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Spain Climate Resilience Policy Indicator

Part of Climate Resilience Policy Indicator

  • Average annual temperatures increased in the Iberian Peninsula in the past five decades, extending the length of summer and the number of heatwave days. The temperature is projected to continue rising, more quickly in the summer than in other seasons, and more markedly in inland regions than in coastal areas. Warming is expected to raise electricity demand for air conditioning while reducing gas demand for heating.
  • National average precipitation is projected to decrease throughout the 21st century, with more frequent and longer droughts and less runoff. While lower precipitation and runoff may put stress on hydropower and thermal power plants, less cloud cover could allow greater solar power generation. At the same time, declining annual average precipitation does not necessarily mean fewer extreme precipitation events. Some areas of Spain could still experience an increase in torrential rains and floods.
  • Spain’s national climate and energy plans emphasise the importance of climate change adaptation and resilience in the energy sector, and they also propose detailed actions to enhance climate resilience. The second National Climate Change Adaptation Plan has a section dedicated to energy, with a robust action plan based on lessons learned from implementing and evaluating the first National Adaptation Plan. The integrated National Energy and Climate Plan and the Long-Term Strategy for a Modern, Competitive and Climate-Neutral Economy by 2050 also underscore climate resilience and suggest concrete actions. These plans are closely linked under Spain’s Strategic Energy and Climate Framework.

Level of floods, drought and tropical cyclones in Spain, 2000-2020

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Level of warming in Spain, 2000-2020

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Temperature

Spain’s average annual temperature increased by around 1.5°C in the past 50 years. Average warming in the past two decades (0.0279°C per year) was slightly lower than the world average (0.0313°C per year), and the rate of temperature increase in the past 50 years was stronger for maximum temperatures than for minimums.

Seasonally, temperatures in the summer have risen more quickly than in the rest of the year. Summers have also become almost five weeks longer than in the 1980s, and the number of hot nights (above 25°C) in Spain’s ten regional capitals has multiplied by 10 since 1984. Meanwhile, the number of heatwave days in peninsular Spain has doubled since 1984, with the month of June having 10 times more heatwave days than in the 1980s and 1990s.

Minimum and maximum temperatures are projected to increase, with some seasonal differences. The increase is expected to be more rapid in the summer and autumn than in the other seasons, and the rise in average summer temperatures will be more evident inland than in the coastal areas. The number of hot days is also projected to increase by up to 50%1 by the end of the century (compared with the 1971-2000 baseline). In addition, heatwaves are expected to increase in length, particularly in Murcia and in the Balearic and Canary Islands.

Higher average temperatures reduce the number of heating degree days (HDDs) and raise the number of cooling degree days (CDDs). The country’s first climate risk assessment, the Preliminary General Assessment of the Impacts in Spain due to the Effects of Climate Change, states that electricity demand is consequently expected to increase, driven by higher air conditioner use, while natural gas consumption will fall owing to lower heating demand.

Temperature in Spain, 2000-2020

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Cooling degree days in Spain, 2000-2020

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Heating degree days in Spain, 2000-2020

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Precipitation

Precipitation patterns are heavily influenced by the North Atlantic Oscillation, which creates considerable geographical and seasonal variations. Regarding geographical differences, precipitation levels have decreased slightly on the Atlantic coast but no significant trends have been identified for the Mediterranean basin or the Balearic Islands. Seasonally, winter precipitation in February and March has been declining inland and in the southwestern part of the peninsula, while annual precipitation amounts are becoming more stable on the Mediterranean coast.

National average precipitation overall is projected to decrease throughout the 21st century, with a significant reduction in southwestern Spain and in the islands. Drought frequency and length are therefore projected to increase, while average river flow and ground water recharge are expected to decline.

Lower precipitation and runoff could affect Spain’s energy system. For instance, droughts could reduce hydropower generation, as happened already in 2016-2017 when a severe drought in Western Europe curtailed Spanish hydropower output by as much as 50%, pushing electricity prices to an all-time high and raising greenhouse gas emissions, as fossil fuel-fired generators compensated for the lost hydropower.

On the other hand, the projected increase in solar irradiance (mainly owing to less cloud cover) could boost solar electricity production, although higher temperatures can also reduce solar panel efficiency. According to Spain’s seventh UNFCCC communication, lower efficiency but also less cloud cover could result in 5% greater overall solar PV electricity production between 2006 and 2049.

Rising temperatures and reduced water availability may pose challenges for the energy sector. According to Spain’s first risk assessment report, the combination of stronger summer electricity demand for air conditioning and reduced hydropower generation may put stress on the electricity system. Furthermore, lower water availability and higher temperatures could hinder the cooling of thermal and nuclear power plants.

