A Firm of Corporate Solutions and Environmental Awareness.

The International crisis and the Environment


The current crisis scenario can be dealt with or discussed at three different levels.

At international level, to the extent that national economies are more inter-related than never before and discrepancies and contradictions within international organizations like the International Monetary Fund and the European central Bank are likely to prevent those prompt decisions that look mandatory;

At European level, to the extent that this is certainly a Euro crisis but, to my belief, also a European identity crisis; and, last but not least,

At national level, where the impact of the current crisis is proving blunt and devastating, threatening to prevent national societies to achieve a continuing and efficient generational succession warranting a sound economic, social and cultural development.

At the international level, the economic crisis has been the main excuse for international leaders to continue to defer key decisions in social and environmental matters. The Rio Summit witnessed their inability to respond to the needs of an impoverished population that is severely affected by critical problems such as water shortages and uncontrolled migration movements. The main allegation that the world should gear towards a green economy is far from being of any avail to regions where the commercialization of natural resources ranks over and above the fundamental rights of people and nature. Neither have the UN negotiations on Climate Change meant an advance but rather an almost complete failure after the Copenhague summit. There is no decision on the horizon allowing to assure that the global increase in temperature will not exceed the alleged 2% “safety limit”. 

In turn, the EC has presented different proposals intended to incentivize economic development while minimizing as much as possible their environmental impact, such as stepwise reducing subventions, putting a larger degree of pressure on contaminating activities and applying environmental regulations having general consensus.

However, these proposals would mean, if and when completed, the Seventh EU environmental program in 40 years and come at exceptional times and under a scenario never before experienced. Namely, because of the severe inability of national economies to provide the necessary resources to deal with material problems such as loss of biodiversity, degradation of ecosystems, water and air quality and the widespread use of damaging chemicals; which problems, however, look quite distant to individuals and companies more worried about surviving the crisis than anything else. Some pools indicate that – except perhaps with regard to climate change - 20 years ago people were more concerned about environmental problems than they are at present. Concern about political corruption and unemployment take the lead.

Europe is concentrating its efforts in budget cuts and parallel measures to reduce national deficits, but there are little or no references in Spanish publications to the fact that the country is about to reach - or may have already reached - a (-3,25%) negative “ecologic deficit”, as expression of the level of consumption of natural resources over and above the levels that our country can create on an annual basis. 

Other than budget cuts we believe that it is now mandatory to achieve a transition to a model of  economic development actually showing a balance between environment, society and economy as the only way to guarantee fundamental human rights such as the access to and availability of water, energy, heath and housing. In many regions of the world these rights are far from being guaranteed.

This alternative may prove even more important when we consider that we are witnessing the surge of new blocking factors not considered so far, such as the decision of the Portuguese Constitutional Court ruling that certain cut measures adopted by the Government of Mr. Passos Coelho were not in line with the Portuguese Constitution. This has forced the Portuguese government to look for cuts in other areas where people will be most affected, such as cuts in pension funds. Some of our own regional decisions are also pending before the Spanish Constitutional court, such as the Euro charge per prescription applied by the regional governments of Madrid and Cataluña. A ruling of unconstitutionality (likely, because the decision has been subject to an interim halting measure) may force the regional governments to look for different sources of revenue that can only be envisioned as more painful.

Lack of economic resources is the main barrier for Spanish municipalities and regions (entities responsible for developing and implementing national programs at regional and local level) to advance in environmental compliance.  Municipalities have, to some extent, undertaken actions aimed at reducing the production of greenhouse gases, applying renewable energies in buildings, fostering an efficient use of energy Resources and increasing the surface of green areas. And, to some extent, local entities have also being efficient in fighting against climate change. But in 78% per cent of the cases the budgets allocated to the whole of such actions are meaningless in consideration of the population involved.  Subsidies and aids intended to fight against climate change have been either materially reduced or completely eliminated.

With regard to Product Stewardship, it is worth mentioning that the recycling programs and selective collection systems already in place keep working and account for a substantial degree of the level of achievement that Spain has in its recycling efforts. Figures for 2010 indicate that some 17% of the total amount of waste collected was recycled. The packaging and electronic industries have the most extended and efficient collection and recycling systems in the country.

Budget reductions affecting the health system, employment policies, social services and international cooperation were closely followed by an almost complete dismantling of a number of environmental policies that have been stepwise affected by budget cuts in the range of some 70% since 2009. Investments intended to prevent contamination and the impact of climate change on rural areas have been completely eliminated in spite of Spain being one of the European countries more affected by a high level of global warming having damaging consequences on agriculture, tourism, wine production, fisheries and water resources. Spain is a country with a recurring pattern of successive flood and drought periods that have impoverished the agricultural sector and produced a significant discouragement in the population of rural areas and in small populations that see floods as a recurring and not solved problem.

The country lacks the resources that are necessary to foster changes in the energy production and consumption models that could allow for an actual reduction in CO2 emissions; including but not limited to legislative measures on matters such as (i) energy efficiency and savings: (ii) sustainable movement and (iii) ecological taxation. Last but not least in this discouraging scenario, the European Commission has critized the blunt Spanish stop in the development of clean energies on the one hand and the persisting pattern of maintaining “inefficient and environmentally damaging” subventions such as those recurrently granted to coal production. coal mining has produced a “single crop” economy in regions such as Asturias. If coal mining is suspended, unemployment may reach an inadmissible level in an area where the average age of coal miners and their cultural levels would make a “professional recycling” almost impossible.

We cannot avoid mentioning the need for Spain to abandon its “bricks based” economic development model (which, as unbelievable as it may sound, is starting to again flourish in certain regions) and look for a sustainable management of natural resources. The principle of “indefinite economic growth” is showing incompatible with the scientifically proven ecologic limits of our planet.

At local level, we could mention a number of small “drop in the ocean” projects that creative minds are putting in place in Spain and elsewhere to deal with these challenges, but such a description - in which we could easily indulge as a clear cut show of “act locally” approach – would exceed the limits of this report. But we shall be willing to discuss this further.


Back to read more reports