The Government of the Canary Islands will celebrate World Environment Day for the first time today, one of the guidelines and bets that has been marked in its roadmap in this mandate. The Minister of Ecological Transition, Fight against Climate Change and Territorial Planning of the Government of the Canary Islands, José Antonio Valbuena, continues to make progress in policies regarding adaptation to climate change in the Archipelago and seeks support from Madrid to advance in the definition of a strategy for European recovery funds for the energy transition.
-What does this World Environment Day mean?
“This is the first year that we will be able to celebrate World Environment Day from this Government in the Canary Islands, because last year we had the pandemic and it could not be done, and we want to take advantage of it, first of all, to continue raising awareness in society, doing a summary of how the objectives that we set at the beginning of our mandate are going, and we also want to take advantage, with a certain delay due to COVID, of the network of Canarian offices, and dedicate this day to raising awareness on climate action within the Canary Islands. It must be remembered that the Islands are more fragile with respect to the effects of climate change and, for this reason, they must have a treatment that is unique due to their great biodiversity and the fragility of the territory ”.
-What steps are being taken by the Ministry of Ecological Transition, Fight against Climate Change and Territorial Planning to sensitize society about the importance of preserving the environment?
“We want the next generations to be able to see that, thanks to what we do now, in a few years the effects of climate change will begin to reverse. First of all, no one denies that climate change is a reality. Secondly, nobody denies that the Canary Islands have a different vulnerability than a continental territory, since the islands are, as I say, more fragile, and any stratum of Canarian society is aware of the two previous variables. The third variable is that everyone knows that we have to do something, change some habits and, therefore, I believe that we have the necessary broth so that the entire regulatory ecosystem that we are developing can move forward. For this reason, it has been shown that the Canary Islands Climate Change Law has been the text that has received the most participation from all the regulations that the Government has developed, and that is the result of the fact that people want to participate in the design of our future and assume that some sacrifices are necessary that will translate into behavior changes, because he is aware that the positive results will far outweigh the sacrifices that will be requested. From that point of view, it is an element that helps us to quickly process the regulatory ecosystem made up of the Canary Islands Law on Climate Change, the Biodiversity Law and the Circular Economy Law; we hope to be able to put the first one in Parliament during June or July ”.
-We know that the enormous biodiversity that the Canary Islands has is a great heritage value, but there is still a lot of work to be done in conservation and awareness.
“We are working on the Biodiversity Law, because we must remember that the Canary Islands are home to 40% of the endemic species in Europe and, therefore, we have a huge responsibility to protect them. We are already carrying out recovery plans and the budget in the area of ​​biodiversity has grown considerably. It is one of our main concerns regarding protection and, therefore, we have to do work on several lines. First, protect what we have; secondly, to recover the environments that we have degraded from the point of view of biodiversity, and, thirdly, to protect ourselves from invasive species that have a harmful effect on the Canary Islands ”.
-The Administration has to set an example. Work is being done on using European recovery funds so that the roofs of public centers – schools, hospitals, sports centers, etc. – become photovoltaic energy-capturing platforms for self-consumption.
“In the end we have to go, and even more so in the Canary Islands, where we have a significant space problem, to be self-sufficient from the point of view of electric self-generation. That the debate is not when I put the washing machine, and there, the public administrations have to be exemplary and take a step forward. For that we want to take advantage of European funds, since there is a part that is already committed, but obviously we have to demonstrate, the administrations, that we are capable of managing those funds. We can do it because they are not excessively complex investments and from there extend those benefits to citizens – which will mean those savings that will have an impact on the administrations, which will force them to translate it into aid for domestic self-consumption and will multiply the investment by two. That is the great goal we are setting ”.
-Another of the fundamental legs of these strategies are families. With the vulnerability indices in the Islands, are you concerned that energy poverty will be generated among the most disadvantaged families, seeing how the electricity bill or the price of sustainable vehicles is increasing? Are aid being proposed to the most precarious homes to face these changes that the administrations force them to do?
