3.1. Use of Natural Resources
3.1.1. Extractive Activities
In the chapter entitled “Aproximació al medi natural” (Introduction to the natural environment) in the 1976 edition of the White book [1
], professors Joan Rosell and Josep Trilla stated: “The main characteristic of the geology of Catalonia is probably that there is no predominant lithological formation, rather a large variety, to the extent that it is a microcosm of every geological stage”. With this claim, the authors were ahead of their time in defining geodiversity and, moreover, they considered it to be the most characteristic trait of the geology of Catalonia. From a more up-to-date perspective, it should also be emphasized that the mineral kingdom acts as an ecosystem support service (which provides the basis for soils and biodiversity and which conditions the availability of water) and one of supply, basically of rocks and minerals, either for use as raw materials or as an energy source.
In 2014, there were 1041 extractive activities in operation in Catalonia covering a total of 7035 hectares, 0.23% of the non-developable land. The number of extractive activities has increased significantly with respect to the 800 that were in operation in 1988, the most important differences being due to an increase in operations extracting materials for use as aggregates in the manufacture of concrete, cement, tarmac and other construction and infrastructure applications. Table 1
shows the mining production in Euros.
As for the other geological materials extracted in Catalonia (gypsum, chalk, ornamental rocks, slates, salts, and other minerals), the number of extractive activities has not changed much but the surface area taken up by these operations with respect to 1988 has increased with the granting of extensions of the valid concessions. Extraction of potassium salts is the only active underground mining activity in Catalonia, while there is only one active operation involving minerals used for energy, the Casablanca oil platform, off the coast of Tarragona.
Given than extractive activities alter the environment and have an impact that requires remediation, legislation has been in force since 1981 that governs the restoration of mined land. However, due to the changes in the perspective and views on the value of nature and the progress in scientific and technical knowledge that has taken place over these 40 years, this legislation needs to be reconsidered and made more effective. Examples such as the salt mine dumps from the extraction of potassium salts in the Bages region and the unsuccessful reuse as gas stores of the pits left from the exploitation of energy fields off the Catalan coast clearly show that the focus of the legislation needs to be improved.
The mineral kingdom also provides cultural ecosystem services. In the case of Catalonia, these are classified in the Inventory of Geological Areas of Catalonia3
, which includes 157 spaces and covers a total area of 150,000 hectares (about 5% of Catalonia), despite it being a preventive tool without any specific management tools or regulations. In Catalonia, two initiatives have been granted the status of Geopark by UNESCO: The Central Catalonia Mining and Geological Park (2011) and the Conca de Tremp-Montsec Geopark (2018).
3.1.2. Effects on Soils
The diversity of the climatic, geological and topographic conditions of Catalonia has resulted in a diversity of soils, enhanced even more by the preservation of a patchwork of ancient soils from before the ice age. The soil mapping carried out in Catalonia has been disjointed and heterogeneous and it was not until recently that the Cartographic and Geological Institute of Catalonia began preparing the Soil Map at a scale of 1:25,000 (304 sheets), although only 33 sheets have so far been published.4
Soil management problems over the last 40 years include pollution, mainly associated with old industrial areas, improper use of wastewater treatment sludge and nitrate contamination of agricultural origin. Other problems that affect the conservation and quality of land in Catalonia include changes in land use, such as the transformation of agricultural land from dryland farming to irrigation farming, the increase of urban development, and forest fires. It should also be noted that until the last few decades, soil quality was not taken into account in territorial planning, and despite the fact that current regulations allow for the inclusion of soil quality as a criterion for allocating uses and giving priority to the conservation of the most productive soils, this practice has not yet become widespread.
Soil erosion results in an almost irreversible deterioration of the resource on an ecological and human scale. To evaluate the magnitude of the problem in Catalonia, the best information available comes from the bathymetric monitoring of reservoir infilling. The study [3
] identifies the reservoir with the highest rate of loss of capacity (equivalent to the degree of infilling) in Catalonia as the Sant Ponç reservoir (El Solsonès region), with a 0.94% annual loss of capacity. This data makes it possible to estimate an overall erosion rate for the whole reservoir basin (317 km2
) of 8.7 tonnes/ha/year, but taking into account erosion damage is very variable and there are areas that suffer virtually no erosion, this data indicates that some areas of the basin have much higher erosion rates which therefore require corrective measures.
