Autonomous Communities Facing the Climate Crisis: The Value of Multilevel Climate Governance

Although it is a global phenomenon that requires an international response consistent with the objectives of the Paris Agreement, the fight against climate change also requires coordinated action at national, regional and local level by all sectors of society and public administration.

In order to contribute to the objectives of the European Green Deal, Spain committed itself in its Law 7/2021 on Climate Change and Energy Transition to achieve climate neutrality in the whole territory before 2050. For this purpose, it has proposed to achieve a series of targets for reducing emissions, promoting renewable energies and improving energy efficiency by 2030, which have been reinforced following the latest update of the National Energy and Climate Plan (NECP). However, due to the diffuse distribution of competences on energy and climate change foreseen in the Spanish Constitution of 1978, achieving neutrality is a shared responsibility between the State, Autonomous Communities and Local Entities, which will only be achieved if there is good multilevel governance with effective channels of collaboration and mutual support between the three levels of government.

As we know, Spain is a very diverse country in which each territory represents a particular climate and socio-economic context that requires strategic actions and differentiated solutions to move towards a low-carbon economy hand in hand with an orderly energy transition. Aware of this, since 2019 most of the Autonomous Communities have adopted regional energy and climate strategies and/or plans in which they commit to achieving climate and energy targets for 2030, and even reaching climate neutrality in their territories, as is the case of the Canary Islands (2040), and the Balearic Islands, Galice, the Basque Country, Navarre, Asturias and the Valencian Community (2050). Furthermore, eight regions – Andalucia, the Balearic Islands, the Canary Islands, the Valencian Community, Navarre, Catalonia, Galice and the Basque Country – already have or are about to adopt regional energy and climate laws that reinforce the binding nature of their commitments and roadmaps. However, as we said, the fight against climate change requires taking a step further and acting locally, and in Spain, the 8,131 municipalities have a special role to play, as without their contribution it will be impossible to achieve the climate change and energy commitments of the regions where they are located.

In this climate context, the need to promote renewable energies is indisputable. However, the massive deployment of these infrastructures could cause irreversible damages to biodiversity and the territory. For this reason, the aforementioned regional planning instruments are essential to ensure an orderly and sustainable deployment.

In this sense, Castilla-La Mancha was one of the first Autonomous Communities to address the reconciliation of renewables with biodiversity and territory. The Strategic Enviromental Study of its “Strategic Energy Development Plan for the 2030 Horizon” analyses in detail the potential impacts of wind and photovoltaic technologies, as well as measures to mitigate or compensate for these effects. In addition, using the mapping tool provided by the Ministry of Ecological Transition and Demographic Challenge as a basic, Castilla-La Mancha developed two zoning maps to divide its territory into different zones according to their suitability for installing wind and photovoltaic farms (zones subject to specific environmental regulation; those potentially suitable, but with environmental limitations; and suitable zones). In addition, this region is worth mentioning because it has specific regulations that establish exclusion areas where wind farms should not be authorised.

Another example of particular interest is the Canary Islands, as more than half of its territory is protected, making the reconciliation between land use and biodiversity protection a key issue. The Canary Islands Energy Transition Plan (PTCan-2030) addresses this issue comprehensively by carrying out a geospatial analysis for each renewable technology in order to determine whether the forecast for installed capacity are territorially acceptable. Based on this study, the Canary Islands have defined a zoning to mark the regions of the archipelago where, in principle, the installation of renewable parks would be plausible. Another interesting planning instrument is the “Marine Renewable Energy Strategy”, which develops, among other things, measures to make use of marine space already used for other port and aquaculture activities for the installation of renewable infrastructures.

All of this is merely an example of the political will and numerous advances that are taking place in different parts of Spain. However, for the climate and energy policies adopted by Spain to be truly effective and lead us towards the desired climate neutrality, it is essential that the regional administrations and, above all, the local councils have sufficient knowledge and technical and financial resources to be able to implement their strategies in practice and respond to the particular needs, risks and challenges of each territory. Without the appropriate resources and inter-administrative collaboration, it will be difficult to achieve the objectives set out in Law 7/2021.

Alba Iranzo

Alba Iranzo

Alba Iranzo is a lawyer specialised in environmental law. She holds a degree in Law and Journalism from the Carlos III University of Madrid and an LL.M in Environmental Law and Sustainable Development from Kingston University in London.

Marta Vicioso

Marta Vicioso is a lawyer specialised in environmental law. She holds a double bachelor’s degree in Law and International Relations from the Universidad Pontificia de Comillas (ICADE).

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