Spain's economic growth is "unsustainable"

OECD reports growing environmental pressures, widespread non-compliance with laws

Economic development in Spain is "potentially unsustainable," the Organisation for Economic Development Cooperation (OECD) has said, following a survey of the country's environmental performance. Produced as part of a series of environmental reviews of OECD member countries, the report warns that a wide range of environmental pressures are increasing even faster than economic growth.

Over the period 1985-93, Spain's gross domestic product grew by 27% and industrial production by 17%. Over the same period, emissions of nitrogen oxides rose by 50%, generation of municipal waste by 42% and road traffic volume by 38%.

The OECD shows that Spain faces a major challenge to ensure that policies aimed above all at ensuring economic convergence with the European Union do not result in environmental divergence. The need is greater still because Spain relies "heavily" on EU funds to finance its environmental policies; a source that will disappear as the country approaches the rest of the EU economically.

On the plus side, the OECD reports some substantial improvements. Most notably, an environment ministry was created in 1996, providing a single point for the formulation of national environmental policies for the first time. Spain further strengthened its institutions by creating the post of environmental prosecutor. In addition, Spain has passed an increasing number of environmental laws, mainly to implement EU directives.

Huge challenges remain to be tackled, the OECD concludes. In particular, Spain still has no framework environmental law to guide overall national policies, nor a national plan of action. The report also points to some dramatic gaps between the theory and practice of environmental policies and laws.

Implementation of environmental policies varies widely between regions in Spain, many of which operate at arm's length from the national government. Central government "does not seem to have much information about environmental protection activities by lower levels," and "surveillance" is "very weak", the OECD says.

Non-compliance with environmental rules by municipalities and companies is a key problem. Over 80% of businesses do not comply with environmental law, according to one estimate. In 1994, around 75% of companies and municipalities requiring permits under a 1985 water act did not have them.

In the field of waste management, many of Spain's autonomous regions "lack the administrative capacity" to implement regulations. One result is that a quarter of waste is still disposed of through uncontrolled landfilling, rising in some regions to more than half.

Follow Up:
Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, tel: +33 1 45 24 82 00.

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