Spain brings fresh impetus to climate fight after lost decade

by Megan Rowling | @meganrowling | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 18 January 2019 22:09 GMT

Wind turbines used to generate electricity are seen near the village of La Mesa, Spain, August 11, 2017. REUTERS/Paul Hanna

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"Spain is ready to contribute to creating a global economy that is prosperous, fair and ecological," says prime minister

By Megan Rowling

MADRID, Jan 18 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Spain's prime minister vowed on Friday to make up for a decade of inaction on climate change brought on by a harsh economic recession during which he said the country lost its passion and creativity to tackle the issue.

Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez, who came into power in June, said the low-carbon transition Spain is now aiming for must be "socially just", and not leave anyone behind, including coal miners set to lose their jobs in the shift from fossil fuels.

"Spain is ready to contribute to creating a global economy that is prosperous, fair and ecological," Sanchez told a high-level discussion on boosting climate ambition in Madrid.

A new national plan for energy and climate, expected to mobilise investments of 235 billion euros ($267 billion) from 2021-2030, will soon be submitted to the European Union, he said.

Officials said the Socialist government also plans to present a new climate change law to parliament by the end of this month.

A draft, published last November, included targets for the southern European nation to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 90 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, and to produce all of its electricity from renewable sources by the same date.

Sanchez noted that legislation on climate change was often unpopular with the general public.

It could usher in tough adaptation in the short-term, but the aim was to avoid longer-term damage - and governments should ask citizens to understand and support this, he added.

Communicating the need for urgent action on climate change was a key motivation for two days of debate on sustainable development and climate change, organised by Spain's Ministry for Ecological Transition.

Speakers included top global experts such as U.N. climate chief Patricia Espinosa, economists Nicholas Stern and Jeffrey Sachs, and former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark.

Clark, who headed the United Nations Development Programme from 2009-2017, said Spain could play a key role in an alliance of governments that "get it" on climate change, alongside others such as Sweden, Canada and her own country.

"We need political will and leadership," she said.

'GROWTH STORY'

Teresa Ribera, Spain's minister for ecological transition, emphasised the importance of international solidarity in fighting climate change.

At U.N. climate talks in Poland in December, governments understood it was worthwhile continuing to work together despite efforts by a few, such as the United States, to break the united front shown in the 2015 Paris Agreement, she said.

The U.N.'s Espinosa said success at those negotiations on agreeing the rules for putting the Paris accord into practice showed "multilateralism is still in force". "We can only tackle global problems through cooperation and joint work," she added.

In an interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, she said she hoped a climate summit called by the U.N. secretary-general for September would spur countries to raise their targets for cutting emissions, so as to meet the Paris pact goal of limiting warming to "well below" 2 degrees Celsius.

Under the accord, governments have committed to strengthen their national climate plans by 2020.

Espinosa said some could come forward with those plans as soon as the September summit, inspiring others to follow.

Stern warned that if global temperatures rise 3 degrees C above pre-industrial times, as they are now on track to do, it would bring mass migration, conflict, "destruction and decline".

But moving to adopt clean energy and reduce carbon emissions would create jobs in renewable power generation and other sectors, and result in cities "where we can move and breathe".

"It is crystal clear that this transition to the zero-carbon economy is the growth story of this century," he said.

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(Reporting by Megan Rowling @meganrowling; editing by Jason Fields. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking and property rights. Visit http://news.trust.org/climate)

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