Green Capitalism in the Spanish State

Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Spanish King Felipe VI pose with newly appointed ministers of the new coallition goverment during a ceremony at the Zarzuela Palace in Madrid, on January 13, 2020. - Spain's socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez promised that his new minority coalition with the radical left Podemos party was heading in the same direction, despite past differences between the two parties. (Photo by Emilio NARANJO / various sources / AFP) (Photo by EMILIO NARANJO/AFP via Getty Images)



Jesus M. Castillo

According to the Spanish constitution (Article 135), modified by PSOE (Spanish ‘Socialist’ Workers’ Party) and PP (Popular Party) in August 2011, the payment of the sovereign debt takes precedence over everything else, including the maintenance of public services. This neoliberal abuse should have already been eliminated from the constitution by the “progressive” forces of Congress, since it constitutes a serious threat to  the social majority in the face of a new debt crisis derived from the management of the pandemic. In the last economic crisis that started in 2008, debt payment involved cuts in environmental policies. For example, the 2013 Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Environment budget was cut by 10% compared to 2012 (which was cut by a similar percentage in relation to 2011). In addition, the reduction in public investment led to a lower capacity for environmental monitoring. As if this were not enough, the development of new environmental legislation was paralyzed and previous environmental requirements were lowered. For example, the modification of the Coastal Law by the conservative  government favored private interests to the detriment of the public good.

Currently, in a “new” context of economic crisis and increasing sovereign debt, the leftish  government of PSOE and UP (Unidas Podemos, United We Can, a coalition of Podemos and Izquierda Unida) deploys a whole battery of environmental legislation. Let’s analyze it to understand if it is what we really need to stop the global ecological crisis.

After the arrival of the “new normal” (in the Orwellian language of the government), the government, concerned about the fall in GDP, insists that it is necessary to return to “the path of growth”. We have known for a long time that capitalist economic growth consists of sacrificing our environment and, consequently, our health. The ecological footprint of the Spanish State goes far beyond what the planet can supply us. In other words, the economy of the Spanish State must decrease in order to be truly sustainable. However, it is the desire for economic growth that guides all the environmental policies of the government on the back of a green capitalism that tries to deceive us with a mirage of sustainability while leading us to an abyss of environmental disaster. An abyss from which there is no turning back. The environmental policies of the government revolve around three pillars: transport, waste and climate change.

Unsustainable transportation


The Spanish government in implementing a new Strategic Plan for Comprehensive Support to the Automotive Sector. This Plan is sold by the government as a way to improve “quality of life, health, safety and sustainability” with a budget impact of  2634 million € between 2019 and 2025. This Plan is based on grants to stimulate the demand for new cars with fewer greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and on “a new green tax system”. On the one hand, vehicle substitution includes those less than 15 years old, which increases global GHG emissions if we take into account the entire manufacturing cycle. On the other hand, environmental taxes are in line with penalizing those who have the least, as they are indirect taxes that are paid regardless of income level. All this to keep afloat an automobile sector that should be publicly owned and reconverted for the manufacture of public transport (buses and trains). Also in the transport sector, the government intends to promote a Law of Sustainable Mobility and Financing of Urban Transport. This law follows the same neoliberal guidelines as the Automobile Support Plan.

The Planet as residue


The Spanish government is also promoting the Law on Waste and Contaminated Soils that imposes limits on the use of single-use plastic objects. With this objective, the draft of the law includes a reduction target for single-use plastics of 50% by 2026, and 70% by 2030, compared to 2022. Given the severity of the current ecological crisis, the objectives now set by the Spanish government are late and totally insufficient. Basically, the measures included in this law reflect the depletion of world oil reserves. In this scenario, the ruling classes want to ensure the availability of oil where it is most profitable. In addition, governments want to take money out of indirect taxes on plastics, so that only those who can pay can use them.

The new Spanish Circular Economy Strategy is also integrated in the field of waste. This Strategy wants to promote the valuation of waste so that the materials remain useful in the economy for a longer time period. With this objective, this Strategy aims to reduce the consumption of materials by 30% (in relation to  GDP) by 2030 compared to 2010. But this objective, like others included in this Strategy, is a double trap. On the one hand, setting the reduction in terms of GDP 10 years from now assumes that there would be very little decrease in the consumption of materials, since GDP will continue to increase (or, at least, that is what the government wants). On the other hand, setting 2010 as the reference year, when the GDP decreased by 200 billion compared to 2008 in the midst of the economic crisis, means that the use of materials can grow much more tan if 2008 were to be used as the  reference point. Furthermore, circular economy is completely contradicted by the Spanish government’s efforts to orient the economy towards export because it involves high GHG emissions in transport.


