Spanish politics undermining climate change fight

Spain’s desertification puts it on the front lines of the fight against climate change.

Dried reservoir spain - reuters
This file photo from 2017 shows the Barrios de Luna reservoir, near Leon, at 9.1 percent of capacity [Eloy Alonso/Reuters]

Madrid, Spain – With higher-than-average increases in temperature, steadily advancing desertification and rising risks of drought and sea flooding, few would disagree that Spain is on the front line of Europe’s battle against climate change. 

But while government officials point to the ongoing COP25 conference as a sign of Spain’s firm engagement in the battle against global warming, continuing political deadlock means the country’s long wait for a law to fight climate change on home turf continues.

In November, Spain held its fourth general election in four years, which was won by the Socialist Party. But the Socialists’ repeated failure to secure a parliamentary majority leaves Spain currently dependent on a caretaker government that cannot pass new laws.

This includes legislation on global warming drafted nearly a year ago, which Spain is said to need to ensure it reaches its 2030 targets on carbon emissions, and despite the Spanish parliament recognising – by an overwhelming 311 votes to 24 – that climate change “was a cross-party priority”.

“A climate change law doesn’t just raise public awareness, it also mainstreams the question across all government policy areas,” Maik Winges, a specialist on adaption to climate change with the environmental NGO Germanwatch, told Al Jazeera.

“That matters because you cannot adapt [to climate change] and leave something else out in the process.”

Germanwatch’s own analysis of Climate Change Performance [CCP] by country also suggests Spain’s need for urgent action. Spain is currently ranked 35th in the latest available 2019 CCP index from 2019, rated “low”, and 19 places below the average for the European Union.

‘Exceptionally vulnerable’

How badly does Spain need a climate change law? Delia Gutierrez Rubio, spokeswoman for Spain’s state meteorological service, AEMET, says: “It is necessary for sure.”

Gutierrez Rubio told Al Jazeera it’s clear Spain is exceptionally vulnerable to climate change.

“Since the pre-industrial era, the world’s average increase in temperature has averaged 1.1 degrees Centigrade (about 1.98 degrees Fahrenheit) – but in Spain, it’s 1.6 degrees (2.88F).

“Our summers are an average of five weeks longer, the number of tropical nights [with temperatures above 20 degrees Celcius (68F)] is increasing, and since 50 years ago, Spain’s desert areas have increased by 10 percent. And they’re getting bigger.”

A Spanish government report recently predicted a possible rise of between 17 and 35 cm (6.7 – 13.7 inches) in sea level along Spain’s lengthy coastline as soon as 2028 – and it’s not just humans feeling the effects, as independent investigations on bird migration patterns suggest.

“Europe’s entire population of cranes, for example, used to spend the winter in Spain and in the north of Africa, but now they are staying in France or Germany,” points out Javier Cano, an ornithologist who works with the SEO-Birdlife NGO.

“Then African species like the trumpeter finch, the spotted vulture or the cream-coloured courser are starting to reproduce in Spain. Twenty or 30 years ago, that wouldn’t have happened.”

No ‘road map’

While government officials say there is EU praise for their proposed climate change law, NGOs and  specialist academics in Spain have concerns over what it can actually achieve.

One Minute Climate Change (1:21)

“It doesn’t do enough in areas like agricultural transport, which has a particularly large carbon footprint in Spain,” Professor Alberto Mataran Ruiz, an environmental scientist at the University of Granada, told Al Jazeera.

“It gives a great deal of importance to photovoltaic solar energy, too, when building these kinds of solar panels can involve a great deal of CO2 production. And they don’t go into enough detail on the effects on territory their plans for wind energy could have.

“It’s like they have a plan, but they don’t have a road map.”

Javier Andaluz is the climate change spokesman at Ecologistas en Accion (Ecologists in Action).

“Overall, the advances so far have been more symbolic than real,” he told Al Jazeera, saying the Socialists had an uneven track record on environmental action, which justified his reservations about the proposed law.

Requests made by Al Jazeera for an interview with officials from Spain’s Ministry for Ecological Transition were turned down due to a lack of availability. But popular pressure on the government to act shows no sign of disappearing.

A survey in the newspaper El País published on Sunday indicated that 90.5 percent of Spanish people believe “urgent” or “very urgent” measures were needed to act against climate change.

However – and even while COP25 continues for a second week in their capital – when it comes to legally binding action on home soil, the Spanish will have to wait.

Source: Al Jazeera