Agricultural practices, as applied in industrialized countries during the second half of the 20th century, in many cases have not favored the conservation of organic matter in the soil [4
] nor stopped erosion or soil contamination, which calls into question the sustainability of the prevailing farming systems.
3.1.3. Agriculture and Animal Husbandry
Since 1982 to the present day, there has been a reduction of the area used for dryland farming by 301,921 ha, while the area used for irrigation farming has increased by 47,137 ha (Table 2
). The abandonment of dryland farming as a consequence of its poor profitability and, in many cases, the difficulty of mechanizing cultivation, due to the orography of the soil, has led to a growth of forested areas. This has led to the loss of a permanent human presence (human, social, and environmental deterioration) in large areas of the territory because of the abandonment of towns (loss of heritage and landscape), especially in mountainous areas. The occupation of land by growing urban areas and infrastructures has been particularly significant on flat agricultural land.
An analysis of the correlation between population growth and available arable land reveals the fragility of the food capacity of a given territory, which can be expressed by the amount of productive land available per inhabitant (m2/inhabitant).
Catalonia population increased 24.7% whereas productive land decreased almost 40% between 1982 and 2015, a factor that must be taken into account when considering approaches to the food self-sufficiency of the country.
Comparing this availability of land per inhabitant with other European Union countries, it can be seen that Catalonia has a relatively low ratio, much lower than the average value for most European countries (Table 3
As for the agricultural labor force, it decreased from 6.65% of the employed people in Catalonia in 1975, to 1.83% in 2019. From a territorial point of view, on average each agricultural worker has gone from managing around 10 ha in 1975 to double the number (19.8 ha) in 2017, or to put it another way, the average size of farms has grown significantly, to the detriment of small farms.
In terms of animal husbandry, it is important to note the significance of pig farming in Catalonia, but also the problems it causes in its surrounding environment, both due to the continuous restructuring it requires and its environmental effects (high water consumption, slurry production, groundwater contamination, carbon emissions, etc.) and, in particular, the fact that many of the proposals aimed at resolving its issues have not quite succeeded or have simply failed.
In Catalonia there are more than 7.7 million pigs (piglets, pigs for fattening and for breeding) and in 36 years (1982–2018) the number of pigs has almost tripled (298%) (Figure 1
). Catalonia is one of the countries with the highest density of pigs, with 242.27/km2
, surpassed only by the Netherlands, with 290.54/km2
, and Denmark, with 294.91/km2
Seventy-five percent of fattening farms (which represent 64% of pig stocks) are linked to companies in the agribusiness. The agribusiness, which includes the pig sector, represents 3.6% of Catalonia’s GDP and 18.6% of industrial GDP, and is one of the most dynamic exporting sectors in the Catalan economy.
Aside from economic interests, space for agriculture has never been a political priority, as demonstrated by the General Territorial Plan of Catalonia, which was approved in 1995, and outlines the land that is suitable for urban development. If it were to be implemented it would lead to the disappearance of agricultural land from sectors of the territory with a gradient of less than 20%, which contain the soils of the highest agricultural value. The Act on Agricultural Land,5
a very basic and unambitious law, was recently approved. The lack of sufficiently powerful Catalan legislation has meant that some public authorities and institutions have begun to promote land banks, funds, exchanges and inventories and mechanisms in their local area to encourage access to land and to prevent farmland from being abandoned.
Meanwhile, with the application of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), Europe has achieved a significant increase in agricultural productivity and consumers are able to purchase livestock products at reasonable prices. But this has resulted in significant differences in agricultural income, the depopulation of many rural municipalities and a considerable environmental impact, to the extent that traditional farming, with roots in the region, has given way to big business. By way of example, 19% of the beneficiaries of the CAP subsidies granted to Catalonia receive 80% of the total amount, as it is also common in many European countries (Table 4
Agricultural activity must be reoriented towards food production, while guaranteeing the presence of people in the territory and maintaining biodiversity and the landscape. However, to achieve this we must rethink Catalonia’s approach to agriculture and livestock farming and prevent the continuous depletion of agricultural assets—especially of those belonging to families with a farming tradition—and promote the emergence of new farmers. This can only be achieved if people have access to land, a problem that is endemic to Catalonia where land speculation is rife.
