Editorial Feature

How Spain is Tackling Pollution

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Globally, the growing concern of pollution in all its various forms is at the forefront of people’s minds. ‘Climate change’, ‘global warming’, ‘air pollution’, ‘carbon emissions’ and ‘plastic pollution’ all common phrases in recent headlines. In 2015 Spain was labeled Europe’s most polluted country by the European Environment Agency (EEA). Now, with growing concerns over plastic and emissions pollution on the global stage, Spain becomes a country of note.

Plastics Pollution

“Single-use plastic” has become a dirty term in recent months. Public led campaigns, governments and private organizations alike lobbying for both national and global reform.

Despite the Spanish government putting in place new legislation to phase out plastic bags by 2021 most activity beyond this is confined to private companies and institutions who are lobbying for greater action and cleaning up the environmental pollution which already exists.

Organizations such as the Pure Clean Earth movement focus on raising awareness of the problems which result from plastic pollution on the beaches of Spain. Alongside this, the Clean Beach Initiative works to clean and protect the beaches of Barcelona and educate the public on the use of plastic in their daily lives and how it impacts the environment.

Despite these actions, the events of the last four years suggest that not enough is being done to tackle plastic pollution. In 2016 Spanish researchers showed that microplastics were present in standard table salt. In 2018 a Sperm whale washing up on the coast of Spain made international headlines. Death by plastic. This event highlighted the microplastics problem of the Mediterranean Sea, which on the Spanish coastline makes up 54% of plastic pollution.

Emissions Pollution

In 2008 the Spanish government put into place the Spanish Strategy of Climate Change and Clean Energy (in Spanish), which set up a framework for sustainable improvements in the energy sector, increasing overall output while reducing the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions. Between 2008 and 2014 Spain experienced an economic crisis, which could explain the country’s difficulty in meeting their own goals. One year after labeling Spain the most polluted country in Europe, the EEA attributed that just under 30,000 deaths annually were caused by pollution-related causes.  With the Strategy of Climate Change and Clean Energy rapidly approaching it’s 2021 deadline for success and culmination, Spain appears under pressure to rapidly improve environmental conditions.

Unfortunately, a report published in 2017, ‘La calidad del aire en el Estado espanol durante 2017’, or ‘Air quality in the Spanish state during 2017’, suggests that most of the inhabitants of Spain are breathing air which could be harmful to health. This report suggests that harm comes from a variety of gasses known to be hazardous to both humans and the environment. This includes Ozone (O3) and Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2), which are known to lead to and worsen asthma as well as other thoracic ailments.

The Sustainable Economy Act, established in 2011 and built on the Strategy of Climate change and Clean Energy, outlines several targets to ensure that the rebuilding of Spain’s economy will occur in tandem with ecologically sustainable development. Central to this is improving energy efficiency and deriving 10% of transport sector energy and 20% of the total energy production of the country coming from renewable sources. However, it must be said that the evidence of these achievements is not easily found.

Despite Spain having put in place targets and frameworks to ensure sustainable development and improve environmental conditions, it may be that real-time responses and initiatives lag behind as the need for reform grows. Beaches remain soiled with plastics, defended by private philanthropic organizations who clear plastic debris away. Coastal waters are polluted so heavily with microplastics that these particles are now found in ordinary table salt. Air pollution still poses a real threat to those living in the Spanish state. Though it is unlikely that Spain will meet its nearing deadlines, it becomes clear that an urgent solution for a growing problem is needed.

Sources and Further Reading

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Aro Nugawela

Written by

Aro Nugawela

Aro is a life scientist, starting her master’s degree in biomedicine. Her research will focus on African sleeping sickness, at the level of parasite molecular biology.

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