Nevertheless, declining average annual average precipitation does not necessarily mean fewer extreme precipitation events. Some areas of Spain are still projected to experience an increase in torrential rains and flooding

Tropical cyclones and storms2

Although Spain is rarely exposed to tropical cyclones, it is occasionally affected by storms. For instance, a winter storm in January 2020 left roughly 200 000 people without electricity. Climate forecasts project no significant changes in extreme winds in Spain.

National climate and energy plans under the Strategic Framework on Energy and Climate of Spain emphasise energy sector adaptation and resilience, stressing the importance of climate risks and impacts and offering actions to reinforce climate resilience. The Strategic Framework covers a series of policy instruments, including the National Climate Change Adaptation Plan, the Climate Change and Energy Transition Law, the Long-Term Strategy for a Modern, Competitive and Climate-Neutral Economy by 2050, the integrated National Energy and Climate Plan (NECP 2021-2030) and the Just Transition Strategy (for shutting down thermal power plants).

The current National Climate Change Adaptation Plan 2021-2030, published in 2020, has a section dedicated to the energy sector with four lines of action: incorporating considerations of climate impacts on primary energy supply into energy planning and management; preventing climate impacts on electricity generation; preventing climate impacts on transport, storage and distribution of energy; and managing electricity demand changes associated with climate change. It describes proposed actions in detail, and provides information on responsible bodies, performance indicators (e.g. climate-related power outages), sources of funding and regulatory instruments.

The National Climate Change Adaptation Plan 2021-2030 is based on lessons learned from previous efforts to adapt to climate change and build energy sector resilience, as well as on the latest knowledge about climate change and international commitments. The first National Adaptation Plan 2006-2020, published in 2006, already had a section on industry and energy, and suggested actions for climate change adaptation based on the 2005 Preliminary General Assessment.

The Preliminary Assessment analysed climate change impacts on electricity, oil, coal, natural gas and the non-electrical use of renewable energy sources, with each of these sections further divided into generation, transmission and distribution, and demand.

Implementation of the first National Adaptation Plan was tracked and evaluated through a series of monitoring reports. For instance, the fourth monitoring report (2018) analyses in detail the influence of climate change on energy supply and demand. It also contains examples of adaptation actions in two categories, as well as engineering measures (e.g. design more robust infrastructure) and non-engineering procedures (e.g. improve the weather forecasting system) covering the entire energy value chain.

Spain’s national energy policies also highlight the importance of energy system climate resilience. NECP 2021-2030, released in January 2020, introduces measures for climate resilience in the energy sector and highlights links between energy sector resilience and climate change adaptation in other sectors, such as water, transport infrastructure, forestry, and coastal and marine environments. Furthermore, it explains how mitigation measures in the energy sector could also advance adaptation. For instance, actions to curb medium- and long-term energy demand could be beneficial in terms of adaptation by reducing energy requirements.

The Long-Term Strategy for a Modern, Competitive and Climate-Neutral Economy by 2050, published in November 2020, also includes measures for energy sector climate change adaptation and resilience. It suggests integrating projections of climate change impacts on renewable energy production potential into energy planning; identifying vulnerable infrastructure and promoting adaptation programmes; developing specific risk assessment tools; developing adaptation standards for new infrastructure; and analysing climate change-induced changes in electricity demand and incorporating the results into energy planning.

In addition to the NECP and the Long-Term Strategy, the Just Transition Strategy for Thermal Power Plants Being Shut Down, published in November 2020, also prioritises climate change adaptation. Furthermore, the Climate Change and Energy Transition Law includes climate change adaptation among its objectives for the first time, and underlines the importance of having a National Climate Change Adaptation Plan.

Actions proposed in Spain’s national climate and energy plans are supported by diverse stakeholders. At the local level, the Spanish Cities Network for Climate, a voluntary association of municipalities, supports climate action development and promotion through the establishment of adaptation strategies and plans. Meanwhile, the Spanish Climate Change Office (OECC) assisted with the 2015 publication of guidelines for preparing local climate change adaptation plans (Vol. I and Vol. II).

The OECC has also developed a tool for exchanging information on climate change impacts, vulnerability and adaptation, facilitating communication among all experts, organisations, institutions and active agents at all levels in this field. This tool has been integrated into the AdapteCCa adaptation platform.

References
  1. with a high greenhouse gas concentration (RCP 8.5)

  2. Storm indicates any disturbed state of the atmosphere, strongly implying destructive and unpleasant weather. Storms range in scale. Tropical cyclone is the general term for a strong, cyclonic-scale disturbance that originates over tropical oceans. In this article, we used these general terms, tropical cyclones and storms, but those can be divided into different categories in detail. A tropical storm is a tropical cyclone with one-minute average surface winds between 18 and 32 m/s. Beyond 32 m/s, a tropical cyclone is called hurricane, typhoon, or cyclone depending on the geographic location. Hurricanes refer to the high intensity cyclones that form in the south Atlantic, central North Pacific, and eastern North Pacific; typhoons in the northwest Pacific; and the more general term cyclone in the South Pacific and Indian ocean.