Despite this, there is no shortage of initiatives in the agricultural sphere aimed at ensuring it remains an active space for livestock production, incorporating proactive values of management, biodiversity, environmental quality and other factors. Some of these include actions related to cultivated agrobiodiversity, the promotion of organic farming and agroecology, the creation of plant defense groups, agricultural parks, and the recovery of agricultural spaces.
It is worth mentioning in this regard the incipient development of organic farming, which didn’t really begin to emerge until 2010. If in 2000 the total area devoted to organic farming was 10,827 ha, 18 years later it now stands at 210,818 ha. Most of Catalonia’s organic farming area is pasture (69%), followed by cropland (20%) and forest (11%). The main crops are the Mediterranean trilogy: Vines 8% (16,680 ha), olive trees 4% (8395 ha) and cereals and legumes for grain 3.5% (7461 ha). Vegetables make up 0.4% (814 ha) and fruit 0.6% (1332 ha) (Table 5
Catalonia does not yet have a legally recognized form or model of protection for the conservation of agricultural resources or for the development of a territorial project as a method of managing, improving and consolidating agricultural spaces. However, the form of the agricultural park has emerged as a way of expressing the will of certain sectors of the public administration and the agricultural sector to preserve, order, manage and develop an agricultural space. The few already established initiatives include the Baix Llobregat Agricultural Park (1998) and the Gallecs Protected Natural Area (2005), both within the metropolitan area of Barcelona, which face untold pressures in the face of urban and infrastructure encroachment. Despite the exemplary and successful nature of these initiatives, the form of the agricultural park is not yet formalized in legislation.
The species used in agriculture and livestock farming are, for the most part, not native to our country and, since their domestication, have been under constant pressure to obtain the most appropriate varieties or breeds. Despite the existence of ancient varieties supposedly native to Catalonia, or mainly cultivated here, and the fact that these varieties are still cultivated and are gaining notoriety in local markets, the conservation of plant genetic resources in Catalonia is carried out without a centralized strategy for the collection, conservation and use of traditional germplasm, so that despite significant economic and human efforts, the genetic diversity conserved ex situ is not a significant representation of the historical diversity cultivated in Catalonia, nor of the diversity currently cultivated in situ. It is worth noting that the geographical coverage of ex situ conserved material is small [6
Catalonia has some native domestic breeds, but many have been lost and most of them are critically endangered, largely due to the intensification of livestock farming and the replacement of native breeds with theoretically more productive foreign ones. Therefore, today there are only 14 recognized breeds in the Catalogue of Official Breeds of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food6
. Researching and studying other ancestral populations of which a very small number of specimens could still remain might enable the classification of some new breeds.
3.1.4. Forest Management
In relation to forest areas, the main change in recent decades has been the increase in forest cover, from 1,218,500 hectares in 1993 to 1,348,600 hectares in 2009 [7
], which represents an average increase of 8100 ha per year, indicating that a rapid transformation of the landscape is taking pace, in which forests are playing an increasingly important role.
This data also shows that many of the forests in Catalonia are young. Data from the national forest inventories (IFN2, IFN3) shows that approximately 40% of the tree trunks in the forests of Catalonia are less than 10 cm in diameter. Taking the territory of Catalonia as a whole, the forested area is quite large, but these forests are of mediocre quality in terms of species biodiversity and regulation of ecosystem processes. However, even these poor-quality forest areas provide a number of important services. For example, they are the main carbon stock of Catalonia’s terrestrial ecosystems with about 50 Mg C ha−1
, and they have a carbon sequestration capacity of about 1.3 Tg C year−1
The socio-economic changes in which many different factors are involved, including an energy transition from fossil fuels to plant-based fuels, a demographic transition (involving an exodus of the rural population to urban areas), and changes in nutritional habits, the industrialization of the agricultural sector and the globalization of the economy have strongly impacted the current state of Catalonia’s forests. This trend coincides directly with what is happening in other territories with a similar socioeconomic and geographical environment, whether in Europe or in North America.
