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Topping off a decade of work: Spain adopts its first Climate Law

Climate Planning & Laws

Ten years ago, the Spanish Parliament called for a climate law and ever since most political parties have been promising it. In May 2021, Spain finally adopted the country’s first Climate Change and Energy Transition Law, which commits the country to cutting emissions by 23% by 2030, compared with 1990 levels.

After years of development and debate, the law has been presented both as an instrument for channeling European funds to help Spain recover from the economic crisis looming after the Covid-19 pandemic, while also laying the foundation for a new, greener and more sustainable economy in line with the commitments of the European Commission and the European Green Deal.

With this law, Spain will become the first country to require company climate action plans with emission reduction targets to be achieved over a five-year scope, ensuring that they cannot simply pledge net zero as a distant aspiration. The law also maintains the government’s emphasis on a fair energy transition which doesn’t leave anyone behind, with just transition strategies to be produced and updated every five years.

spain law

The ECF network on the cutting edge

The ECF’s engagement with the Spanish Climate Law goes back to four years ago, when it became the first major national climate law effort of the Foundation’s Climate Planning and Laws Programme. Since 2017, the ECF’s network has worked to support Spanish actors in following up on former Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s pledge (made at COP22 in Marrakech in November 2016) to put forward a Climate Change and Energy Transition Law.

From that point onward, political opportunity combined with sustained strategic engagement and coordinated actors from the network working together, helped to push for its implementation. These efforts have included:

  • The setting up of a coordination structure for core partners working on joint initiatives leading to the climate law, including the work led by Carlos Bravo to elaborate amendments to the law and making sure they were discussed in Congress and the Senate amongst all parliamentarian groups, culminating with the inclusion of most of these in the final text.
  • Broadening political debate on a law via events and publications of Real Instituto Elcano and supporting a visit of the Chair of the UK Climate Change Committee, Lord Deben, to present to key audiences and undertake media work demonstrating the value of a climate law for the future of the economy.
  • Setting up an event at the Senate underlining the need for action plans for companies to be mandatory by Law, highlighting the need for a regulatory framework to support business and investors’ involvement in building a net zero economy.
  • Expert legal input on the conceptualisation and drafting of the climate law from the legal NGO IIDMA, and high-level input on the design of the expected independent advisory body. 
  • Strategic communications support creating a positive media environment for climate action, such as collaboration with ECODES to lead the development of a declaration and guidelines signed by most major media outlets.
  • Working with the Spanish Green Growth Group of progressive businesses to build broad support for climate action.
  • A mobilisation campaign from conservation NGO SEO Birdlife in partnership with other major Spanish NGOs.
  • A presentation of the analysis produced by Climact on pathways for Europe to reach net-zero to the staff of the Spanish Office of Climate Change in autumn 2018, and a presentation of the Ecologic-authored report on best practice in national climate laws to the Ecological Transition Committee of the Spanish Parliament in March 2020 (both reports being part of the ECF hosted Net Zero 2050 initiative).

A window of opportunity

Despite being one of the Spanish Government’s greatest legislative achievements so far, the law is just the beginning of many opportunities for improvement. The Climate Change and Energy Transition Law lays the ground for society to confront the climate emergency in the coming years and can be seen as a starting point on the long road ahead to achieve the full decarbonisation of Spain’s economy by 2050. Moreover, it can serve as inspiration for other geographies trying to obtain or improve climate change laws in their own territories.

“The agreement on the Spanish climate law adds up to ongoing European and international efforts to set up governance frameworks that put governments much closer to a credible trajectory towards climate neutrality. In line with existing examples, such as the newly adopted European Climate Law, the establishment of a Spanish independent advisory body will facilitate the streamlining of climate commitments across EU policy and support the Union in addressing future challenges in a timely and scientific way.”
Elisa Giannelli, expert in climate governance, E3G