The most important measures of the new Climate Change Law | Climate change | Climate and Environment

Solar power plant on the outskirts of El Cuervo, Seville.
Solar power plant on the outskirts of El Cuervo, Seville. Paco Puentes

The Congress of Deputies approved the Climate Change and Energy Transition Law on Thursday. The Senate must now give it the go-ahead and, if it does not include modifications, the law will be definitively approved, foreseeably in May. The objective of this regulation is to help Spain comply with its international commitments in the fight against climate change to achieve “before 2050” the so-called “climate neutrality” (that the country can only emit greenhouse gases that may be absorbed by sinks, e.g. forests). For this, the standard establishes a series of intermediate goals and concrete measures.

In the preamble to the law, which is also presented as an instrument to channel European recovery funds, it is ensured that the energy transition promoted by this regulation “allows the mobilization of more than 200,000 million euros of investment throughout the 2021 decade. -2030 ″. In addition, it is argued that “net employment will increase between 250,000 and 350,000 people at the end of the period” thanks to the proposed measures. These are the main objectives and actions included in the first climate law in Spain.

Goals for 2030. The norm sets a series of concrete goals for this decade and a system of upward revision of those objectives to comply with the Paris Agreement. The first of these reviews should be carried out in 2023. These are the main objectives set in the law for 2030:

  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 23% compared to 1990.
  • Achieve a penetration of renewable energies in final energy consumption of at least 42% (compared to the current close to 20%).
  • Reach an electrical system with at least 74% generation from renewable energy sources (compared to 40% at this time).

Mobility. In 2019, the last year for which there is official data, almost 30% of Spain’s greenhouse gas emissions came from the transport sector – and to a large extent from road transport. The law approved this Thursday tries to accompany the trend of change in mobility that is already taking place in society and the industrial sector towards the electric vehicle, fundamentally. These are some of the most important mobility measures:

  • The main objective is to achieve by 2050 “a fleet of passenger cars and light commercial vehicles without direct CO₂ emissions” (carbon dioxide). To this end, no later than 2040, new cars and light commercial vehicles, not intended for commercial use, that emit CO₂ may not be sold.
  • All municipalities with more than 50,000 inhabitants must adopt sustainable mobility plans that, among other issues, include low-emission zones similar to those launched in Madrid and Barcelona. And they can only be reversed with a favorable report from the regional government. In addition, municipalities with more than 20,000 inhabitants must also approve low-emission zones if their air quality is not good.
  • The norm also establishes obligations for gas stations to place electric car recharging points and to facilitate their installation in buildings and car parks. As of 2023, all buildings that are not intended for residential use and with more than 20 parking spaces must have charging infrastructures. In addition, the Ministry for Ecological Transition will develop a national public access catalog of recharging points available to drivers. And European recovery funds will be channeled to encourage the installation of charging infrastructure.
  • The Government will also set targets for the integration of alternative fuels in transportation, with “special emphasis on advanced biofuels and other renewable fuels of non-biological origin.” And the door opens to limit first-generation biofuels (those made from food crops).
  • The Government will draw up a law on sustainable mobility and financing of public transport, which will also contemplate objectives for the penetration of the railroad in the transport of goods over distances greater than 300 kilometers.

Electric sector. The electricity sector currently represents slightly less than 14% of the country’s greenhouse emissions. Thanks to the gradual closure of coal plants and the increase in the introduction of renewables, the sector emits less and less of these gases. But much more is needed. The law contemplates doubling in 2030 the share of renewables in electricity generation in Spain to 74%. And it sets a target for 2050 that 100% of electricity generation be renewable. These are some of the most prominent measures in this field:

  • The Government and the National Commission of Markets and Competition must present a proposal to reform the electricity sector within a maximum period of 12 months after the approval of the law.
  • Reversible hydroelectric plants will be promoted (those that work with a water pumping system that allows electricity to be generated when it is needed). And the generation of electricity will also be promoted through urban supply and sanitation systems.
  • The Horizontal Property Law will be reformed within a year to facilitate photovoltaic installations for self-consumption in the communities of owners.
  • In addition, the law advocates making the implementation of new renewables “compatible with the conservation of natural heritage.” To avoid the worst impacts of the installation of large wind and solar farms, the Government will prepare a zoning of sensitive areas in which projects of this type cannot be carried out.