Climatic traps


In the field of GHG emissions that generates climate change, the Spanish government sent to the European Commission, in March of this year, a National Integrated Energy and Climate Plan (PNIEC in its Spanish acronym) 2021-2030. According to the government, this Plan “places Spain on the path to achieve climate neutrality in 2050 and comply with the Paris Agreement”. We have to remember that the Paris Agreement is totally insufficient to curb climate change. The Spanish government proposes a 23% reduction in GHG emissions compared to 1990, and a 42% presence of renewable energy in the final use of energy, with the creation of around 300000 jobs annually. The Environmental Movement (Ecologistas en Acción) has clearly exposed  the inadequacy of this Plan: “it is proposed to reduce GHG emissions by only 23%, which is absolutely insufficient according to the latest IPCC report, which proposes 7.6% annual reductions so as not to exceed the increase of +1.5 ºC in global temperatures, so the total reduction until 2030 should be 55%. […] Therefore, the PNIEC must be much more ambitious and consider reductions in GHG emissions of 55% by 2030”. In this context, the Law on Climate Change and Energy Transition, currently being processed in the Spanish Congress, is insufficient to stop global warming. In order not to enter abrupt climate change, GHG emissions must be reduced by 50% in 2030 and totally in 2050, for which it is necessary to reduce net energy consumption, establish a 100% renewable electricity system in 2030, and prohibit as soon as possible the sale of fossil fuel vehicles.

Environmental depredation and the 78 Regime


The negligence of the Spanish government in environmental matters adds to its deficient policies in other fields that it  tries to hide behind a patriotic  discourse. For example, the Spanish government does not respond with the necessary attention to refugees and migrants (see the demands of the #RegularizationYA movement). In addition, the government avoids the repeal of conservative laws such as Law 15/1997 that encourages the privatization of the public health system, the “Gag Law”, and the labor reforms of Zapatero (PSOE) and Rajoy (PP). Additionally, the government does not condemn the state terrorism of Felipe González (PSOE), while protecting a corrupt monarchy.

As a result of the policies of the parties of the Regime of 78 (now including Podemos), the most socio-environmentally impactful sectors are promoted, such as tourism and the extraction of natural resources (eg mining, large-scale monoculture plantations, exploitation of deposits of hydrocarbons on land and sea). The extracted natural resources are mainly exported without transformation and with very little added value. Thus, the role that Andalusia played at the level of the Spanish State since the beginning of the 20th century (product of the pact of the useless Andalusian landowning bourgeoisie with the Basque, Catalan and Madrid bourgeoisies) has become generalized throughout the Spanish State: a politically subordinate territory that exports cheap labor and unprocessed raw materials, and where a few extractive and highly polluting industries settle.

Using the shock doctrine in the midst of a pandemic, the Spanish government presumes to approve an extensive set of environmental measures, while still leaving in the hands of the market measures that should respond to democratic decisions. The government acts as if we are not in a climatic emergency. In any case, all this does not surprise us because we already know PSOE. Zapatero’s government supported the construction of a heavy hydrocarbon refinery in Extremadura, finally stopped by citizen mobilization, while GHG emissions increased more than 52% since 1990, tripling the 15% average increase allowed by the Kyoto Protocol for the period 2008-2012. Then, as now, inadequate plans for an energy transition were promoted, such as the Spanish Energy Savings and Efficiency Strategy 2004-2010 and the Renewable Energy Plan 2005-2010.

Struggle is the only way forward


The objective is clear and well defined by the scientific community and developed in practice by a multitude of social movements: we have to end the metabolic rift between the economic system and the Biosphere.

After the 2008 economic crisis, the Indignados Movement swept through the squares of many cities in the Spanish State, pushing the political panorama to the left. This Movement was institutionalized and incorporated, partially, with the entry of Podemos into the bourgeois institutions and, later, into the government. At the same time as the Indignados Movement, two great waves of strikes developed, first in the public sector and then in the private, in the face of cuts by the governments of PSOE and, later, PP.

Climate change is a catalyst for social conflict, as is the Covid-19 pandemic. Currently, we are seeing synergies between different, in principle independent, processes that drive social struggles. For example, despair over rising unemployment, stemming from the capitalist management of the coronavirus pandemic, adds to rage against institutionalized racism by the police and part of the political class in the USA. To this type of mobilization  will be added, more and more frequently, social revolts derived from the climate emergency. It is in this context that we have to build our socially and environmentally just alternatives.

The alternative to the regime of continuous environmental impacts of the ruling classes goes through a truly democratic control of natural resources. Working people must decide democratically how, when, where and why to use natural resources. Only in this way, when environmental policy is democratically decided among a social majority, will we achieve the much desired  ‘sustainable development’. Nature would be managed based on the interests of a majority that will decide not to live in a degraded environment.

In the struggles of the 21st century, environmental, social and economic issues go hand in hand more than ever before in human history. At the same time that we build, in struggles, democratic management from below of natural resources, we have to distribute wealth as the basis of a democratically managed economic decrease in developed countries. For this we have to raise taxes on large fortunes and companies, not pay sovereign debt to international speculators, manage key sectors of the economy publicly and through the control of their workforces, prohibit layoffs in companies with benefits, promote deep agrarian reforms, establishing a public bank to promote socially and environmentally fair cooperative projects that generate millions of jobs in the green economy and public services… Today, more than ever, saving our planet is as urgent as saving ourselves.


DisclaimerOpinions expressed in articles are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of other members of the Global Ecosocialist Network

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Jesus Manuel Castillo Segura
About Jesus Manuel Castillo Segura 3 Articles
Senior Lecturer in Ecology, University of Seville, Spanish State.

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