Spain: Environmental Issues, Policies, and Clean Technology


Spain is a European country that borders the Mediterranean Sea, Bay of Biscay and the North Atlantic Ocean. The country is the fourth largest in Europe and the second largest in the European Union, covering a total area of 505,990 km2 with a population of 46,507,760.

Spain joined the EU in 1986, which lead to a rapid economic modernization. The gross domestic product (GDP) of Spain for 2018 is $1.314 trillion nominal. The climate of the country is clear and hot summers in the interiors, with cloudy weather along the coasts.

The key natural resources of Spain include iron ore, coal, copper, lignite, lead, uranium, tungsten, zinc, magnesite, fluorspar, mercury, pyrites, gypsum, kaolin, potash, sepiolite, hydropower, and arable land.

Environmental Issues of Spain

The key environmental issues faced by Spain are:

  • Deforestation - Extensive forests of Spain have been destroyed over the years due to unplanned cutting, forest fires, and poor farming practices. The attempts to implement reforestation schemes by the government have not been very successful.
  • Air pollution – Acid rain, the destruction of the Ozone layer and the greenhouse effect are all consequences of the air pollution problem that Spain faces. Industrial CO2 emissions in 1995 amounted to 223.2 million Mt and globally Spain ranked 20th in emissions.
  • Quality and quantity of water nationwide - Industrial and agricultural waste contributes to Spain’s water pollution problem, as well as oil tankers that travel to the nation's shores. The Mediterranean Sea is polluted due to dumping of effluents and raw sewage from oil and gas production offshore.
  • Desertification - 36% of the country is threatened by desertification with the Canaries and the south-east being the worst hit. Though a part of this degradation is due to climate change, natural processes, the loss of soil fertility of irrigated land by salinization, erosion overgrazing, fire, and human mismanagement.
  • Saharan dust blowing off the west coast of Africa and over the Canary Islands (a Spanish archipelago).

Saharan dust blowing off the west coast of Africa and over the Canary Islands (a Spanish archipelago). Image credit: CIA Factbook

Saharan dust blowing off the west coast of Africa and over the Canary Islands (a Spanish archipelago). Image Credits: CIA Factbook

Environmental Policies of Spain

Over the past 15 years, Spain has considerably improved its environmental policies. An environmental performance report from OECD highlights the following achievements of the country:

  • Strengthened legislative and institutional environmental framework at regional and national levels, on the basis of EU directives and new laws
  • Enhanced quality of coastal bathing waters and municipal water infrastructure
  • More emphasis on biodiversity and nature in terms of Natura 2000 proposals, management of protected areas, a national biodiversity strategy, and better international co-operation
  • Renewed commitments to climate change policies to match with EU and Kyoto commitments
  • Recent revision of water management policies to adhere to the EU water framework directive

In 2008 the clean energy use in Spain was less than 8% of total energy supply, a far cry from the 2020 target of 22.7% stipulated by the National Renewable Energy Action Plan 2011 – 2020.To curb the high energy dependency on oil imports, the government framed the Energy Efficiency and Saving Action Plan 2008 – 2012 to encourage the use of florescent bulbs. It also offered financial incentives to promote eco-friendly and innovative vehicles and extended support for electric vehicles in line with the Comprehensive National Strategy to Promote Electric Vehicles.

The National Plan for Air Quality and Atmosphere Protection 2013‐ 2016set the framework to improve air quality through specific actions undertaken in coordination with other sectoral plans. Several programs for the non-ETS sectors within the second period of the Kyoto Protocol (2013-2020) have been developed. Different Plans focusing on specific sectors have been set up to promote the reduction of GHG emissions in hotel and other tourism facilities through energy efficiency improvements.

Furthermore, the National River Restoration Strategy and the National Integrated Plan for Solid Waste Management 2008 – 2015 were approved by the government. The Spanish Monitoring Plan was set up to assessthe effectiveness of the measures taken to reduce POPs, and human biological bio monitoring (HBM) is not the gold standard in pollutant exposure estimations in humans.

Clean Technology in Spain

Spain ranks high on innovation drivers specific to clean technology and commercial cleantech innovation. However, it scores low on emerging cleantech innovation. Experts feel that though Spain has government policies that are cleantech-friendly, what the country needs is more public R&D spending and access to private finance. The poor score in emerging cleantech innovation is due to lack of environmental patents and VC investment.

According to the World Bank’s Little Green Data Book, Spain’s average annual deforestation percentage stood at -1.9% during 1990 to 2007 and 3.7% of its total energy is generated from biomass and waste. About 61.8% and 9.2% of the total electricity produced in the country is being generated from fossil fuels and hydropower, respectively. Also, the whole of Spain has access to improved water source and sanitation.

Globally Spain currently ranks 12th in the Environmental Performance index, with a score of 78.39. It ranked number one in water and sanitation, and scored highly in areas such as air quality and environmental health. In the climate and energy arena, it has a score of 67.77 and ranked 23rd. This performance index tracks a set of objectives such as ecosystem vitality and environmental health.

Each of these objectives comprises policy categories such as ecosystem effects and climate change. These are further sub- divided into several core indicators of environmental performance, which can be directly measured, e.g., child mortality and indoor air pollution.

A Clean Future for Spain

An environmental performance report from the OECD lauds a number of Spain’s environmental policies. However, the report also insists that the country needs to enhance the efficiency of these environmental policies and should integrate the environmental concerns in industries such as tourism, transport, energy, construction, and agriculture.

The OECD suggested Spain progresses towards a sustainable future by:

  • Decoupling energy consumption and waste generation from economic growth in relevant sectors
  • Adapting the international environmental agenda
  • Modifying the ecotax
  • Curbing ghg growth and further increasing oda
  • Ratifying the Aarhus convention
  • Managing fisheries better
  • Preventing marine pollution due to oil spills and land based pollution
  • Reviewing of harmful impact of the taxes and subsidies and enabling strategic environmental assessments in the transport, tourism, energy, agriculture, and construction sectors

Sources and Further Reading

This article was updated on the 24th July, 2018.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the author expressed in their private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of Limited T/A AZoNetwork the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the Terms and conditions of use of this website.

G.P. Thomas

Written by

G.P. Thomas

Gary graduated from the University of Manchester with a first-class honours degree in Geochemistry and a Masters in Earth Sciences. After working in the Australian mining industry, Gary decided to hang up his geology boots and turn his hand to writing. When he isn't developing topical and informative content, Gary can usually be found playing his beloved guitar, or watching Aston Villa FC snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.


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  1. ashlee hicks ashlee hicks United States says:

    This helped a lot with my homework thx.

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