ALL TOWNS and cities in Spain with a population of at least 50,000 inhabitants will soon be required by law to implement their own ‘Madrid Central’ in a bid to cut air pollution and slow down climate change.
President Pedro Sánchez had already proposed this in his July presidential investiture speech – when he failed to be voted in due to not securing enough support from the opposition for his minority government – but now he is officially in power thanks to a coalition deal with fellow leftists Podemos, the ‘proposal’ is set to become an ‘obligation’.
‘Madrid Central’ was set up by the capital’s former mayoress, Manuela Carmena, from Ahora Madrid, a branch of Podemos, and effectively bans traffic from the middle ‘almond’ of the city.
Emissions-free vehicles are allowed in, as well as those heading directly for a parking space, plus residents, public transport, and loading and unloading vehicles during certain times of the day.
The move was introduced after Madrid and Barcelona, among a number of other cities across the continent, were hauled before the European Commission to explain what they intended to do about their air pollution problems.
Until then, Manuela Carmena had been staging impromptu traffic restrictions within the M-30 ring road on days when pollution levels were high, some of which involved alternative-numbered registration plates – a difficult concept to police, especially where new car sales had been high during a given year and low in another, leading to a heavy bias towards one registration plate letter or another.
But ‘Madrid Central’ has proven an excellent tool for keeping the air cleaner in the metropolitan area, and also for reducing some of the country’s worst traffic jams – commuters would often describe their morning stress in the most dramatic terms, and one insurance worker told reporters she would ‘get to the point where she just wanted to set fire to her car’.
Now governed by the right-wing PP, the city’s vehicle-free zone looked set to be under threat at first, but public pressure means it has not been axed – so far.
Barcelona announced it would be following suit in 2020, with a low-emissions zone in the city centre up to 20 times the size of Madrid Central.
Although other provincial capitals in Spain have started adopting similar strategies – Pontevedra, in Galicia, has banned cars from its centre – most continue to be traffic-heavy during Spain’s four daily rush hours.
Sánchez’s environment and energy transition minister and one of his four deputy presidents, Teresa Ribera, says the government has now opted not to enforce the planned diesel car ban by the year 2040 but instead is focusing on the European Union’s requirement for member States to be carbon-neutral by the year 2050.
This means not producing any more carbon dioxide (CO2) than can be absorbed, and includes, as well as trying to cut emissions, planting more trees to swallow up CO2 and generate more oxygen.
Also, Spain wants to reduce its CO2 emissions by one tonne for every three by the year 2030, and for all cars on the road by the year 2050 to be emissions-free.
Sra Ribera says no new financial benefits will be given to any producers of fossil fuel, in line with the G20 Summit’s objectives in 2009, ‘except where this is justifiable on social grounds’.
Minister for the treasury and government spokeswoman María Teresa Montero says her department has been working with others, including that of Ribera, for months, on creating financial incentives for companies which reduce their emissions and tax penalties for those which generate higher levels of pollution – the latter method being, according to Montero, a ‘deterrent’ rather than a ‘source of income’.
In response to growing public concern – largely fuelled by children, teenagers and young adults worldwide – about climate change, Montero wants to set up committees among the general public where they can offer their ideas, a move which has proven popular and successful in France.
Scientists have assured this week that the freak storms hitting the Mediterranean seaboard and leaving thick snow in inland areas – caused by Hurricane Gloria’s passage from west to east – are the result of the changing climate.
Air pollution, as well as directly causing the deaths of one person in every 1,000 on earth every year, is conducive to global warming since CO2 emissions trap heat within the earth’s atmosphere.