Environmental Issues

The mainly mountainous and semi-arid land of Spain is home to over 5,000 species of plants. Forests cover 28.8 % (2000) of the country, although these figures include formations of pine and eucalyptus trees for soil stabilization or to use its pulp used in papermaking. Agricultural land comprises 38.2 % of the country. Among the protected areas in Spain there are national parks, nature parks, game reserves and other smaller sites with special conservation status, which together represent a total of 8.4% (1997) of the territory.

Spain faces numerous environmental threats. Deforestation, erosion and pollution of rivers are major concerns. Other problems include the encroachment of agriculture category of protected lands, desertification in poorly managed agricultural areas and soil salinization in irrigated regions. Agricultural productivity has improved in recent years, but partly as a result of the use of nitrogen fertilizer, which has increased the problem of nitrates in rivers. Tourism, which is an important source of income for Spain, also produces environmental deterioration. Poorly planned developments threaten protected areas, and inadequate treatment facilities generate significant water pollution, especially in the Mediterranean coast during the summer months. In 1998, a toxic spill caused by the rupture of a dam that stored mining waste, caused a severe contamination of the aquifer and adjacent areas to the country's flagship protected area of Doñana National Park. Spain generates its energy from hydro, coal and nuclear energy. Nuclear plants provide more than a third of the country's energy, although the government is committed to reduce dependence on this energy, developing alternative energy sources.

Spain participates in the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, with 17 designated sites, and the Convention on World Heritage, with two recognized as World Heritage national parks. There are fourteen biosphere reserves established under the Man and the Biosphere United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) program. Spain has ratified the Environmental Protocol to the Antarctic and Antarctic Treaty and various international environmental agreements relating to air pollution, biodiversity, climate change, endangered species, environmental change, hazardous waste, dumping of waste at sea, marine life, ban on nuclear testing, ozone, marine pollution, tropical wood (1983) and whaling. In the region, Spain has designated several protected areas for wild birds as part of the European Wild Birds Directive and six protected marine areas in accordance with the Plan of Action in the Mediterranean.

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