In Catalonia, the proportion of private property (77%) over public property is significant, except in the mountainous areas of the Pyrenees. This is evident in the percentage of timber extracted privately, which represented 85% of the total in 2018.7
The available data indicates that forests are still being exploited, despite their poor economic yield, and that silviculture continues to be carried out in forests, but the continued growth of forest areas means that many of these new forests contribute little to the provision of timber, although this does not preclude them from providing other services.
Forest fires have been one of the critical issues in the management and conservation of Mediterranean basin forests since the 1970s, and Catalonia has suffered wave after wave of fires that have resulted in successful fire-fighting strategies (Figure 2
). A large part of the public resources allocated to forest management is devoted to fighting forest fires. For example, in 2017, the Government of Catalonia allocated more than 15 million euros, of which ten and a half were for forest fire prevention. However, if each fire is simply extinguished with absolute efficiency without taking other measures to reduce the amount of fuel, then all this does is ensure there will be larger and more intense fires in the future. This is called the “extinction paradox” of forest fires [8
The decreased use of forest firewood and timber, coupled with the abandonment of crops and pastures, have contributed to the accumulation of fuel and have resulted in larger more intense fires. Therefore, the most effective strategy is a combination of agroforestry landscapes with breaks in the forest cover distributed throughout the territory and the usual practices of reducing the number of ignitions [9
Forests will also have to face up to a future where there will be more general aridity and more variable climatic conditions resulting in extreme episodes. In recent years, a significant number of cases of forest decline have been reported with leaf loss or even tree mortality. The causes can be many, but there is physiological and statistical evidence, coinciding with long and intense periods of drought, that a deficit of water is one of them. The results indicate that an average of about 30,000 ha are affected each year, which may then gain some resilience after two or three years, though this may be disrupted by new dry spells.
The value of forest areas has meant that they are well represented in the network of protected natural areas, which is probably due, on the one hand, to the social identification of the value of nature in forests and on the other due to the inaccessibility of mountain areas for agricultural or urban uses. As a result, about 40% of the forest cover in Catalonia is included in the Natura 2000 Network. It is worth noting that the value of these spaces lies not only in their nature as forest ecosystems, but also in the species that live there, which are themselves also the object of conservation initiatives. However, the capacity of protected area agencies to manage forests is quite limited and highlights one of the main challenges of the future: How to reconcile preserving their natural heritage with exploiting them for the services they provide, including those of supply.
3.1.5. Fishing and Aquaculture
The extraction of renewable sources from the sea mainly involves capture fisheries (both professional and recreational) and aquaculture. Both bring social and economic benefits to the coastal towns that engage in these activities and health benefits to the consumer, but they also have a strong impact on the exploited ecosystem.
With regard to commercial fishing, in Catalonia, about 250 species are extracted and sold, all but one (red coral) for human consumption. Sixteen species accounted for 80% of the total catch, and two, sardines and anchovies, accounted for 52% (2018 data).
shows the evolution of total catches since 1960, which marked the beginning of a remarkable surge promoted by the implementation of favorable policies during the 1970s. After a period of growth and then fluctuations, typical of phases of overexploitation, since 1996 catches have steadily declined. In 2018, 27,225 tonnes were caught according to data from the Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries. While fleet numbers have declined in the 21st century, it must also be said that their extractive capacity has increased due to the technological advances and new materials used by fishing boats.
Fishing is carried out using very diverse methods and fishing gears, each with a very different impact on both the species and their habitat (Table 6
). Trawler fishing has probably the biggest impact on the seabed and is widespread in Catalonia: The 240 trawlers in the region represent 31% of the fleet, 32% of the total capture and 59% of the profits. Tuna fishing is also significant, regulated by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) which in 2017 awarded Catalonia a quota of 1142 tonnes, which is caught in less than a week, between the months of May and June. Red coral extraction has been intense due to its high value, as a result of which 90% of the population studied on the Catalan coast is now in a poor state of conservation. This, along with poaching has led to a moratorium on its extraction.
The deterioration of fishing grounds in Catalonia is becoming more and more evident and is being acutely felt by fishermen. This decline in biomass is not only caused by fishing, though this is the main factor, but also by environmental factors such as climate change or river flow regulation [10
]. The gradual increase in the number of recreational fishermen along the coast, coupled with the increase in tourism, has resulted in recreational fishermen annually catching almost as much as artisanal fishermen with significant repercussions on certain species of fish and the marine environment.
