The fires of 2017 had an impact on citizens and on natural and built heritage of a severity never recorded in Portugal or in any other country in Western Europe or the Mediterranean. The post-2017 debate reached a consensus on the systemic weaknesses identified by the Independent Technical Commission (CTI1), some of which were chronic and long-standing, such as the lack of prevention or the failure to integrate knowledge into the management of operations. In addition to the scale of the tragedy, the social clamour for it not to happen again demanded an ambitious approach, using all national capacities and the best knowledge available at international level, to reduce the incidence of rural fires and their damage to acceptable levels from an ecological, social and economic point of view.

From the reports produced and the debate that took place in society and among experts, it was widely recognised that the most severe and frequent fires were the result of an excessively simplified formulation of a complex problem, where the main solutions and bets (reinforcing the road network, increasing water points, opting for rapid detection and suppression of fires), although effective in the short term, produced the opposite result in the medium term, since they neglected the process of vegetation accumulation and skewed the population’s perception of risk3. Prevention failed, it was repeatedly said, in a system that mitigated the consequences but neglected to tackle the causes of the problem.

Due to the complexity associated with the involvement and commitment of all stakeholders – not just the public ones, but particularly the private ones, who own the majority of Portuguese territory – it was imperative to establish an Integrated Plan with a Strategy and a National Action Programme, with the participation of all players, with the aim of turning severe rural fires in Portugal into rare events.

This challenge was initiated in November 2017 by the Mission Structure for the Installation of the Integrated Rural Fire Management System (SGIFR), with the organisation of an international meeting where information was gathered on best practices in other countries with similar problems. In the first quarter of 2018, the existing model until 2017 was studied, as well as the outlines and requirements of the new SGIFR and its organisation, taking into account the guidelines of Council of Ministers Resolution 157-A/2017 of 27 October, which defines structural changes in preventing and fighting forest fires, implementing the proposals of the CTI1. In the light of this alignment, the strategy and arrangements for the 2018 fire campaign were designed and active participation was made in the work on the National Spatial Planning Policy Programme (PNPOT), of which this 2020-2030 Strategy is a subsidiary.

With the formal start of the project teams’ work, from July to September 2018, public bodies were mobilised to submit their ambitions, proposals and contributions, consolidated in a moment of co-development with the broad participation of the State’s Central Administration. Once the vision and strategic objectives had been defined, work and reflection sessions were organised with public and private stakeholders, consolidating the diagnosis and also gathering proposals for measures for each of the strategic objectives identified. At the end of 2018, the Independent Technical Observatory (OTI) was set up in the Assembly of the Republic and was immediately involved in the consultation process to present proposals for the plan. The OTI has produced technical studies, reports and information notes, which have also led to improvements in the aforementioned documents.

As provided for in Council of Ministers Resolution no. 12/2019 of 21 January, the Agency for the Integrated Management of Rural Fires, I. P. (AGIF, I. P.) submitted the first version of the National Plan for Integrated Rural Fire Management (PNGIFR) to the government on 7 March and, since then, several meetings have been held to receive contributions from public bodies and their respective departments, while technical plenary, bilateral and sectoral consultation meetings have also been held.

Approved by the Council of Ministers on 5 December 2019, the document, which includes the Strategy and the Process Chain, was put up for public discussion for 60 days on the website. During this period, 73 information sessions were held from the north to the south of the country, attended by more than 2,000 people. A total of 115 written contributions were received, which made it possible to improve the documents put up for discussion and also to significantly improve the National Action Programme.

As this is an Integrated Plan, with the participation and involvement of all parties involved in the process, the solution presented takes on board the main contributions and proposals following the public consultation, and is thus made up of: Strategy 2020-2030 and the National Action Programme.

The 2020-2030 Strategy sets out the vision, mission, values, identifies the context, designates the strategic guidelines and objectives, presents the targets and introduces a new governance and risk management model, detailed in the specific Process Chain document.

It is on the basis of this strategic support that the National Action Programme deepens, prioritises and details the lines of action or projects to be implemented, with the respective timetable, budget and entities primarily responsible and participating, also incorporating and reinforcing measures that have already been implemented over the last two years.

Portugal is also committed to carbon neutrality by 2050. For this to happen, the country’s carbon sink capacity will have to grow to 13 Mton/year, which implies a reduction of more than half the area burnt by rural fires each year. Given the rise in temperature that is already known today, we should achieve this goal in the shortest possible time.

The PNGIFR proposes a regional assessment of the National Action Programme, to be carried out gradually and without disruptions to the system’s operation. This involves phased implementation, in accordance with the identification of priority processes, and using, whenever desirable and possible, pilots and ad-hoc programmes, providing validated and sustainable implementation. This process is all the more relevant given that the SGIFR will be organised territorially in the NUTSII and NUTSIII territorial units, which requires the development of institutional coordination mechanisms in line with this territorial organisation, anchoring the transition in a change management programme based on territorial pilots, jointly involving the Institute for Nature Conservation and Forests, I. P. (ICNF, I. P.). P. (ICNF, I. P.), the National Republican Guard (GNR), the National Emergency and Civil Protection Authority (ANEPC), the Armed Forces, Local Authorities, Fire Brigades and Forest Producers’ Organisations (OPF).On the other hand, the implementation of the SGIFR and its respective Chain of Processes requires a review of the legislation that established previous mechanisms, namely Decree-Law no. 124/2006 of 28 June.

The National Strategy and Action Programme for the PNGIFR, which covers the 2020-2030 period, assumes 2019 as the zero year of implementation, during which actions included in Council of Ministers Resolution 157-A/2017, of 27 October, and others defined in the activity plans of the various public bodies, in the State Budget Law and in other legislation and initiatives published in the meantime, have been carried out, seeking to mitigate the weaknesses that have been identified over time.

<p><span lang="en">Trunks wrapped around each other</span></p>

Trunks wrapped around each other