Kingdom of Spain: changes in land use on the coast 1987-2005 and accelerated loss of ecosystem services and destruction of a common good

Kingdom of Spain: changes in land use on the coast 1987-2005 and accelerated loss of ecosystem services and destruction of a common good

By Xavier Fontcuberta Estrada and Fernando Prieto

In the last 20 years the pressure on this resource has increased dramatically through the massive occupation of the coastal territory, negatively affecting the physical and ecological functionality of the coastline. Although the current economic crisis has caused a sharp reduction in the rate of urbanization and construction of the coastline, there is a significant risk that the privatization and appropriation of our coastline will be started again, since the main threat to its future is the surface requalified and already declared as developable and the realization of new and greater infrastructures that later allow colonization through urban developments.

The coast is a totally strategic resource for the country, both from an economic, social and environmental point of view. The strong pressures that gravitate on the coast have caused a significant and rapid deterioration of the ecosystems that is causing a sharp decline in natural capital and the services it provides to the community. It is also assuming a privatization of common resources that benefits only a few and is also a serious threat to the affected economic sectors (massive construction poses a serious risk to tourism).

The coastline is a resource of very complex management: it comprises some 500 municipalities, 23 provinces and 10 Autonomous Communities. The 8,000 kilometers of coastline delimit a small territorial strip, of the order of 4.25% of the country's surface (up to the first 5 km.), But which instead concentrates 30% of the population. On this strip also rest several key sectors of our economy, of which the main one is tourism (80% of the 55 million tourists who visit Spain go to the coast), but among which there are also sectors such as fishing, aquaculture, recreational use, certain types of agriculture, renewable energy, etc. If we add the existence of some valuable protected areas (such as Doñana or the Ebro delta), we are in front of one of our most valuable strategic resources.

However, in the last 20 years the pressure on this resource has increased dramatically through the massive occupation of the territory, which has advanced at a frantic pace from the Costa Brava to those of Cantabria and the Basque Country, negatively affecting physical functionality. and ecological of the coast. Indeed, with the data from the Corine Land Cover project obtained from images from 1987, 2000 and 2005, it is observed that the rate of construction on the coast in the first two kilometers of coastline multiplied by4 between the period 1987-2000 and the period 2000-2005, going from an artificial surface growth of 1,520 ha. per year in the first case (excluding the Canary Islands) to one of 6,152 ha. annually in the following period. The average between 1987 and 2005 was 2,800 ha. annually, or what is the same, a rate of 8 ha / day transformed.

To analyze this type of process, what is known as a pressure-state-response model is usually used, proposed by the OECD and the EEA (European Environment Agency) and which allows to detail and take into account the main driving forces, the impacts - irreversible in many cases - the pressures, the role of the State and the responses of administrations and civil society. Starting from basic indicators for the coastal strip, such as the increase in artificial surface or the loss or gain of key ecosystems, the responses and strategies carried out by the different levels of the administration are analyzed.

Thus, it can be seen how the coastal occupation model has been characterized by five phases, linked to the cycle of urban development on the coast:

- exploration

- creation of infrastructures

- expansion

- intensification

- ripening and saturation,

where public policies such as the realization of high-capacity infrastructures, the fitting out of new low-cost airports or large commercial areas, or the declaration of protected areas have played a key role in shaping the space in a large part of the Mediterranean (in communities such as Catalonia or the Valencian Community, the artificial surface in the first two kilometers of coastline already reaches almost 40% of the total, while between 1987 and 2005 there are provinces such as Huelva or Valencia that have more than doubled their artificial surface along those first two kilometers).

The mechanism by which this situation has been reached and which continues to threaten an important part of the Spanish coastline is clear: increased pressure from construction, increased tourist pressure, degradation of environmental heritage and quality of life and finally abandonment of the tourism in other better preserved environments. Some municipalities have multiplied the number of dwellings by 10 or by 100 without the necessary existing public services (nurseries, hospitals, leisure centers) but also without wastewater treatment plants, adequate waste management, etc., a situation that has generated urbanizations that most of the year they end up being empty.

And the only alternative developed so far is also known: construction control under reasonable parameters, maintenance of environmental resources and quality of life also under reasonable standards, seeking the consequent maintenance of tourism and traditional production processes (such as Fishing).

The lack of planning, transparency and accountability has therefore been the main danger to the sustainability of this fragile ecosystem. And while it is true that we can find examples of good practices in some Autonomous Communities, Island Councils and municipalities, it is evident that most of them have evolved towards less sustainable guidelines.

To these facts must be added, in a foreseeable scenario of climate change, the processes of "stiffening" of the Mediterranean and "Mediterraneanization" of the Cantabrian Sea, which can endanger important urbanized areas in areas with water scarcity, as well as risks in urbanizations near the sea produced by a rise in sea level and the change in coastal dynamics. It will therefore be necessary to study area by area what the expected impacts may be.

Grim future prospects

Although the current economic crisis has led to a sharp reduction in the pace of urbanization and construction of the coastline, there is a significant risk that the economic recovery process itself, as it has been conceived, will re-launch a mechanism of privatization and appropriation of our coast, since the main threat to its future is the requalified area and already declared as developable (although it is not urbanized) and the realization of new and greater infrastructures - almost always public - that later allow colonization through urban developments.

If, as a simulation exercise, the cementing rates of the coast mentioned at the beginning of this article are projected into the future, it is observed that after only 104 years it will be the entire Mediterranean coast that will already be 100% built, scenario which will reach the South Atlantic coast after 184 years and the Atlantic-Cantabrian coast after 457.

The danger of these rapid increases in the artificial surface, which imply an excess of the carrying capacity at numerous specific points, also has a very clear materialization in terms of the loss of the functions and services that these ecosystems produce. It is a direct threat to the future sustainability of our environment: to social sustainability (with the disconnection and lack of public services in urbanizations that come out of nowhere), economic (depletion and destruction of a finite resource within the period of a few generations, the tourism sector faced and eventually expelled by the construction sector) and environmental (changes in coastal dynamics, “stiffening” of the coast, loss of biodiversity, etc.).

Spain still has one of the most diverse and exceptionally valuable coasts in Europe. The potential for the use of natural resources, biodiversity, the development of economic sectors itself and also the quality of life of current and future generations are determined by the scope and modes of this occupation of the coastline, more than enough reasons to burden ourselves with the responsibility of carrying out a rational and intelligent management. Such management would imply a consideration of the resource as public, a coordination of the different administrative levels, an integration of policies that affect the coastline, an increase in protected areas (both on land and sea), a limitation of areas to be built and, in definitively, a vision based on sustainability that would consider the coastline not as a resource to be exploited but not renewable, but as a resource that must be conserved for future generations under certain criteria of functionality, diversity and justice.

Fernando Prieto del Campo He is a professor of Ecology at the University of Alcalá and a scientific advisor to SOS Paisajes de Mar.

Xavier Fontcuberta Estrada He has a degree in Economics from the University of Barcelona, ​​an expert in public policy evaluation and a member of the Basic Income Network., October 25, 2009

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