In recent years, several management plans have been put in place, involving scientists, fishermen and the authorities with positive results, although these management plans are quite limited in terms of species and geographical area. Therefore, a more global approach is needed to include all fishing activity along the Catalan coast and the integration of other activities carried out at sea.
Along similar lines, several protected natural areas have been established where fishing at sea is regulated and there are even some reserves set by fishermen themselves. However, these only make up 0.7% of the total fishing area, while experts recommend that at least 20% should be protected for the measure to be effective.
It is worth noting that fish provide a valuable source of polyunsaturated acids which are not found in meat. Unfortunately, they are also the main source of pollutants in the human diet. This aspect is especially relevant in the area of the Catalan–Balearic Sea, where the consumption of fish is significant. Data obtained in Menorca shows that the concentrations of organochlorine compounds in the food produced on the island are generally low compared to those in other European Union countries. By contrast, the mercury levels in fish and shellfish caught in nearby areas and consumed on the island are higher than those found in other seas and oceans, with a percentage of around 65% exceeding the maximum limit for human consumption set by the European Union [11
]: 0.5 mg/kg or 1 mg/kg depending on the species. This means that the intake of this neurotoxic metal by children on the island is more than double the maximum recommendation of the European Food Safety Authority [12
These higher concentrations of mercury compared to other nearby seas and oceans are characteristic of the Western Mediterranean and also affect the consumption of the population of Catalonia. In fact, several studies carried out in populations in the Iberian Peninsula and rest of Europe show that the people in Spain and Portugal (mothers and children) have the highest concentrations of this metal in their hair for the whole European Union [13
In terms of aquaculture, Catalonia annually produces about 1000 tonnes of fish (sea bass and sea bream) and 4000 tonnes of bivalve molluscs, of which more than 90% are mussels. This production is equivalent to 15 to 20% of capture fisheries (close to 30,000 tonnes), but the profit obtained is proportionally less. Catalonia, according to IRTA reports, ranks fifth among the Spanish autonomous communities in aquaculture production (in tonnes), behind Galicia, Murcia, Valencia, and Andalusia.
While progress is being made towards sustainable aquaculture, which takes into account the effects of aquaculture farms on marine habitats, there are issues that have indirect environmental effects that need to be improved, such as minimizing the use of flours and oils from wild fish (sardines, anchovies, etc.) to feed many of the fish that are farmed, which are carnivorous.
3.1.6. Nature Tourism
Almost every society in every historical period has made use of the natural environment for leisure purposes, but in recent decades this type of use of resources has become more widespread. In the case of Catalonia, one of the first turning points occurred at the end of the 19th century when hiking became widespread, maintaining its tradition and popularity today.
The long-standing tradition of hiking in Catalonia is evidenced by the fact that several hiking organizations are over hundreds of years old and that the Federation of Hiking Organizations is the fourth largest federation with 40,000 members, although the actual number of the practitioners of the multiple modalities that can be grouped under hiking is at least four or five times this number. In recent decades, the practice of competitive group sports has also grown exponentially. And as a result of this growing trend, it is becoming more and more common to hear about hyper-frequentation, with the number of people visiting natural areas exceeding their capacity of reception, which is having a severe impact on some areas. The existing regulatory and planning framework, which is too imprecise and vague, does not provide an adequate solution to this problem [17
Hunting and fishing in inland waters are probably the two oldest forms of use of the natural environment for the purpose of sport and leisure. It should be remembered that 97% of the territory of Catalonia can be used for hunting, though according to Idescat the number of hunting licenses has decreased from 104,085 in 1996 to 37,452 in 2018, even though the Catalan Federation of Hunting is the third largest federation, behind the football and basketball federations, in number of licenses. The current trends show there is a hunting crisis as evidenced by two significant facts: The number of valid hunting licenses has followed a clear downward trend—a decrease of 64%—, and at the same time the average age of the members of hunters’ societies has gone up, indicating a low generational renewal rate.
