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Could going green get Spain out of the red?

Por: | 05 de junio de 2012

Dusk daisies
 (Photo: Charles Wardhaugh)

Today, 5th June 2012 marks UN World Environment Day with the ‘Green Economy’ as its theme.  As Spain grapples with 24% unemployment, a double-dip recession and a potential banking meltdown, should it even be thinking about greening its economy? Surely the environment should be the last thing on the agenda.

Actually now is exactly the time Spain should consider reviving its ailing finances through a more sustainable economy.  The monetary value of nature and the water, food, energy and clean air it provides, is enormous.  The resilience of the global economy is intricately linked to the environment; and the maths for a global green economy doesn’t just make environmental sense but economic sense. 


Each year, around the globe, we’re losing ecosystem services worth around €50 billion.  According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), global energy demand will grow 36% by 2035, with the clean energy industry worth €5 trillion by 2015.  Overall costs of climate change will be equivalent to 20% of global GDP annually, while taking action now would cost only 1% of annual global GDP. Turning to the sea, the world’s commercial fisheries face collapse in 50 years unless current trends reverse.  In the Caribbean, coral reef destruction has meant a 20% decline in tourism revenues (equal to €240 million per year). 

Moreover, there’s evidence that green initiatives are bearing fruit.  The Brookings Institution reported that the ‘clean economy,’ in the US was employing approximately 2.7 million employees – more than fossil fuel companies and 4.5 million US jobs in clean energy are forecast by 2030. 

How could the ‘Green Economy’ help Spain?


Green gold

Shifting to a green economy could become Spain’s new engine of development.  If Spain becomes a global leader in this area it stands to capture a share of the low-carbon energy market set to be worth €1.7 trillion by 2020.  It’s already way ahead of the energy diversification game compared to its European peers, getting a third of its energy from renewable sources in 2010.  This is partly down to Spain’s abundance of clean resources.  The most mountainous country in Europe with 4,964 km of coastline and 340 sunshine days make it one of the richest nations in sun and wind - ‘green gold’.   Spain is the world's fourth biggest producer of wind power  and an estimated 550,000 green jobs put it above the European average.  Companies such as Iberdrola are also linking with other countries in renewable energy partnerships.

However, despite this record, there’s evidence the government is not doing enough to foster green economics and may be backtracking.  The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) says that income from environmental taxes form a smaller proportion of Spain’s GDP than any other European OECD country.  

Spain also needs to dismantle subsidies for fossil fuels.  According to Spain’s national grid, Red Electrica, coal subsidies doubled the energy output from coal-fired plants from 8% to 15% in 2011.  This year the government scrapped renewables subsidies and though reducing its subsidies to the coal sector, the industry will still benefit from €111 million.  Also Spain is forging ahead with oil exploration plans in Sevilla and Jaén at a cost of €8 million and prospecting off the Málaga coast in a 150,000 hectare plot.  Several campaigner groups have protested about the environmental impact and cost. 

Environment versus construction

Semana Santa & Edinburgh 2011 036

With a fifth of Spanish land and sea earmarked for protection, and half the land devoted to agriculture, Spain has a fertile and biodiverse territory, which if used sustainably would allow the country to cash in on rising food prices, increased interest in organic produce and eco-tourism.  However, the biodiversity and heritage of Spain is under constant attack. Recently the government announced plans to relax coastal planning regulations and unique biospheres that endangered wildlife depends on are under threat from development, habitat destruction and pollution.  The UNESCO Biosphere Reserve Cabo de Gata natural park in Andalucía  is threatened by a megaproject on its perimeter.  Ecologistas en Accion claims the project ‘undermines environmental legislation, and violates the park’s classification as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.’

In San Lorenzo de El Escorial, home of Philip II’s magnificent monastery, the local council is trying to change regulations to enable the construction of flats near the monastery which could endanger the site’s UNESCO world heritage status - worth much in tourism revenues.  The local mayor claims the housing is needed for young people, but local environmental group, Entorno Escorial claim an existing subsidised housing project in the area  - Unamuno - still has unsold houses. The town council is already indebted and, to complete the housing project, will need a loan of €2 million, €1 million of which will go to the local Carmelite nuns for the land.  Meanwhile, local taxes have risen 14% this year and social services have been slashed.

Constructing ‘white elephant’ projects is the last thing the Spanish economy needs given its banking problems stem from bad construction loans.  One hopes Spain does not follow the path of biodiversity destruction seen in other nations such as the UK  

Worst polluter in Europe

Though Spain is a leader in wind and solar energy, according to European Environment Agency, Spain as a nation of petrol-heads was the only EU country to fail three out of four criteria tests for pollution.  Barcelona and Madrid were found to be the two EU cities with the greatest atmospheric contamination.  This causes 16,000 premature deaths annually and the proliferation of various respiratory diseases.  It also creates a significant cost to the tax payer in health service provision.

