Spain still lagging behind in fight against greenhouse gas emissions

Emissions grew by 17.9% over a 27-year period while they fell 23.5% in Europe as a whole, EU report finds

Manuel Planelles
Barcelona under a haze of pollution in February.
Barcelona under a haze of pollution in February.Joan Sánchez

Spain is among Europe’s worst offenders when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions. Between 1990 and 2017, these increased by 51.7 million tons, the highest rise in absolute terms in the entire EU. As a percentage, emissions grew by 17.9% while the EU collectively reduced them by 23.5% during the same period, despite a 58% hike in GDP.

Spain is not alone. Five other countries out of Europe’s 28 have been unable to reduce emissions effectively: Austria, Cyprus, Ireland, Malta and Portugal, according to an official inventory which has just been released by the European Environment Agency.

Emissions in Spain rose wildly until 2007, then fell sharply when the economic crisis hit

Cyprus, whose emissions soared by 57.8% in this period, and Portugal – by 19.5% – are the worst culprits in percentage terms. But neither carries as much economic weight as Spain within the EU. The report states that the increase in Spain is due mainly to road transportation, the production of electricity and heat, residential emissions and services.

“Emissions in Spain rose wildly up until 2007, by more than 50%,” says the economist José Santamarta, a member of the Observatory for Sustainability who explains this was due to economic growth coupled with “a lack of change in the energy mix.” And there was one additional factor: the rise in emissions from increased road transportation due to a larger number of vehicles on Spanish roads.

The report confirms a years-long trend showing that Spain has been less successful than others at breaking the ties between economic growth and greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, the only time emissions began dropping significantly was at the onset of the economic crisis in 2008. However, Santamarta is optimistic about the future because of the current Spanish government’s plans to boost renewable energy production. Not only will clean energy become cheaper, there will be a significant increase in electric vehicles.

UK and Germany

The report highlights positive developments in both the UK and Germany, which together account for 50% of the net reduction of greenhouse gases in the EU in the last 27 years. This is mainly due to Germany increasing energy efficiency and the changes in the iron and steel sector after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The report also underlines the positive step of exchanging coal-based electricity for natural gas and the strong focus on renewables and improved management of organic waste.

Cyprus and Portugal are the worst culprits, but they do not carry as much weight in the EU as Spain

With regard to the UK, the report applauds the exchange of oil and coal for natural gas and, as in Germany, improved waste management and the shrinking of the iron and steel industry.

In global terms, almost all the sectors in the EU reduced their emissions, though emissions from transportation is still an area that needs to be tackled. “For the fourth year running since 2013, carbon dioxide emissions from road transportation increased in 2017, both in commercial and private vehicles,” says the report.

English version by Heather Galloway.

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