New law undermines forest conservation in Spain 

A particularly controversial new law on forests was approved by the Spanish Government’s first cabinet meeting for 2015. Environmental groups, including WWF Spain and SEO/Birdlife, heavily criticised the new law. According to their analysis, it contains provisions that allow for the downgrading of public woodlands by new urban development schemes. A most threatening provision, article 50, allows for land use change and the exception of burnt forest lands from protection status, upon “imperative reasons of overriding public interest”. According to WWF Spain, this term opens the door to housing developments in forests and offers incentives for arson. Under previous legislation, land-use changes in burnt woodlands and forests were prohibited for 30 years, in order for ecosystem restoration to be unhindered. 

It is interesting to note that in December 2014, just a few days ahead of the dissolution of the Hellenic Parliament for snap national elections, massive public outcry managed to avert the voting of a similar anti-forest bill, which would change the protection status of illegally converted burnt forests.

Read more: WWF Spain, El Pais (both in Spanish).



October 2014 editorial

The urgent and dramatic campaign of WWF Spain to avert the voting of a bill that severely weakens the conservation framework for national parks captures our hearts: the economic downturn is misused by many political leaders as an excuse to undermine basic environmental legislation and treat unique natural treasures as an infinite resource for quick and dirty financial gains. The reported decision of the Popular Party parliamentary group to freeze its legislative proposal is a sign of hope, as it proves that targeted and clearly articulated public outcry can halt the environmental overhaul. 

At the other end of Mediterranean Europe, WWF Greece unveiled its road map for a living economy in the crisis-stricken country. At a conference held in Athens on October 15th, speakers from the areas of justice, public governance and economics stated out the need for clear rules and policies that provide transparency, legal certainty and environmental integration in the development, spatial planning and economic agendas. Experts from the sectors of tourism and rural policy-making stressed the need for Greece to build a living real economy based on its unique selling point: nature. The newly elected Mayor of Kozani, Greece’s lignite powerhouse, unfolded the region’s prospects for a sustainable and healthier post-coal era. Representatives from the banking sector, a model sustainable fisheries business initiative and social enterprises focusing on green energy and waste management demonstrated that the future for a living economy is out there and that Europe, not just Greece, needs to face it as a political priority. 

As the EU’s capital is preparing to house a new Commission of historically low environmental ambition, EU leaders failed to come up with the necessary urgent and forward-looking policy response to the unfolding climate crisis. The climate and energy package for 2030 sets low clean energy targets that keep the old and climate polluting economy alive and killing and does not harness all of Europe’s green potential and talent in developing and championing policies for a living planet. 

As Tony Long remarked at the conference in Athens, “…politicians are now in the unenviable position of having only a bag of growth indicators to sell to their increasingly skeptical and knowledgeable electorates who want and need to be presented with other indicators of well-being and progress”. It is high time that Europeans stand up and demand ecologically and socially sustainable ways out of the crisis.

Theodota Nantsou, WWF Greece, and Isabella Pratesi, WWF Italy



New Commission fuels concerns about the future of the EU’s green policies

On Wednesday 22 October, the European Parliament approved the new Commission under President Jean Claude Juncker by 423 votes in favour, 209 against and 67 abstentions. 

During the hearing procedure, an unprecedented public outcry about the environmental deficit of the proposed Commission mainly focused on the absence of environmental policy priorities from Juncker’s mission letters to the environment and energy commissioners, the designation of oil industry associate Miguel Arias Cañete as Energy Commissioner and the merging of the environment and fisheries portfolios. In the case of Spain’s Cañete, an petition calling MEPs to reject his appointment, resulted in over 400,000 signatures within just 24 hours.

In response to the criticism, small improvements were indeed achieved, notably concerning the inclusion of sustainability in the mandate of Vice-President Frans Timmermans and a more cautious approach to aspects of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). However, the Green 10 remain concerned that:

•The mandate of the Commissioner-designate for Environment, Fisheries & Maritime Affairs contains no explicit task to fully implement the 7th Environment Action Programme and implies a weakening of the Birds and Habitats Directives and backpedalling on key legislative proposals on air quality and the circular economy;

•The mandate and title of First Vice-President Frans Timmermans still do not specifically reflect his responsibility for sustainability and the Political Guidelines which are to serve as the main reference for deciding which new initiatives will come out of the Commission contain virtually no reference to the environment other than climate;

•Furthermore, there is not enough clarity about how responsibility for climate and energy policy will be divided between First Vice-President Frans Timmermans, Vice-President for Energy Union Maroš Šefčovič and Commissioner for Climate and Energy Miguel Arias Cañete;

•A number of commissioners have been appointed against a background of considerable public disquiet with respect to their competence, commitment and independence.

On behalf of the Green 10, Birdlife Europe’s Director Angelo Caserta stated that: “Mr Juncker and his team need to show they are able and willing to take Europe forward, towards sustainable development with job creation and environmental justice. Our organisations will continue to act as watchdogs for the interests of people and the environment.”