The fishing situation is different. The evolution of the number of licenses indicates an upward trend or with annual fluctuations that maintain the number of licenses in force at around fifty thousand, 53,742 in 2019 according to Idescat. While the number of catch-and-release stretches and the number of fishing refuges have been increased, the presence of invasive non-native fish species is one of the main problems in river areas. According to the Catalan Water Agency, 50% of rivers suffer biological contamination by invasive species.
Sporting activities in the natural environment have grown considerably, be it adventure tourism or mountain biking. Some of these activities in particular have a significant potential impact, which could be severe depending on their quantitative and geographical extension, as a result of which they are starting to be regulated. However, as has traditionally happened with motorized traffic, monitoring compliance with these regulations is rather lax.
Despite the fact that Catalonia is not an alpine country and it does not have the best climatic conditions for a permanent snow line, it has a considerable skiing tradition and is home to the largest number of ski resorts and the largest skiable area in Spain. According to Idescat, in 2018 there were 10 alpine skiing resorts in Catalonia, with 128 ski lifts, 2666 snow cannons and 480 km of skiing area. However, over the years, three of these resorts, Llessui, La Tuca, and Rasos de Peguera, have closed, a project to create a new resort in Vall Fosca has failed, and more than half of the resorts have become publicly owned and acquired by the Government of Catalonia to avoid bankruptcy and ensure this tourist sector stays afloat in mountain regions.
From the point of view of economic and social impact, it is clear that the growth of winter sports and ski resorts has contributed decisively to the development of mountain regions, acting as a real economic driver at a time when a crisis in primary sector activities looked like it might lead to the depopulation of some of the villages in these regions, and helping to stop the processes of demographic decline which had become more acute since the 1950s. But it should be noted that the economic momentum generated by ski resorts has more to do with the development of the service sector and, in particular, the construction sector, than with the practice of skiing.
Added to the irregular precipitation and temperatures typical of Catalonia’s climate system, there are other issues that arise from potential increases in average temperature as a result of climate change. The projections of the Third Report for Climate Change in Catalonia8
] indicate that, in the current scenario, there are three resorts which are not viable without artificial snow production and the technical viability of all these resorts is in doubt in the second scenario, that is, even with artificial snow production. With these forecasts in mind, initiatives are required which take into account for seasonality and can consolidate tourism all year round, diversifying offers, destinations and activities, though these should avoid adopting the current approach of turning ski resorts into a sort of theme park in the summer, as is the case at the moment. Most of the resorts could become infrastructures or service centers suitable for nature tourism activities, operating in harmony with the nearby protected natural areas.
The first evaluation of the system of protected natural areas in Catalonia [19
] concludes that protected natural areas, and especially those with special protection which have management bodies and tools in place, not only do not constitute an impediment to economic development but are significant economic drivers, linked mainly to the service sector, especially in the mountainous regions where they have replaced the primary sector; agricultural activities have also benefited from the existence of protected areas, through infrastructure investments, direct subsidies and the creation of a local consumer market. The 2015 study on the economic and social impact of protected areas9
], quantified the economic impact of protected natural areas and, after analyzing 16 areas, the number of visitors to these spaces in 2012 was estimated at almost seven million. The contribution of these sixteen natural areas to the gross added value of economic activities was 192.4 million euros.
In short, protected natural areas play an important role in tourism and leisure activities linked to the natural environment, with the advantage that these spaces are subject to planning and regulations which can ensure the better management of these types of activities and the adoption of measures that guarantee their compatibility with the preservation of the natural values on which they are based.
In Catalonia, as in other tourist destinations in the Mediterranean, there are clear examples of how coastal areas have deteriorated and, in parallel, how their appeal as tourist attractions has declined. In the case of the frequentation of natural areas, which as a mass phenomenon is more recent, there is still time to take the necessary measures to ensure the sustainability and quality of this form of tourism. Proposals for these areas which promote projects that completely ignore the sustainability of the natural resources in the name of economic growth and job creation should be avoided at all costs.
3.1.7. Energy Consumption
The increase in energy consumption caused by the urbanization process in Catalonia can be seen in the graph below (Figure 4
]. It shows the evolution of electricity consumption by type of energy source between 1981 and 2015. Only 22% of the total electricity consumed came from renewable sources.
