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Thursday, April 2, 2015 (read 8917 times)

Spain's Environmental Initiatives

by john

Working Towards a Greener Future

In March 2015 Spain participated in the global Earth Hour initiative. As part of this World Wildlife Fund (WWF) scheme, which aims to raise awareness of climate change ahead of the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, some of the major landmarks and businesses throughout Spain including Madrid´s Royal Palace, Málaga´s Royal Palace and Ronda´s New Bridge turned off their lights. We will use Spain’s participation in this initiative as a starting point to look at its environmental progress.

  • During the 2014 European Business Awards for the Environment the Red Eléctrica de España which operates the national electricity grid in Spain won a Business and Biodiversity Award for its work in protecting the avian population using a Geographic Information System to monitor bird flight paths and because of its sustainable energy projects.
  • Some of Spain´s main ecological problems include endangered species, air pollution and deforestation.

At the end of 2014 two official reports painted a dismal picture of Spain´s environmental efforts. On the one hand the 2015 Climate Change Performance Index, released by Germanwatch and Climate Change Action Network Europe, ranked Spain as 28th for its climate protection out of the 61 countries measured and on the other hand the 50th edition of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species revealed that there are more than 552 endangered species in Spain. However, this article will aim to look beyond these revelations to investigate some of the steps Spain is taking and took in the past to deal with the ecological issues raised by these two organizations as well as other ones which are commonly associated with Spain. We will also look at how it is going beyond findings solutions to its own problems by engaging in schemes to help create a greener planet.

To begin with let´s look at the problem of endangered species. In the Iberian Peninsula one of the most critically endangered species is the Iberian lynx. However, in 2002, the Spanish government´s Ministry for Agriculture, Food and the Environment together with the Andalusian Government and the European Union launched a Life+ IBERLICENCE project which aimed to maintain the populations of Iberian lynxes in Andalusia and the Sierra Morena by protecting and restoring their natural habitats while also looking at the correlation between the lynx and rabbit, this cat´s main food source, numbers. By introducing a captive breeding program the number of captive lynxes grew while the percentage of lynx specimens and territories also increased.  Andalusia’s hunting association and other organizations including the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) also collaborated on a subsequent, equally successful program, in 2006, which sought to prevent the unnatural deaths of lynxes including those caused by hunting, traps and traffic accidents.  Following the outbreak of diseases affecting rabbit numbers efforts were made by the Andalusian regional government to try to stabilize their population by setting up fences. In 2014 another meeting was convened in the Region of Murcia, another autonomous community where the authorities are trying to reintroduce lynxes, to carry out further measures. Recently talks have also been carried out in the municipality of Zarza de Granadilla, where there is a lynx breeding center, looking at how to reintroduce lynxes back into the autonomous community of Extremadura.

Andalusia has also been instrumental in fighting for a greener future by tackling its carbon dioxide emissions. Córdoba is through to the final  of the World Wildlife Fund’s  2015 Earth Hour City Challenge thanks to its initiative called Córdoba Luze the which aims to make squares, buildings, traffic lights and monuments more energy efficient while also promoting the pioneering use of  electric buses and cycle lanes and the installation of solar panels on buildings.

Continuing with the theme of cycling several Spanish cities have released bicycle sharing systems. These include Madrid, with Bici Mad, which is the first completely electric bicycle scheme in Europe, Seville’s Sevici and Barcelona’s Bicing (which is not available to tourists). This alternative form of transport is designed to reduce the use of cars therefore lowering greenhouse gas emissions and tackling air pollution which is a problem in cities such as Madrid.

It is also worth mentioning the Green-ways (Vías Verdes) program, started in 1993, which involves the transformation of disused railways tracks into cycle and walking paths to allow tourists to explore Spain’s spectacular scenery. This restoration work is having and had both a positive ecological and social impact. The renovation of railway stations along these routes and the building of tourist facilities led to the creation of several new jobs, for example thanks to the transformation of two stations into hotels and restaurants along the Sierra Greenway.

As well as trying to promote a more sustainable form of transport with its bicycle sharing system, Barcelona is also attempting to reduce its pollution levels and to address concerns over the smog alert issued at the start of 2015 by the Catalan regional government. A Barcelona architectural firm BCQ has announced plans to redesign the Sarajevo Bridge with smog-eating concrete. This ecological design, supported by Barcelona´s City Council, will help to improve the city´s air quality and shows that it is committed to working towards a more sustainable future.

Another homegrown agreement is helping to tackle the problem of deforestation. Reforesta (A Spanish forest conservation organization) has collaborated and is collaborating with the Spanish energy company Repsol on a series of measures aimed at combatting deforestation and promoting reforestation. For example, in March 2015 on the International Day of Forests this energy giant and this Nongovernmental organization carried on the work they had started restoring the vegetation in a section of the Cañada Real Segovian cattle route where it passes through the Madrilenian municipality of Soto del Real. This collaboration will also see the planting of trees and the launching of educational activities.

As regards renewable energy Spain seems to be taking some positive steps towards reviving this industry after the 2014 cuts to the subsidies reduced investment. At the start of 2015, Spain´s Ministry of Industry announced new targets to increase Spain´s renewable capacity from 48 GW to 57GW between 2015 and 2020. Also in 2015 Acciona, a leading Spanish renewable energy company, announced that they had signed a contract to supply renewably sourced energy to 12 hospitals and health centers in Madrid.

As well as devoting resources to renewable energy, the Spanish government also recently promised a substantial investment under its PIMA Adapta plan to preserve the country´s coastlines in the face of climate change. Several projects will be set in motion to educate the public and to repair beaches damaged by the February storms. Constructions will also be put in place to prevent erosion.

So far we have looked at Spain’s national environmental schemes but it has also been trying to help other countries to develop projects too. In 2008 the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Spain formed a partnership under the LifeWeb initiative. One aim of this joint project was to advance the Programme of Work on Protected Areas.  For example, Spain helped to strengthen the management of protected areas such the Cape Blanc Satellite Reserve in Mauritania, a Special Area of Conservation, where one of the most highly endangered marine species, the Mediterranean monk seal, can be tagged noninvasively and protected from dangers such as illegal fishing. This project enabled the Monk fish populations to increase in this conservation area and helped to raise awareness of sustainable fishing practices.

In conclusion, from all of the above we can see that Spain has implemented a variety of different programs not only in its borders but also on an international scale to work towards a greener future. However, there is still work to be done especially in some areas such as the renewable energy industry given that in March 2015 the European Commission (EC) told Spain to correctly implement the Renewable Energy Directive with specific reference to biofuels.

Perhaps the ecological events in 2015 including the Bilbao Marine Energy Week and the Barcelona REGATEC 2015 conference on biogas and renewable methane will help Rajoy´s government to look at strategies to fulfill the EC´s requirements and its aforementioned energy goals. However, it is not just the responsibility of the government to work towards a more sustainable planet. As the architect Richard Rogers points out “the only way forward, if we are going to improve the quality of the environment, is to get everybody involved.” We can play our part in working towards a more sustainable planet by taking part in ecotourism following the International Ecotourism Society´s advice of “travelling responsibly to natural areas,” searching for ecological and sustainable hotels in our holiday destinations, looking at incorporating renewable energy technologies into our new building plans and using alternatives forms of transport instead of cars. These are just a few of the small ways we can make a difference but we need to start now to preserve the environment for future generations.

Keywords: endangered species,earth hour,iberian lynx,earth hour 2015,earth hour city challenge,endangered species in spain

Posted In: Spain, News


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