Worrying figures about air quality in eleven Spanish regions

by Lorraine Williamson
air quality


MADRID – An alarming report reveals that as many as eleven Spanish autonomous communities are completely ignoring the obligation to design air quality plans and reduce the presence of tropospheric ozone in the air. 

This negligence in Andalucia, Aragon, the Balearic Islands and Catalonia, among others, comes in defiance of a Supreme Court court order issued more than three years ago. It seems that politics and the judiciary are still unable to meet the public’s demands regarding climate change. 

Almost everyone in Spain has breathed polluted air 

With just weeks before the COP28 meeting, the European Union faces a debate on air quality improvement plans. Metrics are still troubling. A recent study confirms that in recent years as much as 94% of the Spanish population has breathed air polluted by tropospheric ozone. That’s a combination of solar radiation and pollution from transportation and other industries. This polluted air was present throughout Spain this summer, partly as a result of the high temperatures and heatwaves. 

Also read: Spain is the EU country that most often violates European environmental regulations 

Heatwaves increase levels of harmful ozone 

Levels of this harmful ozone increased in 2023 due to the four heatwaves that hit Spain during the summer season. As a result, a significant percentage of the population has been breathing polluted air. According to legal levels, 2.2 million people have breathed this toxic air this year. But if one looks at the recommendations of the World Health Organisation (WHO), this amounts to 45.8 million people. In total, 96% of Spaniards have breathed polluted air. 

Areas with the heaviest pollution 

The areas most affected by this pollution are the Madrid region and inland Catalonia, where in seven regions of these areas the legal limits for ozone have been exceeded in all measurements. This is evident from the annual report on ozone pollution in Spain drawn up by Ecologistas en Acción. 

Cogesa Expats

The European Commission is currently considering lowering the ozone limits in ambient air from 120 ug/m³ (micrograms per cubic metre) to 110 ug/m³. This reduction is still above the WHO recommended limit of 100 ug/m³. Regulations currently do not allow these levels to be exceeded more than 25 days per year. The Commission wants to reduce that average to 18 days. Furthermore, the WHO states that the maximum should not exceed three days per year. 

Autonomous communities ignore the Supreme Court 

However, improving air quality does not seem to be a priority for the autonomous communities mentioned. Despite the Supreme Court ordering these plans to be put in place in 2020, no action has been taken. Many communities argue that a national tropospheric ozone plan should be drawn up by the Ministry for the Ecological Transition and Demographic Challenge, but even that has only revealed some basic scientific principles as of May 2023. 

Deaths related to air pollution 

Air pollution is linked to 2,500 deaths per year in Spain, according to the latest data from the European Environment Agency (AEMA) and reported in the annual report of Ecologistas en Acción. This number is higher than the number of traffic fatalities nationwide in a year. In addition, there are studies linking elevated ozone levels to premature births and diseases developed during pregnancy. 

Twelve cities comply with low-emission zones 

The period set by the Climate Change and Energetic Transition Act has already passed nine months. This law requires all cities with more than 50,000 inhabitants to establish low-emission zones to improve air quality in their urban areas. This plan is backed by €1.5 billion in European funding, but according to the Ecologistas en Acción report, only around twelve cities have committed to it. 

Also read: Spain joins global alliance for 100% emission-free cars 

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