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United Nations Development Programme
United Nations Environment Programme

Spain Lags Behind in Kyoto Protocol Compliance

By Tito Drago*

Spain is the European nation with the biggest increase in greenhouse gas emissions since 1990. Many companies are expected to turn to Latin America in order to meet their emissions reduction quotas. The energy company Endesa has announced it will invest 3.2 billion dollars in the region.

MADRID - Spain will have to make quite an effort if it wants to meet its obligations under the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, and even so, the country is likely to fail, say experts. Its emissions of so-called greenhouse gases increased 40 percent since 1990 and average temperatures rose 1.5 degrees Celsius over the past 30 years.

The entry into force of the Kyoto Protocol on Feb. 16 marked the hour of truth for Spain, admitted Environment Minister Cristina Narbona, who described the ''bill'' the country will have to pay for its growing reliance on petroleum as ''astronomical''.

The Protocol requires 35 industrialized countries to cut their greenhouse gas emissions to an average of 5.2 percent below 1990 levels by 2012.

The European Union established cuts for most of its members, pledging an overall reduction of eight percent of emissions. But Portugal and Spain, because of their relative lag in development with respect to other EU members, were authorized emissions increase of 27 and 15 percent, respectively, until 2012.

At the end of 2004, Spain had multiplied that increase nearly three-fold, the largest in the EU, which overall had otherwise cut emissions by 3.5 percent since 1990.

But the hike in Spain is also greater than in other industrialized countries. According to United Nations figures from 2003, emissions in Canada went up 20 percent, Australia 18 percent, Japan 11 percent and the United States -- the world's leading producer of greenhouse gases -- 14 percent.

Narbona called for a realistic approach, saying that in Spain ''there was little concern expressed by the recent government about curbing greenhouse gas emissions.'' She was referring to the conservative Popular Party administration of José María Aznar, in power from 1996 to 2004.

Spanish officials announced the national emissions plan, which took effect Feb. 14 and establishes quotas for the country's main industries through 2007.

The plan allows 957 factories to produce a total of 513.6 million tons of carbon dioxide, the principal greenhouse gas. The highest emissions quotas were granted to the electrical energy sector (256.2 million tons) and the cement industry (82.6 million tons).

Companies exceeding those limits will have to turn to one of the ''flexibility mechanisms'' of the Kyoto Protocol, which allow the industrialized countries to trade emissions credits or to invest in clean development projects in the developing South -- gaining reduction certificates and time to curb emissions at home.

Taking advantage of the treaty's Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), the energy company Endesa will invest around 3.2 billion dollars to expand hydroelectric plants in Latin America as a means to compensate for the emissions of its fossil fuel-fired plants in Spain.

The Fortaleza plant in Brazil, Sombrilla in Colombia, Callahuanca, Santa Rosa and Ventanilla in Peru, and Palmucho in Chile will receive the Endesa funding. Work in Callahuanca is set to begin this month, and Endesa estimates it will be able to compensate for more than 400,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually in the next 20 years.

Spain also incorporated the EU standards for participating in the bloc's emissions credit market, in force since January, and announced that the national energy plan will be reviewed in order to promote efficient use and clean energy sources.

And Spanish officials are optimistic. ''Our country is the world leader in new potential (for wind energy) installed in 2004: more than 2,000 megawatts,'' said Arturo Gonzalo Aizpiri, head of the Environment Ministry's climate change and pollution prevention division.

The government plans to promote train and other public modes of transportation and to discourage individual car use for short distances, as 30 percent of Spain's greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation.

Also slated is a major campaign targeting citizens. Recent statistics reveal a sharp increase in energy consumption: 15 percent since January 2004.

Spaniards have reason to worry about the impacts of climate change. According to a study by the Environment Ministry, in which 400 scientists participated, Spain's average surface temperatures rose more than 1.5 degrees Celsius in the last 30 years. And the number of days in which snow fell in the higher elevations declined by 41 percent.

In the 1990s, the sea level rose four millimeters a year, rainfall was reduced, and storms and heat waves intensified.

Climate change will negatively affect many sectors, including tourism, the driving force of the Spanish economy, warned scientist José María Baldasano Recio.

But while officials stake their bets on the Kyoto Protocol, groups like Greenpeace-Spain and Engineering Without Borders are questioning the treaties flexible mechanisms, and CDM in particular.

The groups' activists note that 78 percent of development aid goes towards pollution-generating energy projects in poor countries. They are demanding that funds for financing CDM initiatives not be considered development aid.

''The clean development mechanism is intended to help compliance with Kyoto, while development aid should go towards eradicating poverty in the neediest countries,'' Eduardo Sánchez, research director for Engineering Without Borders, told Tierramérica.

* Tito Drago is an IPS correspondent.

Copyright © 2007 Tierramérica. All Rights Reserved



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