Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa visited Stanford Monday to meet with faculty experts and industry leaders to discuss shared climate challenges and ways that Portugal and California – and specifically Stanford – can potentially collaborate on solutions.

Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa speaks at the Huang Engineering Center at Stanford University. (Image credit: Andrew Brodhead)

“We have so much in common. Not just the nature, the climate, the people, and [our] strong Portuguese communities,” said de Sousa while addressing an audience in the Mackenzie Room at the Huang Engineering Center. “[But] because we are [both concerned] with sustainability.”

President de Sousa’s visit was part of a multi-day trip through California with a delegation that included several top Portuguese officials to visit Portuguese-American communities. His visit included stops in San Diego, San Jose, Gustine, and San Francisco, where he threw out the first pitch at the San Francisco Giants game Tuesday against the Colorado Rockies at Oracle Park for Portuguese Heritage Night.

At Stanford, de Sousa participated in a public discussion with Stanford faculty experts and industry leaders, including Chris Field, Director of the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment; Bruce Cain, Stanford professor of political science; venture capitalist John Doerr; John Melo, CEO of Amryis; Daniela Braga, CEO of Defined.AI; and Pedro Pires João, CFO of EDP Renewables North America.

The event – moderated by Inês Azevedo, associate professor of energy science and engineering – focused on California and Portugal’s shared climate concerns and sustainability efforts, including Stanford’s launch of the new Doerr School of Sustainability.

President de Sousa’s visit included a tour of campus and a meeting with Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne.

Greater collaboration

The event opened with an introduction from Arun Majumdar, dean of the Doerr School of Sustainability, who remarked on the similarities between California and Portugal.

Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne greets Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa. (Image credit: Andrew Brodhead)

“We face many of the same threats from climate change, including increasingly dangerous wildfires and escalating droughts,” he said.

In addition to shared challenges, Majumdar noted that both Portugal and California are leaders in scholarship and innovation, and he called for greater collaboration between the two regions. “If there was a time to partner and put our hearts and minds together, this is it,” he said.

Due to its geography, Portugal is highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Like California, it occupies a western coastline and experiences drought, forest fires, coastal erosion due to sea level rise, and other climate-related challenges.

In his opening remarks, De Sousa noted that his country, like California, was ahead of the curve when it came to addressing climate change. He said that his nation’s early investment in renewables was, at the time, considered radical within Europe. But over the last twenty to thirty years, Portugal has made significant progress in reducing its use of fossil fuels. “Now we have 60% of our energy coming out of renewables, and by 2030 there will be 80%,” he said, adding that in his country climate change initiatives receive broad support.

John Melo agreed that Portugal is a leader in sustainability on many metrics and added that the country offers great opportunities for American ventures interested in sustainability.

“Portugal provides access to amazing talent, access to a great quality of life, and provides for a legal framework of government that actually cares about innovation, that really supports innovators and entrepreneurs thriving,” Melo said.

Due to their similar Mediterranean climates, both California and Portugal struggle with droughts and wildfires. Bruce Cain said that while there are technical challenges that come with battling fires, finding a solution is as much or more of a “people problem” and that proper coordination of leaders and resources will be crucial to addressing such emergencies in a timely and effective manner.

“It will be up to the president and the legislature, to the governor and assembly and senate, and to the regulators and to the local officials to make these things happen,” he said. “The whole problem of governance I think is going to be absolutely critical.”

De Sousa noted two important issues that will define success for both regions when it comes to achieving a sustainable future.

“The first issue is the cooperation between universities, between scholars, between students, circulating ideas, exchanging points of view, [and] cooperating scientifically and technologically,” he said. “The second point [is that] people must know each other.”

He noted that there are about 350,000 Portuguese people living in California, which is a lot relative to Portugal’s population of 10 million. “But we need more. We need to get acquainted [with] your problems, and you must understand our problems,” he said. “And circulation of ideas must be followed by circulation of people.”

He said he hoped that his visit to Stanford, and Monday’s dialogue, would be, “the beginning of a long-lasting friendship.”