Spanish Law Applies Sustainability Criteria To Government Plans for Economic Growth

MADRID--The Spanish government has put into force a far-reaching law that will introduce environmental sustainability criteria into economic growth planning.

The Sustainable Economy Act (Law 2/2011), which Parliament approved Feb. 15, went into effect March 6, the day after its publication in the Boletín Oficial del Estado, Spain’s national register.

The 203-page omnibus law is a key initiative of the Socialist-led legislature, with 114 articles and dozens of added provisions geared toward modernizing the Spanish economy through financial, social, and environmental reforms.

According to the text of the law, the emphasis on sustainability includes “environmentally, turning the indispensable management of the natural environment into an opportunity to promote new activities and jobs.”

This environmental focus, which is laid out amid the 34 articles of Title III, centers primarily on energy policy, greenhouse gas emissions reductions, sustainable mobility, and housing.

These are mostly issues the government has addressed in previous plans or regulations, though the new law includes the environmental goals as part of a greater “sustainable economy” strategy.

Concern About Climate Change.

With regard to energy policy, Article 77 states that Spain’s model for consuming, generating, and distributing energy “must be compatible with [EU] regulations and objectives, as well as with international efforts in the fight on climate change.” The law thus contains several articles aimed at promoting national energy savings, energy efficiency, and renewable energy goals.

In particular it states that by 2020, Spain must reduce its demand for primary energy by 20 percent. Twenty percent of final gross energy consumption and 10 percent of that consumed by the transportation sector must come from renewable sources by 2020.

Environmental advocacy groups such as Greenpeace have in the past criticized the government’s goals for 2020 as unambitious and called for Spain to take an international role in pushing for greater use of renewables.

In a section on greenhouse gas emissions, the law calls for urging stronger EU reduction goals, promoting sustainable forest management to strengthen carbon sinks, and applying flexibility mechanisms such as greenhouse gas emissions trading and carbon funds.

It calls for greater tax deductions for “environmental investments” that reduce waste and pollution.

Sustainable Mobility.

In the area of transportation, the law calls for a model of “sustainable mobility” that promotes “a more rational usage of natural resources,” greater energy efficiency, and reduced environmental impact. This includes promoting fleet renewals with less contaminating vehicles, the use of public transportation, and other alternatives to private vehicles.

The law sets standards for “sustainable mobility plans” to be adopted regionally.

Finally, the law’s environmental emphasis calls for housing construction and rehabilitation that minimize waste, pollution, and resource usage, while increasing energy efficiency.

Despite the environmental emphasis of Title III, many of its articles focus on economic, social, and technical issues related to greater environmental themes covered.

Spain’s major environmental groups have been critical of the law from the beginning, partly because they see it as favoring economic growth above all other considerations.

“In summary … what the government presents has little to do with sustainability and much more to do with achieving sustained growth, which is why we have rechristened the law Sustained Growth Act,” Ecologists in Action said in a written statement.

By Brett Allan King

Full text of Law 2/2011 is available, in Spanish, at