The ‘dead sea’

Spain is one of the highest consumers of seafood in Europe and industrial overfishing has led to political and economic crises.  Spanish fishing practices have exacerbated the situation as Spanish fleets have continued overfishing and thrown dead fish back into the sea when their catch exceeds quotas.  The good news is that action has been taken under pressure from the EU, with Spanish fishing chiefs agreeing to phase out discards over the next four years.

Will Spain do what it needs to in these tough economic times?

When the world’s most influential economies sit around the table at the Rio+20 conference later this June to hammer out sustainable development agreements, the environment ministry will have Spain’s future in its hands.  As Sr. Jiménez Herrero of Spain’s Observatorio de la Sostenibilidad says: ‘The environment is part of a valuable natural capital to be recovered and is, in the case of Spain, an important asset, since Spain is the most biologically diverse nation in Europe.  The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Environment and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in line with the common position of the EU should boost its efforts towards achieving a global commitment aimed at achieving truly sustainable development globally.’

With over 50% youth unemployment, and figures showing Spain’s manufacturing industry is the worst performing in the Euro zone, Spain should grasp the opportunity to lead the green economy and benefit from a surge in green collar jobs.  Now is the time for Spain and Europe to set the agenda for transition to a green economy, stimulate desperately needed growth and create sustainable prosperity for the future.

(Photo: Charles Wardhaugh)






Hay 3 Comentarios

Excellent article. Really. Yes, the costs involved in creating clean energy may not be the most cost-effective at the moment but it is about time to think in the long term for once in this country, as it is to think in future generations rather than on the electricity bill we have to pay today.

Be it as it may, the cost of "green" resources and technologies seems to be of no importance for this analysis. Regardless other issues, it can be blamed on the high cost of this kind of energies a great part of the high price of electricity in Spain, which is a huge burden for a lot of other industries, which have become less and less competitive over the years. It's not such a bright future after all...


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Authors (Bloggers)

Chris Finnigan is a freelance journalist based in Barcelona. He writes for Barcelona Metropolitan and is a book reviewer and reader for The Barcelona Review. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics. You can find him on twitter @chrisjfinnigan

Ben Cardew is a freelance journalist, translator and teacher, now resident in Barcelona after growing up gracefully in Scotland via Norwich. He writes for The Guardian, the NME and The Quietus, among others, on everything from music to digital media. You can find him on Twitter @bencardew

Fiona Flores Watson is a freelance journalist, guide and translator who has lived in Seville since 2003, and has been a writer and editor for more than 20 years. She writes for the Guardian, Telegraph and Sunday Times Travel Magazine. Originally from Essex, Fiona is also Consulting Editor of and has her own blog, Scribbler in Seville. She has been contributing to Trans-Iberian since 2014 and tweets at @Seville_Writer

Jeff Brodsky is a freelance writer. He arrived in Barcelona in 2013 via an admittedly indirect route, living in Chicago, Arizona, Seville, Amsterdam, North Carolina and Madrid. Despite not having stepped foot in Seville for over five years, he still speaks Spanish with an Andalusian accent. Jeff’s writing has been published in newspapers and magazines in America and Europe.

Koren Helbig is an Australian freelance journalist and blogger enjoying a life of near-eternal sunshine in Alicante. She writes for publications in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, focusing on stories exploring smart and positive approaches to social issues. She hangs out on Twitter at @KorenHelbig and keeps a selection of her favourite stories at

Julie Pybus lives in a small off-grid house on a hillside in Catalunya. She usually focuses on helping charities and social enterprises with their publications and websites, but has also written for The Guardian, Country Living and The Observer. Julie launched and runs a hyperlocal website which endeavors to increase understanding between the different nationalities in her area @JuliePybus

Paul Louis Archer is a freelance photographer, multimedia storyteller and artist educator. A cross-disciplinary worker, who endeavors to encompass the mediums of photography, audio design and writing. Born in Hertfordshire of an English father and Spanish mother. Based in the United Kingdom. @PaulLouisArcher

Vicki McLeod is a freelance writer and photographer. She has lived in Mallorca since 2004. Vicki writes about her beloved island for The Majorca Daily Bulletin, the only daily English language paper in Spain; produces regular columns for the Euro Weekly News, and articles for Vicki runs PR strategies for several businesses in Mallorca and London as well as working on her own blogs and projects. She and her husband, Oliver Neilson, supply photo and text content for private clients via @phoenixmediamlr. She tweets at @mcleod_vicki.

Born in Newcastle upon Tyne and based in Barcelona, Alx Phillips writes about contemporary art, dance and theatre in a way that human beings can understand. For more previews, reviews, interviews and extras, check:

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