Spain is Feeling the Impacts of the Climate Crisis – and it is Fighting Back
Every year, the UN’s climate action branch, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (most people go with “UNFCCC”), brings nearly 200 countries together for a Conference of the Parties (COP) meeting to talk about global efforts on climate and the implementation of the Paris Agreement.
But the path to this year’s conference has been a particularly rocky one.
Brazil was awarded the event last fall but backed out just two months later, following the election of climate denier Jair Bolsonaro as president. Soon after, Chile, a rising global leader on climate action and renewables, stepped up to the plate.
Unrest has rocked the South American nation in recent months, however. Protests spurred at first by rising public transit prices have evolved into larger demonstrations about inequality and health care costs, leading Chile to make the difficult decision to pull out of hosting the international climate summit “to prioritize re-establishing public order,” according to President Sebastián Piñera.
Chile’s decision came a little more than a month before COP 25 was set to begin, creating an uncertain future for one of the globe’s most important climate events. Luckily, a nation half a world away – and looking to raise its own climate ambitions – was willing to take the reins.
Just a day after Chile’s decision, the UN announced that Spain would host COP 25 in Madrid – and it would stick to the original dates planned for the conference too, Dec. 2-13.
(While Madrid will host the talks, which are expected to draw around 20,000 delegates from around the world, Chile will retain control of them.)
Stepping up to host COP 25 is just the latest incident to show us that after a mixed start, Spain is growing into a true leader on climate. The country is feeling the effects of the climate crisis, and rather than bury its head in the sand like a certain major world power, it is rising to the occasion by promising some major changes in the years ahead.
Spain’s Changing Climate
Like so many places around the world, Spain is getting warmer and drier because of the climate crisis.
The Mediterranean region of Spain has already warmed about 1.5 degrees Celsius – more than the global average of 1.1 degrees Celsius – since the Industrial Revolution. And according to a recent report from Mediterranean Experts on Climate and Environmental Change (MedECC), without urgent climate action, Spain and other Mediterranean countries are likely to see dramatic temperature increases in the decades to come.
“Without additional mitigation, regional temperature increase will be of 2.2°C in 2040, possibly exceeding 3.8°C in some regions in 2100,” researchers found.
For crystal-clear context, if temperatures in the Mediterranean basin rise by 2 degrees Celsius, much of Spain and Southern Europe would have a climate similar to that of current North Africa.
For an already hot and dry area, this added heat could prove disastrous. Indeed, in what seemed like a preview amid this summer’s intense European heat wave, Spain battled its worst wildfires in more than 20 years.
Spanish summers are expected to warm more than winters, creating space for periods of excessively hot weather to become more frequent and more severe. Extreme heat waves leave people susceptible to all kinds of dangerous health impacts, including respiratory problems and even heat stroke.
This temperature rise is likely to happen at the same time as “a trend towards reduced rainfall in coming decades” – as much as 10-15 percent less precipitation if we see 2 degrees Celsius of global temperature rise – and an increased possibility of extreme drought.
This combination of rising temperatures and less and less rain may result in desertification of vast swaths of Spain, devastating agriculture. That includes two of the country’s most celebrated (and profitable) exports: olives and wine.
Wine grapes are famously fickle. Higher temperatures are already forcing growers to pick earlier in the growing season to prevent sugar levels from skyrocketing. Looking forward, diminishing and unpredictable rainfall could make growing grapes at all in southern Spain difficult in the not-distant future.
This very real possibility has Spanish winemakers thinking differently about the road ahead. Case in point, one of the nation’s most-renowned winemakers, Familia Torres, is already buying up land high in the Pyrenees Mountain foothills along the French border, “a zone whose consistently cool temperatures once made the area inhospitable to growing grapes” but where it’s getting warmer because of climate change.
At the same time that parts of southern Spain are dramatically drying out, climate disruption could lead to severe flooding in other parts of the country, particularly its northern-most regions along the Bay of Biscay, because of increased severe storm activity.
The tourist-friendly nation also must contend with rising seas and destruction to its celebrated coastline. Already, in the north of Spain, “there's mounting soil erosion along the 5,978 kilometers (3,715 miles) of coast where 90 percent of all tourists spend their vacations.”
How Spain is Taking Action
Luckily, Spain isn’t sitting on the sidelines.
Seeing the havoc fossil fuel emissions are wreaking right now – and accepting the science of what they’ll do in the future – Spain announced an ambitious plan earlier this year that would see it become carbon neutral by 2050.
The $53 billion, 10-year public investment plan would see Spain work toward sourcing 74 percent of its electricity from renewables like solar and wind by 2030 – and 100 percent by 2050. This would allow the nation to cut its dependence on imported energy by at least 15 percent over the next decade, saving $83.1 billion in fossil fuel costs over that same timeframe.
To achieve this goal, Spain will install at least 3,000 MW of wind and solar power capacity every year for the next 10 years, implement major energy efficiency measures, and ban new licenses for fossil fuel drilling and fracking wells.
And speaking of fossil fuels, Spain closed all of its unprofitable coal mines at the end of last year, as part of a directive from the European Union “in which deposits that no longer make money and receive public funds must stop production by Jan. 1, 2019.” (The country still imports coal.)
Spain’s government, in October 2018, also repealed a “sunshine tax” on the nation’s solar consumers, removing what had been a major roadblock to home solar for many. And just last month, Spain was one of eight EU member states to call on the bloc to raise its carbon dioxide reduction target for 2030 from 40 percent to 55 percent.
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What You Can Do
"Spain believes that multilateral climate action is a priority for both the UN and the EU, and one which demands the highest commitment from all of us," Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said on Twitter following the announcement that Spain would host COP 25.
He’s exactly right – and that’s why COP 25 is such a big deal. This year’s event will show just how committed countries are to the emissions reduction goals they agreed to in the Paris Agreement. And what happens at COP 25 will prove pivotal to the future not just of the agreement, but international action on climate.
Stay up-to-date with the latest from COP 25 by following Climate Reality on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and by joining the nearly 1 million digital activists around the world on our email list working for a clean energy future for all.