“The democratization of energy is the great objective of the Canarian Executive, and a boost would be through domestic photovoltaic self-consumption or in residential environments. The Canarian reality from the social point of view is what it is, we are at the head of Spain in poverty levels. It is what hurts us the most and that supposes an extra implication on the part of the administrations. We understand and assume in the matter of energy self-sufficiency that we must extend a policy of aid for the placement of solar panels, different from those that may be specified in the peninsular territory. As in the promotion of the electric vehicle, the policies of the Moves Plan that are also to promote this automobile industry, but it must be recognized that a large part of the population will not be able to acquire an electric vehicle even with these aid. Therefore, we have to design specific lines of support for electric mobility, which we know will be the mobility of the future, for the people who have the most problems acquiring vehicles, because, if this is not the case, they will be designing policies that Let those who can economically have an electric car and those who cannot use the bus or the tram, and that is not the model we want for the Canary Islands. The just transition means that the public administrations deploy a set of tools and instruments that overcome those important socio-economic barriers that exist in the Islands, otherwise we would be failing ”.
-And, in the case of the companies and economic sectors of the Canary Islands, there is an important challenge ahead and that is to lay the foundations of the roadmap set towards the decarbonization of the economy of the Archipelago in 2040.
“The energy communities for self-consumption also have to take into account the industrial estates, very focused on the Canarian territory and the tourism sector. We understand that it is possible to move towards the decarbonization of the Archipelago in 2040, since our pattern of electrical behavior is different from that of the peninsular territory, and there are elements such as heating and other factors within the industrial sector that we simply do not have in the Canary Islands and we can address ” .
-How can we channel sectors such as tourism, on which we are highly dependent, to generate new models of sustainability?
“The tourism sector is highly aware of decarbonizing its industry and, therefore, is asking for support and accompaniment from the Administration. The problem is not to raise awareness, because they are, and in some respects much more than the administrations themselves. We have to accompany them in a powerful and important way, in this energy transition that we are addressing. It must be assumed that the Canary Islands depend on tourism for 12 months of the year and the aim is to accompany them towards the generation of a sustainable tourism model. Today, no other sector with a potential strength other than tourism can be considered, we do not have the bases or the sustenance for other sectors to contribute to GDP, or in terms of employment, such as tourism and, above all, because people will continue to demand travel and we will receive visitors. We must accompany a sector that wants to be an active protagonist in the ecological and energy transition ”.
-Canarias and Baleares maintain a close working relationship seeking common synergies as island territories.
“Both the Canary Islands and the Balearic Islands share strategies in terms of climate action, since we are fragile territories, not only because of the protected areas, but because we are very dependent on tourism. We have important weaknesses and needs and an energy dependence on the outside. We share problems in climate action and the study of energy planning strategies, where the penetration of renewables in our territories must be resolved, which must have a clear component in the commitment to generating self-consumption. Another common strategy is how to adapt to a perverse effect that climate change has and that is the reduction of coastal areas. Between now and the end of the century, the sea level will rise between 75 centimeters and one meter and that will mean that a good part of our beaches and coasts will be submerged. We will have to adapt as best as possible to that reality that will occur ”.
-Canarias in the Atlantic and the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean. Two complementary visions?
“We share the protection of our natural spaces, which have more importance and value. We are two fragile territories and, upon perceiving the harmful effects of climate change, we share experiences and possible solutions. The Balearic Islands were fortunate to have in the previous legislature a government that was aware of climate change and approved its Climate Change Law. In the Canary Islands we have, therefore, a legislature of delay. It must be recognized that in the text of the Canary Islands Law on Climate Change we took into account the Balearic Islands. The Canary Islands are geographically located on the African mainland, in the Atlantic Ocean, and we have the responsibility to protect our waters and territories as a global biodiversity hotspot, hosting 40% of Europe’s endemisms. The Balearic Islands have the peculiarity that the Mediterranean is the focus of climate change and has to be very ambitious in climate adaptation policies in the marine ecosystem ”.

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