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The Balearic Islands’ Law on Climate Change and Energy Transition – greening MallorcaApril 20, 2018

Imagine roads between Valldemossa and Deià free from vehicles belching out fumes. Imagine beaches and Palma streets unclogged with people. Imagine Mallorquin seas crystal-clear all year round. Thanks to the Balearic Islands’ visionary Law on Climate Change and Energy Transition, all these things and more are becoming a little easier to picture.

From Valldemossa to Deià

Earlier this year, the Balearic Islands’ government’s pioneering plans for what the UK Guardian called a ‘green manifesto’ made the European news. More correctly known as the Law on Climate Change and Energy Transition, this aims to mitigate the causes of climate change and adapt the islands’ economy, society and ecosystems to its impact.

The target for 2050 is to reduce emissions by 90%, increase efficiency in energy consumption by 40% compared to 2005 levels, and use 100% renewable energy.

Environmental activist, sustainability consultant and friend of this blog, Christer Söderberg, has described the Law on Climate Change and Energy Transition as ‘the most ambitious law for climate change in the whole of Europe’.

I recently managed to talk with Joan Groizard, the islands’ director-general for climate change about what the initiative means for Mallorca and for all of us who love the island.

Could you tell me a little about yourself, Joan?

I’m 28 years old, from Palma originally. I went to Queen’s College school in Palma and then to university at Cambridge to study engineering, focusing on energy and the environment. After I graduated, I stayed in the UK and worked as a consultant. I came back to Mallorca two and a half years ago when I was invited to head up the energy and climate change department of the regional government here.

Were you surprised that the government was becoming so aware of the need to do something about energy and climate change?

I guess it did surprise me initially. Locally, it had never been a big issue in Spain. In the past, proposed green energy projects sometimes actually met with negative press.

What brought about the change, do you think?

Here in the Balearics we’re really feeling the impact of climate change, especially in relation to mass tourism, so it’s inevitable that environmental issues are becoming more important. Younger politicians have seen the consequences of an unlimited growth policy in the tourism industry. Also, the industry itself has become more open to change because the large operators – the hotels and car hire people – now know that their customers care more and more about the environment. It’s one of the reasons they and we want to change the image of Mallorca to a quality tourism destination.

Environmental activist, sustainability consultant and friend of this blog, Christer Söderberg, has described the Law on Climate Change and Energy Transition as ‘the most ambitious law for climate change in the whole of Europe’.

We were also helped by the European Union and 14 countries including Spain signing up to an initiative taking advantage of the fact that islands have, by definition, a limited amount of space and a finite ecosystem. This makes them a great place to experiment with environmental initiatives and innovate. The idea is to see how we can make the most out of being an island.

All of the elements led to the Law on Climate Change and Energy Transition.

How is the government helping change happen?

For the last two years, there’s been no public funding to promote the islands as a summer holiday destination. Instead, we’ve introduced the concept that the islands are ‘Better in winter’. In March, we went to the International Travel Trade Fair in Berlin together with companies from the private sector to explain sustainability from a tourism perspective.

Mallorca summer beach scene

While those of us who live here often complain about the number of tourists to the island, some of us are uncomfortable with the idea of controlling tourism. It feels a little like social engineering. How do you answer that?

When our minister for tourism said there were too many people coming to the Balearics and that we wanted better not more he received plenty of criticism. But we have the right to decide what kind of tourism destination we want to be and we want sustainable tourism for years to come.

The thing was that our previous measures to control tourism weren’t effective. We had a ceiling on the maximum number of hotel beds allowed for tourists but there were so many exemptions. Five-star hotels, agrohotels and boutique hotels in the middle of Palma didn’t count because this was high-quality tourism. We hadn’t taken into account things like Airbnb that reduced the number of places for locals and people who work in the tourism industry to live even more.

We don’t want to kill off tourism to the island, and it’s not about whether a tourist willing to pay more than someone else is treated preferentially. People simply have to understand that there’s a finite amount of space for tourists here. Now the number is capped at around 200,000 at any one time.

What about the cruise ships?

You have to be aware that our ports and airport are run centrally from Madrid which ties our hands somewhat. But in Palma we’ve come to an agreement that, instead of dropping cruise ship tourists off in the same place, the tour operators will now use three or four drop-off points, spreading the economic benefits and reducing the impact on the environment.

We’re also negotiating with port authorities to better plan for the arrival of cruise ships so there are only one or two in port at any one time at most and there’s less of a bottleneck. This is not in place for 2018 but it will be for the following year.

Why should people tucked away in a gorgeous finca in the mountains with a swimming pool, who only come for a few weeks of the year, care about the impact of mass tourism?

As anyone who lives here knows, mass tourism ruins the quality of life for everyone. Whatever happens in one place on the island has a huge impact on all of us. The measures we’re taking – like increasing the number of electric cars in hire fleets year on year – will help protect the beautiful areas like Deià, Valldemossa and Soller that we all cherish.

Cool electric car

Protecting our environment also makes hard financial sense. If the most sought-after areas here become less desirable it will jeopardise property values. Investments will suffer.

How do you see the future?

I’m filled with hope. Companies in the tourism industry and organisations like workers’ unions are seeing that what we’re doing adds up to an opportunity. I feel proud that the Law on Climate Change and Energy Transition has generated such a big debate, internationally as well as here. I hope that, with this and all our other initiatives, Mallorca can be a shining example to Europe and the rest of the world. For me, the future looks bright, or at least brighter.

Sunrise at Cala des Moro

Thank you Joan. Good luck.

Joan’s optimism is a wonderful thing, as is the Law on Climate Change and Energy Transition, but there’s still a long way to go. I’ve been told that the number of tourists visiting Mallorca is set to rise to almost 20 million this year. Remember that the resident population is less than a million.

The question for those of us who live on the island and want to protect and preserve Mallorca is how we can help. I asked Christer Söderberg, the person who was kind enough to put me in touch with Joan in the first place, what we can do.

Christer pointed out to me that the officially registered percentage of non-Mallorquin residents on the island is around 24%, which is surprisingly high. Residents can vote in municipal elections, which is one of the reasons why the Mayor of Palma has been keen to meet with foreign residents in the city. Christer has organised a series of ‘Meet the Mayor’ informal gatherings that are becoming increasingly popular.

‘As far as the Mayor is concerned,’ Christer told me, ‘if you live in Mallorca you’re Mallorquin’.

It seems that more and more of us are agreeing with the Mayor, but it would be great if we supported people like Christer. If you’d like to get in touch with Christer at info@enconciencia.org, he’ll be happy to tell you how you can become involved.

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