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Europe to ban CO2 by 2050: Is Spain up to the challenge?
EUROPEAN Commissioners want to wipe out carbon dioxide, or CO2 emissions by the year 2050, according to an ambitious announcement ahead of the recent climate change summit (COP24) in Katowice, Poland. But is it even feasible – and how will Spain fare?
Former agriculture minister under the previous PP government, Miguel Arias Cañete – and now European Commissioner for Energy and Climate – says: “We can do it.
“And if we're successful, others will follow. If we don't lead, nobody else will do it. And if nobody acts, uncontrolled climate change will affect Europe and the rest of the world severely.”
But Arias Cañete admits: “There are many challenges along the way.
“Yet, with climate change, doing what we've always done is no longer an option, and we cannot afford the price of inaction.”
The Commission aims to 'radically transform' Europe's energy systems, farming practices, transport networks, town and city planning, and industry in a bid to cease being responsible for 10% of the world's toxic emissions.
Of the seven billion inhabitants of this planet, one-fourteenth – or half a billion – live in the EU-28, and it is forecast that the bloc's population will rise by 30%, to 650 million, by the year 2050, meaning its emissions will be even greater by then if action is not taken; already, the Union's contribution to world pollution is disproportionately high for the number of people living in it.
Aiming to cut pollutants by 45% within 11 years, the next step will be to wipe out CO2 emissions altogether – although in practice this will mean reducing them by 80% and re-channelling the rest by capturing and storing it.
Climate change and air pollution really do threaten lives
During the COP24, when British naturist Sir David Attenborough, 92, warned world leaders that climate change was the biggest threat to humanity in our time and could lead to the 'collapse of civilisations', various governments came up with proposals to slash harmful emissions in light of terrifying statistics and knowledge that have come to light: that 100 million additional people would be in extreme poverty within 11 years due to polluted water, drought or extreme weather conditions destroying crops, an increase in malaria and dengue in vulnerable populations of 150 million people, 7.5 million more children suffering stunted growth, a massive rise in forced displacement, economic loss, farmer suicide, and ongoing rises in weather disasters.
The latter, which have increased in incidence by nearly a half in the last two decades, currently claim the lives of 60,000 people a year – and not just in the third world, but also in Europe.
CO2 and nitrous oxide (NOx) emissions, as well as being a major factor in climate change, are the biggest air pollutants on the globe – and air pollution is the fourth-greatest cause of death on planet Earth, currently claiming more than seven million lives a year as a direct result of fine particulate matter and methane, which contributes to ground-level ozone, otherwise known as 'smog'.
Air pollution directly results in several types of cancer, cardiorespiratory disorders, fatigue, depression and headaches, and it is said that those who live in areas with atmospheric contamination above the safe maximum levels cited by the World Health Organisation (WHO) – currently 87% of the planet's population – are at equal risk to their physical wellbeing as a 20-a-day smoker.
Of all deaths in the world, one in 10 is directly caused by air pollution, and CO2 is a huge contributor.
But by the end of this year, CO2 emissions worldwide will have reached their highest ever in history.
Spain's pledge to axe CO2: Or is it just hot air?
Spanish president Pedro Sánchez – Arias Cañete's political polar opposite – nevertheless agrees with his former government opposition member in that Spain can, indeed, meet the European Commission's target.
In fact, Sánchez wants to go one step further: by the year 2050, he intends for Spain to have reduced its CO2 output by at least 90%.
This will start with a planned reduction of just over a third within 11 years, or by the year 2030, as the president outlined in the COP24 in Katowice, for which he and his cabinet are working on a serious of highly-ambitious measures.
Already, Sánchez's cabinet has made the unpopular decision to raise taxes on diesel – even though the jury is out as to whether diesel-powered vehicles are, in fact, any more polluting than those which run on petrol – and his energy transition minister Teresa Ribera has announced a reversal of the PP government's controversial (and internationally risible) 'tax on the sun' which saw off-grid residents who use 100% solar energy being charged a fee for the loss of their business to State-run utility boards.
Renewable energy, something Spain is already a European leader in, is likely to form part of the plan, and in theory, it should not be difficult to switch: coastal and mountain winds and up to 300 days a year of sun mean the country is literally swimming in the necessary resources, handed to it on a plate free of charge.
So far, Spain has failed to truly take advantage of its natural power sources – whilst the Canarian island of El Hierro proved it could survive for several weeks without fossil fuel, and its near neighbour, La Gomera, plans to run on 100% renewable energy within 11 years, the maximum 'green' power used in any region in Spain is about 20% - Andalucía, the most 'renewable region', citing this figure.
Electric car sales are up, but why aren't they taking off?
