On February 12 the parliament of the Balearic Islands approved a pioneer Law on Climate Change and Energy Transition, whose ultimate goal is to free the islands of fossil fuels and achieve 100% renewable energy by 2050. Although the law places the islands at the forefront of clean energy transition, it has angered the automotive sector as it will prohibit the access and sale of vehicles with diesel from 2025 and with gasoline from 2035. So much so, the Spanish Association of Vehicle and Truck Manufacturers (ANFAC) has requested the European Commission to initiate proceedings for infringement of EU law.
It was last year when Francina Armengol, the socialist president of the Balearic Islands announced the controversial law. Ever since, the Balearic Government has not hesitated to defend the legislation, arguing that citizens will “gain in quality of life and seal a guaranteed future for the Islands,” Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza, and Formentera. For that, the objective for 2030 is to reach 35% renewable energy, a 23% reduction in energy consumption, and a 40% reduction of polluting emissions. The Balearic Islands will be “a pioneer at a national and also European level,” said the councilor of Energy issues in Baleares, Marc Pons.
It is, without doubt, a very ambitious plan that sets an example for other islands across the EU. In fact, last February 18, 26 European islands (including Ibiza, Mallorca, and Menorca) officially launched their clean energy transition with the support of the European Commission. The objective is to help EU islands to exploit the renewable resources at their disposal becoming more self-sufficient, prosperous and sustainable. “By embarking on this path, not only will they become more energy self-reliant and prosperous, but also provide inspiring examples for other islands and Europe as a whole,” said Dominique Ristori, Director-General for Energy at the European Commission.
At first sight, Balearics’ law seems to fit perfectly with the EU transition strategy but there are discordant voices that call into question the legality of the measures adopted.
Sustainable mobility versus a profitable automotive industry
According to Government estimates, 35% of CO2 emissions in the Balearic Islands come from road traffic. In order to mitigate the negative effects on climate change, the Government made the ban on the circulation of diesel vehicles from 2025 and gasoline vehicles from 2035 one of the law’s pillars. Only citizens who reside in the Balearic Islands will be allowed to circulate with no restrictions as far as they use vehicles already registered. However, all the tourists that go with their own car using maritime transport will have to respect the new mobility limitations.
This is why the law also addresses the islands’ car rental companies, which from 2020 must progressively introduce electric vehicles in the fleets (2% initial) until becoming all-electric by 2035. To facilitate the transition, the Government will install 1,000 electric vehicle charging points in 2025 and allocate more than €8.5 million ($9.64 million) in aid to companies, individuals, and local administrations for the installation of self-consumption systems like photovoltaic panels. According to Armengol, all sectors of society must make efforts so that the law can be implemented effectively.
However, the car industry has claimed that the automotive sector bears most of the law’s burden, so last January the Spanish Association of Vehicle and Truck Manufacturers (ANFAC) denounced the islands’ decision to prohibit the circulation of combustion vehicles before the European Commission. The Association described the measure as “arbitrary, unsuitable, and disproportionate,” and requested the EU Executive to initiate proceedings for infringement of EU law as they considered that the Balearic legislation “seriously affects the normal functioning of the market and the freedom of movement of goods in a burdensome and harmful manner.”
According to ANFAC, manufacturers are widely committed to the decarbonization and are investing billions in research to achieve increasingly cleaner propulsion technologies. However, they consider that the law proposal goes far beyond the European framework which is focused on support and impulse the transition from a broad point of view, with the contribution of all sectors and not by prohibition.
The Association has also pointed out that the prohibition would be a “serious obstacle to the unity of the Spanish market,” and would have very negative effects for the automotive sector. For example, although there are still six years left until the ban comes into force, the announcement of the bill last year provoked a much slower pace in the market for the sale of new vehicles in the Balearic Islands (which increased by 1.6% in 2018) comparing to the rest of Spain (which increased by 7% during the same year).
One step ahead of the Central Government
When the Spanish President, Pedro Sánchez, reached the Government he announced the National Law on Climate Change and Energy Transition, which foresees the prohibition of registration and sale of combustion cars (diesel, gasoline, and hybrids) by 2040 in order to reduce CO2 emissions.
The fact that Sánchez did not approve the bill when he arrived at ‘la Moncloa’ (the presidential house) was criticized by the Spanish Green Party, Equo, that had repeatedly expressed the urgent need to initiate processes. Meanwhile, some organizations such as Greenpeace, have pointed out that “the Balearic law should serve as an example for the Law of Climate Change and Energy Transition that the central government has not yet presented.”
The surprise came last Friday when the Spanish Council of Ministers finally approved the draft bill on climate change, although it is very likely that it will not see the light of day since Sánchez has called for early elections on April 28. For the Spanish green party, this decision is an “authentic tease” and will remain dead letter as there is not enough time for Congress to process the bill.