Source: Green10



Will the Spanish Parliament weaken the conservation of national parks?

A proposed amendment to the Law on National Parks has caused public outcry in Spain. The legislative initiative was submitted by the Popular Party to the Congress of Deputies on October 20th and threatens to institute an unprecedented blow to the conservation status of the country’s 15 natural treasures, which include unique areas such as Doñana, Sierra Nevada and Guarajonay. 

Amendment 278 states that public authorities will pursue voluntary agreements with landowners within national parks and will adjust the existing protection measures accordingly. In case this amendment is indeed voted, then the Congress of Deputies will open the 15 national parks to a series of heavy impact land uses and projects currently prohibited: road construction in Doñana, urbanisation plans in Picos de Europea, hydroelectric projects in Aigues Torres and mining in Teida and Picos de Europea.


The quest for oil threatens Spanish marine reserve

As the economic crisis is driving crisis-hit Mediterranean states to a frantic quest for new oil and gas deposits, areas of exceptional ecological significance are placed under serious threat.

In Spain, the pristine marine and coastal environment of the Columbretes islands (Castellón) is about to host a new oil exploration survey. Early in January 2013, the Ministry of Industry, Energy and Tourism gave its initial consent for the project, which will have to obtain an environmental permit from the Ministry of Environment, before the final approval is signed. 

If finally approved, the exploration survey will begin in 2015.

The Columbretes islands enjoy protection status at the level of the Autonomous Region (Natural Park and Natural Reserve), at the national level (Marine Fisheries Reserve), at the EU level (SCI and SPA) and at the international level (Specially Protected Area of Mediterranean Importance).


Sources: WWF Spain, Diario de Ibiza, Observario petrolero sur (all in Spanish)



Spain votes controversial new law on coasts

The draft law on coasts, which was submitted by the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture, Nutrition and Environment Miguel Arias Cañete to the Congress of Deputies, has caused angry reactions by environmentalists and the parliamentary opposition.

The draft law aims at loosening the existing coastal legislation, in order to “support coastal protection with economic sustainability”, according to the words of Minister Cañete. The Minister also expressed his hope that the draft law will be approved by the Congress and will be submitted to the Senate in April or May, for final 

According to WWF Spain, the law proposed by the Government violates specific provisions of the EU’s legislation on water (Directive 2000/60/EC), urban waste treatment (Directive 91/271/EEC), and public participation and access to information on the environment (Directive 2003/4/EC). On these grounds, WWF Spain submitted to the European Commission a complaint for infringement of EU law. The law also pardons thousands of illegal buildings from demolition.

The Spanish coastline suffers from extensive encroachment and unsustainable construction activity, primarily for tourism infrastructures and holiday housing. According to ecological groups, such as Greenpeace, coastal mismanagement costs Spain more than €100 million annually and results in the destruction of an average of 7.7 hectares of littoral area per day.  

Sources: WWF Spain, Greenpeace, (all in Spanish)



New European Commission does not beam bright light for environment

Under President-elect Jean-Claude Juncker, Environment will not have its own Commissioner, for the first time in 25 years, whereas climate change policies now rank subordinate to energy market priorities. Worse still, the headline of the mission of the new Environment, Maritime and Fisheries Commissioner is deregulation, instead of providing full support to the sustainability pillar of the EU treaties and ensuing the implementation of the 7th Environmental Action Plan.

In a letter addressed by the EU’s “Green 10” NGOs, the members of the European Parliament are called to vote for a change in the composition and the mission of the new European Commission, as proposed by President Juncker. 


NGOs contest Spain’s approval for oil exploration offshore the Canaries

A coalition of Spain’s five largest environmental groups is taking legal action against the official authorisation granted by the Ministry of Industry, Energy and Tourism to oil giant Repsol for hydrocarbon exploration offshore the Canary islands.

Despite massive protests against the planned project, the Spanish Government gave Repsol an “all-clear” licence for offshore exploration in three marine plots close to the islands of Fuerteventura and Lanzarote. A series of appeals were heard at the Supreme Tribunal and were rejected in June.  

In a joint statement, environmental groups WWF, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, Ecologistas en Accion and SEO Birdlife announced their intention to take European legal action against this decision.


July-August 2014 editorial

As Europe’s response to the economic crisis is now having a clear impact on environmental and social policies across most of Europe and the EU at large, overexploiting the natural environment is seen by troubled member states as a quick-fix solution for rapid economic recovery. The oil & gas frenzy that dominates the development agenda in many Mediterranean states and threatens natural treasures of global significance, environmental deregulation, backsliding of the EU from its own forward-looking green policies, are signs of these dire times of austerity and political paralysis in facing the dismal reality of the non-ending economic crisis.

WWF knows that the EU is wasting a crisis that signals the need for good change.

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