Spain to join the 2050 net-zero club

The Spanish Government has finally drafted its Climate Change and Energy Transition law. Finally, nine years after it was first requested by the Parliament and more than 12 months after its first version of the text saw the light, the Environment Minister (and VP) Teresa Ribera presented the finalised text on Tuesday. 

The bill will now proceed to Parliament. It is expected to be approved by the end of the year, although no deadlines are guaranteed. If it goes ahead, it’ll become the first-ever climate law in Spain.

Ribera expressed hope that the draft law will be the driving force behind an “industrial and economic revolution” that will help the post-covid recovery.

The progressive coalition government declared a climate emergency in January. Then, Pedro Sanchez’s cabinet promised to finalise the law during the first 100 days in office, but the pandemic upended the schedule.

The main goal of the bill is to move towards the full decarbonisation of the Spanish economy by mid-century. It also lays the bases for adaptation and just transition. To achieve these, Ribera’s department has set five objectives, 3 for 2030 and 2 for 2050.

Spain's Environment Minister, Teresa Ribera. Photo: International Trade Centre/Flickr (Lic: CC BY 2.0)
Spain’s Environment Minister, Teresa Ribera. Photo: International Trade Centre/Flickr (Lic: CC BY 2.0)

The law will be funded via the National Budget, with a share determined by the European Union’s Multiannual Financial Framework. It will also be funded by revenues from the auctioning of greenhouse gas emission rights.

Spanish climate and environmental organisations and political parties have celebrated the announcement as a bare minimum to build from. However, some have described the targets as “insufficient, unambitious and far from the claims of science”. Greenpeace has called for a 55 per cent cut in emissions over the next decade, instead of 20 per cent.


Goals for 2030:

  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 20% compared to 1990. 32% if compared to 2017 levels.
  • Generate at least 70% of electricity from renewable sources.
  • Provide at least 35% of the final user energy consumption from renewable sources. 

Goals for 2050:

  • Achieving net zero GHG emissions.
  • Achieving a 100% renewable electricity system.

This climate law will also act as an umbrella for several other rules promoted by Teresa Ribera’s Ministry: 

  • National Climate Change Adaptation Plan 2021-2030, the draft of which was presented at the beginning of the month; 
  • National Energy and Climate Plan (NECP), delivered to the European Commission in March; 
  • and the Long-Term Strategy 2050, the first version of which is being finalized by the Government.

Another of the law’s main goals is the creation of an independent committee of experts on Climate Change and Energy Transition, inspired in the British CCC. The committee will draw up an advisory report every year with that will be debated in the Spanish Parliament.

Transportation Transformation

In order to comply with the Paris Agreement, the new law establishes rules for the radical transformation of several economic sectors. 

One of these is transport, the main source of greenhouse gases in Spain. If the law is approved, vehicles purchased in Spain from 2040 must be zero emissions, with any new polluting new automobiles banned from that date.

It also requires the creation of low emission zones in cities over 50,000 by 2023. The municipalities that already have these infrastructures in place won’t be able to disband them without permission from the central Government.

In Spain, only 20,000 cars, 0.07% of the national fleet, is electric. However, the Government is expecting a big bump in sales, planning for 5 million clean vehicles to join the Spanish roads in the next decade. To help this expansion, the law specifies that at least 10% of the gas station network needs to offer charging facilities. Buildings other than private residences that have large car parks must also install these charging stations.

An Iberia airplane
Photo: Carlos Delgado. Lic: CC-BY-SA

The new bill specifies rules for air transportation, although none of them is major. The Government may set “annual biofuel supply targets, with special emphasis on advanced biofuels and other renewable fuels of non-biological origin”. Moreover, there is no mention of a kerosene tax or eco-taxes, as other countries, such as France or Germany, have proposed.

For maritime transport, the law says that “measures will be adopted so that zero direct emissions are achieved” in Spanish ports by 2050. 


Spain is not a heavy hitter in the world’s fossil fuel production scene. The country produces less than 1% of its own oil and natural gas demand. 

With an agonising and relatively small coal sector, only a few fracking exploration projects have been kicked off, without any remarkable finds. The waters around the Canary Islands, in the Atlantic, have potential for oil and gas exploration. 

However, if Ribera has her way, those resources may never be tapped. The law bans any new hydrocarbon exploration authorizations, research permits and exploitation concessions, including fracking.

The application of new tax benefits to energy products of fossil origin must be duly justified “for reasons of social and economic interest or if there’s a lack of technological alternatives”. 

Build better, learn better

In terms of energy efficiency, the law ensures that 1,200,000 homes will be retrofitted in the coming decade.

There is also a section dedicated to education. The law will promote climate change content to be taught in Spanish classrooms. In addition, the treatment of climate change in the basic education curriculum will be reviewed and teacher training will be favoured.