot of water, because we’re using native species that are more drought resistant and require less water. So, we can make lots of green areas at a very high speed that require very little maintenance and yet are highly resilient.”

Mata believes that this creative, low impact approach to the rapid greening of the city is one of the major selling points in their EGCA submission that may have ultimately won the judges over. “That was really a high point in the evaluation of the Green Capital award submission, this climate strategy for the greening of the city centre.”



I think that Lisbon’s greatest achievement is … that we were more than doubling our initial goal of reducing emissions by 20 percent, to over 43 percent.

I am proud that … we’ve reduced the potable water used in green areas by 49 percent.

Winning the 2020 European Green Capital Award … was a great honor for us, but the pursuit of the award since 2014 has been just as important in terms of making Lisbon greener and more resilient.

Duarte d’Araújo Mata

Landscape Architect & Head of Cabinet of the Deputy Mayor for Environment, Green Structure, Climate and Energy of the Municipality of Lisboa | Portugal

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