'Electrically-powered mobility' is also expected to be among Sánchez's and Ribera's emissions-reducing plans – more and more town and city councils are using electric or hybrid buses, police cars and other vehicles, but the main challenge will be persuading the ordinary resident to switch.
On paper, the rise in the number of electrically-powered cars purchased by drivers in Spain has been 'spectacular' in recent months, according to the Spanish Association of Automobile and Lorry Manufacturers (ANFAC), with nearly 73,800 newly-registered hybrid or electric cars being snapped up in the first 10 months of this year, or a whopping 41% more than during the same period in 2017.
By contrast, the rise in the number of all brand-new car purchases over the same 10 months – diesel, petrol, hybrid and electric altogether – has been just 10%, totalling 1.13 million.
But in practice, hybrid and electric cars still only represented 6.4% of total new car sales in 2018 – a long way behind petrol cars, which make up 57.1% of the total, and even diesel cars, which account for 36.6%.
Hybrids still outstrip electrics by far – the number of new ones sold represent a 40% increase in the past year, or a total of 63,772 out of the 73,752 non-petrol and non-diesel cars shifted this year up to and including October.
So, in reality, 100% electrically-powered cars sold in that time only account for just under 10,000 out of the 1.13 million total; a very small figure in real terms, even for the joint top country in Europe, along with Italy, for electric car use.
The reasons for electric car sales remaining incredibly low are largely linked to the cost of buying them, and the relative lack of recharging points.
More and more chargers are being set up in towns, but until every single service station in Spain has at least one of these and they are able to completely refill a battery in a matter of minutes, or until portable ones are sold cheaply for individuals to buy and use at home, it is likely that electrically-powered cars will continue to be slow to take off.
So far, only 3,700 charging points have been set up in Spain – enough, in theory, to serve everyone, but very badly distributed: just 544 in the Greater Madrid region; 400 in the most heavily-populated of Spain's 17 federal territories, Andalucía; and about 1,000 in Catalunya, the vast majority of which are in Barcelona.
But these are the regions with the most charging points: Galicia has about 30, and the vast central region of Castilla-La Mancha only 35.
The European Commission forecasts that by the year 2030, Spain will have at least 200,000 charging points, but drivers remain too worried about the risk of grinding to a halt with nowhere to refuel, especially on long journeys, to make the break away from petrol and diesel.
Also, the 'slow' or 'conventional' chargers can take between five and eight hours to completely refill a battery – even though, once full, a car can manage several hundred kilometres before needing to refuel – but have the advantage of being able to run off any domestic plug socket.
The faster ones, which can recharge 80% of a battery within five to 30 minutes, need a much higher voltage – between 44kW and 50kW – meaning they are normally only available for use in petrol stations or their modern equivalent, 'electro-stations'.
Purchase prices are falling, but still high: Rénault, Kia, Hyundai, Nissan, Peugeot and Citroën models are among the cheapest, yet they come in at between €21,000 and €30,000.
According to a survey by the motoring website clicars.com, 93% of Spaniards interviewed believe buying electric cars should be State-subsidised.
Yet, according to ANFAC, funds for this very purpose have been included in the State budget.
They may not be enough, though: ANFAC says around €300m in the next two years will be needed to pay for grants sufficiently high to encourage all new car buyers to opt for electric.
Electrically-powered driving: More miles for less money
If the initial outlay and the charging issue could be solved, electric car owners would not only be helping reduce climate change and pollution, but would also reap the benefits, financially: a journey of 300 to 400 kilometres in a petrol car costs a minimum of €7 to €8 on average, or €5 to €6 in a diesel car, but for an electrically-powered vehicle, between €1.50 and €2 – the cost of recharging a full battery.
Per 100 kilometres, a petrol car costs an absolute minimum of roughly €2 – on an open road in cruising mode, that is; this figure multiplies several times over for town driving – whilst an electric car costs about €0.50 per 100 kilometres, or a quarter of the minimum 'motorway-cruising' price.
Other benefits include not having to pay a registration charge for a brand-new electric car – a tax always charged on new petrol and diesel vehicles – a reduction in car tax, payable to local councils in Spain, in a growing number of towns, and in some cases, reduced parking fees: Madrid does not charge electrically-powered car drivers for its limited-parking bays.
A rising number of towns Europe-wide have started to ban conventionally-fuelled cars from their centres, but owning and electric car means you can drive practically anywhere, including central Madrid.
Lastly, electric cars have far fewer components than traditional vehicles, meaning their maintenance costs are an average of 25% lower.
As ANFAC says, electric power is the future of driving, but for this to become a reality, steps need to be taken to render it much easier for the ordinary motorist to jump on board.
Spain will be waiting with bated breath this week to see what its government intends to do in its battle against emissions, and whether its proposals will open electrically-powered car ownership to everyone.
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