Why the historic collapse of emissions in Spain in 2020 will not help much

Greenhouse gases fell by 17.9% due to the paralysis of the economy left by the pandemic.

One of the graphs included in the document.  EFE.

Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Spain decreased by 17.9% in 2020 compared to the previous year, a “historic collapse” due to “the Covid-19 catastrophe and the paralysis of the economy” according to a report by the Sustainability Observatory (OS) published last Friday.

The document compares the data with previous years and thus certifies “the largest decrease in emissions ever recorded”which is “the same thing that happened with GDP, employment and the increase in public debt, to give a few examples”, and points out that the sector where emissions decreased the most was the of road transport, with 17.5%.

Among the causes of this drop is the decreased burning of coal -a “determining factor”- for electricity generation by 55%, both in percentage and in GWh, and the reduction of natural gas consumption in combined cycle plants by 25%.

The oil consumption also decreased last year by 18.5% and natural gas by 9.8%, according to the OS analysis.

By contrast, the photovoltaic production increased by 68%hydro by 23% and wind by 1.8%: only the latter avoided the emission of 29 million tons of CO2 equivalent in 2020.


With these data, the OS document raises “increase the ambition of the objectives reduction of the new Climate Change Law” as well as the review of “decision processes to achieve structural and not temporary decarbonization”.

It also recommends “promoting photovoltaic energy on roofs in small installations and industrial buildings” as well as taking advantage of “the magnificent opportunity of money Next Generation to finally decarbonize the economy” and achieve a “low carbon green recovery”.


The report also compares the data with that of previous years and certifies that “after the decrease from 2018, 2019 and 2020” they fell 11% from the base year of 1990 and 42% from 2005. Thus, GHG emissions in 1990 reached 290 million tons of CO2 equivalent, those of 2005 reached 442 million and those of 2020 were reduced to 258 millionwith preliminary data.

Emissions subject to what is known as European Emissions Trading (ETS for its acronym in English) were 36.4% of the total while the diffuse sectors -those not subject to this trade and therefore with a less intensive use of energy- reached 61%.

The document, titled Evolution of GHG emissions in Spain 1990-2020, has been prepared by the economist and climate change expert Jose Santamarta, director of the OS, leading a team of specialists made up of Fernando Prieto, Raúl Estévez, Carlos Alfonso and Juan Avellaner.

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