Fossil fuels. The regulation establishes a series of limitations for the exploitation of new fossil fuel deposits in Spain, both on land and in offshore operations. Burning this type of fuel to generate energy is the main source of greenhouse gas emissions. These are some of the measures that are contemplated:

  • As of the entry into force of the regulation, new exploration and hydrocarbon extraction projects in Spain will be prohibited. Regarding research permits and exploitation concessions for hydrocarbon deposits that are already in force, “they may not be extended, in any case, beyond December 31, 2042.”
  • The text expressly prohibits the technique of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and also vetoes radioactive mining, such as uranium.
  • Regarding the new tax benefits, the law establishes that only “energy products of fossil origin” will be able to access them if it is justified by “reasons of social and economic interest or in response to the lack of technological alternatives”. In addition, within two years from the entry into force of the law, the Government will prepare a study and a calendar proposal so that “the General State Administration and the agencies and entities that make up the state public sector dispose of participations or financial instruments of companies or entities whose commercial activity includes the extraction, refining or processing of energy products of fossil origin ”.

Energy efficiency and renovation of buildings. The law aims to channel European funds from the recovery plan also in terms of building and energy efficiency. These are some of the measures contemplated:

  • In the first six months from the entry into force of the law, the Government must implement a plan for housing rehabilitation and urban renewal.
  • The Administrations will have to approve incentives for the “introduction of renewable energies” to promote self-consumption and zero-emission heating and cooling. It is also committed to the use of materials with the lowest possible carbon footprint and to improvements in accessibility.
A collective self-consumption installation in a residential building in Madrid.
A collective self-consumption installation in a residential building in Madrid.

Adaptation and biodiversity. The law includes several sections referring to adaptation to climate change. There are certain impacts of warming that can no longer be reversed, so the standard establishes measures related to this matter and to the protection of biodiversity:

  • The Government must approve every five years a national plan for adaptation to climate change, which will have to include, for example, “the identification and evaluation of foreseeable impacts and risks” for “various possible scenarios”. Also the evaluation of the “vulnerability of natural systems, territories, populations and socioeconomic sectors”. In addition, every five years “climate risk reports” must be approved.
  • The law establishes that urban planning and hydrological planning must take into account climate change. And it includes an article that will limit the duration of the extensions granted to the concessions for certain activities in the maritime public domain area.
  • In addition, the Executive will have to present a “specific strategy for the conservation and restoration of ecosystems and species especially sensitive to the effects of climate change.”
  • And, within a period of six months, the Government undertakes to refer the bill on waste and contaminated soils to the courts.
A-7 highway tunnel flooded in 2019 located in the Alicante municipality of Pilar de la Horadada.
A-7 highway tunnel flooded in 2019 located in the Alicante municipality of Pilar de la Horadada. Sergio Pérez / Reuters

Financial risks, companies and expert committee. The law includes several sections that seek to expand knowledge about the risks to which the country’s economy is exposed due to climate change, in addition to a certain external control of measures against warming.

  • Large companies, financial institutions and insurers must prepare annual reports on the risks to their activity derived from “the transition to a sustainable economy and the measures adopted to face such risks.”
  • The Bank of Spain, the National Securities Market Commission and the General Directorate of Insurance and Pension Funds will also have to present a joint report every two years on the degree of alignment of the financial sector with the goals of the Paris Agreement and the EU, as well as a risk assessment for the system. The state operators of the electricity and gas system will have to do something similar, as well as the Compañía Logística de Hidrocarburos.
  • In addition, large companies – the Government must define within a year what type of companies in particular – must carry out a calculation of the emissions generated by their activity. And they will have to “develop and publish a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions” with targets for every five years.
  • The final approval of the law will entail the creation of “a committee of climate change experts” that will have to evaluate and make recommendations on policies and measures for the transition. Its members will prepare an annual report that will be “sent to the Congress of Deputies and submitted to debate”. In addition, the Government will create a “citizen assembly on climate change” in which it will seek to promote the participation of society in the fight against warming.

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