In the darkest night of the soul it is always three in the morning. But there is also room for hope and it has a color: intense green. Where good news and challenges for the climate mix. Finance, technology, rehabilitation, self-consumption, sustainable infrastructure, European funds. They are all part of the answers to the puzzle of the climate emergency.
This is the central narrative of Ecosystem Now, organized by EL PAÍS, with the support of Santander, the sponsorship of EY, Ferrovial, Redeia, Familia Torres and Veolia; and with the collaboration of COAM and Felicidad Collective.
In 2021, greenhouse gas emissions increased by 5.1% in Spain, the same growth as the national GDP. However, as an accurate surveyor, it also depends on what scales are taken. If we go back to 2019 we see that emissions have fallen by 8.1%. Which means that the roadmap continues in search of its particular north. Valvanera Ulargui, general director of the Spanish Office for Climate Change, is oriented towards optimism. “That rise responds to the economic recovery,” she maintains. But climate change is a problem that concerns the planet. The United States has gone back on its commitments and the European Union has qualified (taxonomy, in scientific terms) nuclear energy and gas as green energies. “It is bad news. The Spanish Administration has positioned itself against it from the beginning”, says Ulargui. Although the road continues. The war in Ukraine has shown the urgency of energy independence from Russian hydrocarbons. It is within the human being to seek solutions in a world that is changing geopolitically, where what was taken for granted must be placed in parentheses and a generation, especially the young, demands answers.
And that echo reaches an industry that draws the line between sincere commitment and what is a certain imposture. The three big American banks asked their shareholders if they were willing to abandon hydrocarbons for sustainable energy. Only 11% were in favor of the change. And the largest manager in the world, the American BlackRock, doubts the effectiveness of investing in ESG (environmental, social and governance) assets. This is the reality? No. It is a reduced and short-term vision. Let’s listen. Federico Gómez Sánchez, Director of Sustainable Finance at Santander, talks about the relationship between space and speed: time. “We believe that gas is a transition energy, even if it is not green.” But you have to look at the horizon. Some parameters need to be clarified. “Knowing what is green, showing transparency and being accountable: measuring the impact”, says the executive.
Of course, finance is built on numbers, and investors flock to this space. There is no specific profile. It ranges from individuals (green mortgages, for example) to large companies. SMEs are missed. However, they will come. As long as sincerity is one of the basic assets. Alberto Castilla, partner responsible for the Sustainability area of EY Spain, faces the word greenwashing. Or what is the same, pretend to be responsible. “Situations of fraud are taking place that have a legal responsibility.” But this would be the end of the tape measure. “The fundamental thing is to comply”. And you have to look at the long term. Nothing will be immediate. The expert proposes a comparison that uses the past tense. Books were invented 7,000 years ago, not to write poems but as accounting pages. “They were elements of the memory and we, now, are creating those norms; that taxonomy”, reflects Castilla.
Next to the space of the great numbers, square, as the poet would say, to the man. Mónica Rodríguez and Jonathan Zarzalejo are part of emerging companies that touch the soul of sustainability. Monica has founded a year ago Recovo.co, a firm that connects fashion companies to dispose of and take advantage of their textile surpluses with the purpose of promoting circularity, in a sector that consumes enormous amounts of energy and water. “Our way of financing ourselves is to charge a commission to the selling brands,” he explains. On the other side of the dialogue, Jonathan is the global director of marketing operations for To Good To Go, an application that reaches 15 countries in Europe and that intermediates between companies or restaurants with leftover food and consumers “in exchange for a small payment,” he stresses.
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These cases move in the now, when will renewable energies arrive? The life preserver thrown into the sea to rescue the castaway. “In Spain the cheapest way to generate energy is photovoltaic solar, so the most profitable investment is self-consumption,” defends Pedro Fresco, general director of Ecological Transition of the Generalitat Valenciana. It is the beginning. Although you have to be more ambitious. “The legislation should go further and favor self-consumption more deeply,” describes Paco Valverde, head of Renewables at Menta Energía. Also support hydrogen and biogas, which should, according to experts, be a country objective. There is a maxim: you cannot depend on fossil fuels with nations that could pose a geopolitical problem. And the Spanish landscape is going to change in the next 30 years mixing solar panels and wind turbines. Memory and sustainability.
Renewables gain sun and wind. And the integration of the energies in the system is carried out by Redeia. Incorporating almost a dozen different energies is not easy. Neither overcome the historical energy isolation of the country. The connection with France through the Bay of Biscay is underway. In 2027, the interconnection capacity with France should increase from 3% to 5%. Although five points are still missing, through other links, which Europe requires. “But it is an urgency,” says its president, Beatriz Corredor. There is homework to do. “The European pricing system is inefficient because it is not adapted to the new energy mix.” However, proposals such as the Iberian exception, after three weeks in progress, “is already producing savings on the bill”.
Behind all this lies technology. And digitization is the force that drives the green stem. The famous European funds are a hopscotch of change. 30% of the funds go to digital transformation and 40% to ecological change. “If you add both percentages, you see that the goal is a new economic and productive paradigm for the country,” observes Carme Artigas, Secretary of State for Digitization and Artificial Intelligence of the Government of Spain. Although a landscape survives in the background. “We need another infrastructure: talent,” she says.
For now the money comes from Europe. A lever of change with infinite promises, which affects both large and small companies. “SMEs are the true survivors of the economy and they are ready for the green revolution”, condenses Joaquín Pérez Novo, director of Industrial Business Development and Renewable Gas Projects at Agbar, part of the Veolia group. And he adds: “It is the Administration that must support them.” They are the present and the future. 99% of the economic fabric. Meanwhile, in the most immediate, he defends the incorporation of the “circular economy in the eco-design of products”.
It is an environmental and cost saving. Back to the money, Valentín Alfaya, Director of Sustainability at Ferrovial, reveals that “there is a fierce appetite for green assets”. A starting point also towards a concept of a city that needs large-scale rehabilitation. “It’s complicated but it depends on resources and capabilities,” he points out. Arcadia is making infrastructures and biodiversity compatible.
And those are the lands that Thelma Krug, vice president of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, according to its acronym in English), walks. They have published the sixth version of the report on it. Something they have been doing since 1990. The headline is an editorial. “The main conclusion is the unequivocal influence of man on global warming.” And a future that will bring more and more extreme climatic events and, also, more unequal. “Events will not be distributed in the same way on the planet. The least resilient systems will be the most impacted, and it will disproportionately affect women.”
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