Primary energy consumption in Catalonia in 2017 was 25,517 ktoe (thousands of tonnes of oil equivalent), while final energy consumption (calculated via meters or estimates) was 13,912 ktoe, 55% of the primary energy consumed; the 45% difference is what was lost in the transformation of energy from primary to final. Primary energy production in 2017 was 7780 ktoe, 30.5% of total primary energy consumption, which means that the rest was imported, so the consequent impacts were externalized.
The percentage distribution of the sources used in energy production in Catalonia again shows the scant weight of renewable energy and the country’s dependence on external sources (Table 7
The energy system affects the environment in many other ways: Primary sources of energy are extracted from nature, space is needed to install the facilities (production plants, reservoirs, wind farms, transport networks, etc.), and the environment is the recipient of the difference between primary and useful energy and of the emissions and waste generated. A good example is CO2
emissions in Catalonia (Table 8
), which in 2017 totalled 45,073 tonnes, of which 32,442 came from energy processing. Another example is the estimate (due to a lack of official data) that, under “normal” operating conditions, Catalonia’s nuclear plants dump more than 6000 curies of radioactive material into the biosphere every year [22
The issue of whether it is possible to consume energy from 100% renewable sources is no longer in doubt after the publication of the study “100% Clean and Renewable Wind, Water, and Sunlight All-Sector Energy Roadmaps for 139 Countries of the World” [23
]. However, generating 100% of our energy from renewable sources is not synonymous with sustainability, though its impacts would be substantially reduced.
3.1.8. Ecological Footprint
If we want to redress unsustainable trends, we need to abandon the obsolete economic indicators that have been used as a guide to measure the wealth of countries (especially GDP) and replace them with others that show whether human activities in a country are sustainable or not, that is, if it they are in balance with the regenerative capacity of the biosphere. The ecological footprint is one of the most widely used sustainability indicators in the world because it measures the productive land and sea area that is needed to generate the resources consumed by a particular country and the amount that would be necessary to absorb the emissions and waste, which is basically an initial indicator of its degree of sustainability.
Shortly after the ecological footprint indicator was presented internationally in 1994, Barcelona City Council decided to use it in its calculations for the city. To do this, those responsible first calculated the ecological footprint of Catalonia, using data from 1996 mainly, and applied the average value obtained to the population of the city of Barcelona. It should be noted that the proponents claim that they did not have all the necessary information, such as data on domestic trade, and that they used the population recorded in the census for Catalonia, which at the time was 6,090,040 inhabitants, without taking into account tourism (Table 9
This value, multiplied by the approximately 6 million inhabitants at that time, gave an ecological footprint of 19,853,530 ha, in other words 6.5 times larger than the total area of Catalonia. And since the bioproductive area (or carrying capacity) of Catalonia was calculated to be 1 ha per person, in 1996 the ecological deficit of Catalonia was estimated to be −2.2 ha/person.
Seven years later, the Advisory Council for Sustainable Development carried out a new calculation of the ecological footprint of Catalonia. Most of the data used in this second calculation came from official sources from 2001 (Table 10
This time, however, a second calculation was carried out taking into account tourists. In 2001, Catalonia received 20,485,000 foreign tourists and 4,751,800 Spanish tourists, so around 25 million in total. Given their respective average stays, this was calculated as being the equivalent to 442,508 permanent residents. Therefore, the real population of Catalonia was estimated to be 6.8 million. If you divide by this number of inhabitants, the value of the ecological footprint per person would be 3.67 gha/person, slightly lower than the standard calculation.
Although the methodologies used for the two standard calculations were not identical, since the second version included more complete data, it shows that the ecological footprint of Catalonia increased from 3.26 to 3.92 gha/person between 1996 and 2001. Given the population increase, this means that, in absolute terms, the ecological footprint of the population of Catalonia as a whole increased from 6.5 to 7.7 times its own surface area. Therefore, during this period, Catalonia clearly regressed in its move towards sustainability.
At the European level, the countries with the highest ecological deficit in 2005 were Spain (−4.4 gha/person), Greece (−4.2 gha/person) and Belgium (−4 gha/person) [26
]. Catalonia (as of 2001 data) was therefore around the average.