Spain’s Kyoto obligations in danger

An in-depth review of Spanish energy policy has criticised the country’s inability to address its greenhouse gas emissions, which were the second most generous in the EU allocated under the burden-sharing agreement for compliance with the Kyoto Protocol.

The report by the International Energy Agency (IEA), the energy forum for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), describes Spain as “one of the most advanced countries” in energy-market liberalisation, but warned of a number of challenges facing the country in the coming decade, including curbing the growth of carbon dioxide emissions. Although Spain’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emission objective is set at 15% above 1990 levels under the EU’s ‘burden-sharing’ agreement, second in terms of generosity to Ireland, CO2 emissions were 21% higher in 1998 than in 1990, with major increases in emissions coming from the transport, residential and commercial sectors. Energy demand has grown at more than 3% annually over the past five years.

Spain’s efforts to curb the growth of GHG emissions have focused on the replacement of coal and oil by natural gas, and the promotion of renewable energy sources, co-generation, and energy-saving measures, and although the rate of emission growth has reduced slightly, they have nevertheless grown with its economy. Indeed, the IEA report says that “at present, there is neither a national plan nor a package of effective policies and tools for achieving the Kyoto target”. The country needs to speed up the development of its climate-change mitigation plan, which should include clear targets and a set of measures chosen for their cost-effectiveness, the IEA says.

In the industrial sector, for example, the feasibility of emissions trading should be studied, the report advises, as industry has already demonstrated interest in such a move, although government “has not taken a position” on it. Since some forms of energy are cheaper in Spain than the EU average, a new tax on CO2 emissions in the transport and residential/commercial sectors should not be excluded, the IEA warns, adding that current government policy is against a carbon tax or modifying energy taxes to reflect environmental costs.

The organisation also advises Spain to encourage its autonomous regions in this highly decentralised country to formulate their own policies for CO2 emission reductions in line with national policies, and to promote the use of alternative fuels.

Spain has ambitious plans to increase the share of renewables in its primary energy supply to 12% by 2010, up from 6% now, the IEA says, but rather than subsidising the producers of renewables, the country could consider developing a nation-wide green certificate system, as part of a least-cost strategy to achieve Kyoto objectives, it advises. It also urges adequate public funding for renewables schemes.

The report notes that although nuclear power plays a key contribution to national energy resources, accounting for 30% of total electricity generation, there is a moratorium on five partially-built units. The IEA advises Spain to keep the nuclear option open, assess both the extension of the operating lives of existing reactors and the effect of their retirement, but adds that progress on the national nuclear waste plan is necessary.

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