Climate change will have devastating consequences for Spain, and time is running out

By Karam Sleiman

CLIMATE change is affecting many countries around the world, and Europe is no exception. In particular, Spain will be one of the hardest hit by rising temperatures, sea levels, disrupted rainfall, heat waves and droughts.

All these effects are attributed to climate change, and it is important to understand how they directly impact living conditions in the country in order to act before the consequences are too serious and irreversible.


This process leads to land degradation due to a variety of factors, mainly climatic “variations” and human responsibility. This aspect is particularly pressing, especially since Spain has seen 20% of its territory deserted and this number continues to increase.

Spain is threatened by desertification

74% of the country is threatened by desertification. Much of this is directly attributed to the country’s industrialized agricultural practices, for which Spain adopted the National Action Program against Desertification in 2008, which sought to analyze and address the factors that contribute to land degradation. in the country.

It seemed like a big step forward but, despite the name of the program, there was no direct action plan that actually stopped desertification. Among EU countries, Spain is at the highest risk of becoming a desert by 2050.

On the bright side, the Spanish government has reconsidered the adverse effects of desertification in addressing it in its recent statement on climate and environmental emergency. However, active changes are still needed. There are far too many serious consequences of land degradation, and it is important to realize where humans carry the burden, and that is in the agricultural sector of the country.

Agriculture and overexploitation of water

Agriculture is just one of Spain’s main economic sectors, contributing around 3% of its total GDP in 2021. But the impact of Spain’s agri-food industry is significant. Spain is the largest producer of olive oil in the world, accounting for 40% of global production. The majority of farming is done in Andalusia, particularly in the province of Almeria, known for its practice of intensive farming to meet demand in Europe. Almeria’s greenhouse complexes generate 33,500 tonnes of plastic every year. While 85% of it is recycled, 5,000 tons are not processed.

A bird’s eye view of plastic greenhouses in Almeria

These greenhouses require a large water supply, and this is mainly achieved through underground water reserves. About half of Spain’s groundwater is contaminated, and agriculture, livestock and groundwater extraction are the main contributors to the country’s polluted reserves. Aquifers are essential to provide water in times of scarcity of an already scarce resource, and unsustainable agriculture has led to water being drawn down to dangerous levels.

The overexploitation of water bodies also impacts the biodiversity of the area. Lake Santa Olalla in Doñana, Huelva, one of the largest wetlands in Europe and a UNESCO heritage site, has dried up again. This event drew attention to illegal water extraction practices in Spain, which do not seem to be stopping.

A WWF report España stated in 2006 that more than 3,600 hm3 of groundwater is extracted and around 45% of all water is extracted illegally. Fifteen years later, the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that Spain had failed to react to illegal water extractions. Instead of addressing the issue, the conservative People’s Party sought to increase irrigation in the region.

Water is a non-renewable resource and human activity has posed a high risk of depleting water bodies. Although Spain has built extensive dams to ensure water availability, it relies on rainfall to replenish its system. This has become much more difficult in recent years, where the effects of climate change have accelerated, disrupting rainfall patterns and increasing temperatures.

Rising temperatures and heat

2020 was recorded at 1.7°C warmer than the pre-industrial average, and if emissions continue, the country will see increases of up to 5°C by 2100. Heat waves resulting from the rise temperatures have many consequences, including those that Spain has already experienced .

Heat wave of June 10 Aemet

The 2022 heatwave in Spain alone killed at least 2,064 people due to high temperatures. Droughts have directly affected crops in Spain, and the disruption in production is also leading to a disruption of supply for all of Europe. Forest fires have increased dramatically and Spain continues to face the risk of a devastating future if no drastic changes are made.

Objectives and measures taken

Spain is a member of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, has ratified the Kyoto Protocol and has set up various national institutions to provide solutions to climate-related challenges. Parliament has recently made a legal commitment to end fossil fuel production by 2042

Since the Paris Agreement, there have been many positive developments that Spain has taken part in with the European Union, in particular, the establishment of a binding and legislative framework which ensures that seemingly ambitious goals are achieved. In the case of the energy sector, an increase in renewable energy and energy efficiency has been agreed, and these developments are already visible in the country.

Renewable energy sources account for 40% of the total electricity produced in 2022, and this number will continue to increase as the country moves away from fossil fuels. It also removed the solar energy tax to encourage the use of solar energy in households. This is also made possible by high public support for the implementation of strict measures to combat climate change, and the public has been actively engaged in addressing climate-related issues.

There are various international organizations active in Spain, but local NGOs are making considerable efforts in various ways. For example, Ecologists in Action is a grassroots confederation with more than 300 environmental groups in towns and cities, across all 17 regions of Spain. It organizes awareness campaigns, public and legal complaints against attacks on the environment.

ECODES, founded in 1992, works with people, organizations and businesses to discuss solutions to implement sustainable development and help achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement.

And there are many more. Continuous pressure and direct action are the most effective solutions to combat climate change. Actively engaging and organizing collectively will ensure the safety of people, the environment and its vast biodiversity.

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