The aim of this working paper is to provide an updated analysis of the key features enshrined in climate laws that can be considered in the adoption of Spain’s upcoming Climate Change and Energy Transition Law. To do so, the analysis mainly focuses on the lessons learnt from the UK Climate Change Act of 2008 as well as from the French Energy Transition Law adopted in 2015. These features include, among others: (1) an independent advisory body, with appropriate funding to provide policy-makers with the information they need to set and implement increasingly stringent mitigation targets and locally adequate adaptation goals; (2) the use of a ratchet mechanism (eg, carbon budgets) to be set well in advance in order to counteract the effect of political cycles; (3) a Net Zero target by 2050; (4) institutional allocation of responsibilities and timelines to meet them; (5) mandatory climate-related financial disclosures to help redirect financial flows towards investments compatible with the goals of the Paris Agreement; and (6) robust citizen-engagement mechanisms and Just Transition Strategies, as climate laws require cooperation at all levels of government and acceptance by all stakeholders.

This paper moves on to analysing the climate proposals presented in Spain by two parties, the conservative Partido Popular (PP) and the far-left Unidas Podemos (UP) as well as the proposal of the previous socialist government (led by the Partido Socialista Obrero Español, PSOE) in February 2019. Based on an analysis of both the proposed draft bills and the political party representatives’ views on the climate law, the paper concludes that beyond the acrimonious political debate, a consensus on climate law could well be reached. This cross-party support could emerge even if disagreement is likely to persist on the precise instruments to achieve the decarbonisation goals, among others. On the demand side of Spain’s ‘climate law market’, this paper summarises the main findings of the 2019 Elcano Royal Institute survey on citizens and climate change. The survey asked interviewees about their support for key elements that could be included in the climate law. The results of the survey indicate, as do other surveys, a high degree of concern about climate change, the widespread belief that Spain is not doing enough to address it and significant support for core elements of a robust climate law. Unsurprisingly, caution should be exercised when designing climate policy instruments, as a significant concern-intention gap is seen when asking respondents about their willingness to pay a higher road-tax to mitigate climate change. Fulfilling Spain’s aspiration to lead the fight against climate change requires closing the gap between concern, intentions and actions. It also requires leadership, engagement, cross-party consensus and careful policy design to avoid a social backlash.

Introduction: key drivers of the low carbon and climate resilient transition

The adoption of the Paris Agreement on climate change in December 2015 has marked a substantive shift in climate change governance (eg, Falkner, 2016; Fay et al., 2015). The international community has agreed to keep the global temperature increase well below 2° Celsius and to pursue efforts to limit it even further to 1.5° above pre-industrial levels and set the goal for the global transition to net zero emissions in the second half of this century. It has also agreed to align financial flows with climate goals.

However, the emission reduction levels pledged by individual countries in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) remain well below the levels consistent with scenarios that would give us a likely chance of keeping the temperature increase below 2º (Rogelj et al., 2016; Rockström et al., 2016; and UNEP, 2016). At the same time, keeping global temperature increases below 1.5°C and avoiding reliance on future large-scale deployment of carbon dioxide removal can only be achieved if global CO2 emissions start to decline well before 2030 (IPCC, 2018).

Successful implementation of the Paris Agreement requires that the targets pledged internationally via the NDCs are fully integrated into domestic legislative and policy frameworks. It also requires a major political transformation as regards how countries approach climate action and define their ambition. In this context, domestic framework climate change legislation comes to the forefront as key means to consolidate political support for the climate agenda, to provide the framework for implementation of the NDCs and for assessing progress, as well as to enable ratchet of ambition going forward. While some progress has been made in those areas over the past several years, much work needs to be done. Many countries are looking to develop and adopt new laws, strengthen their existing laws and policies, and align them with the Paris Agreement.

Over the past two decades there has been a sustained growth in the number of climate-change laws and executive acts around the world. According to the Climate Change Laws of the World database (GRI, 2019), as at 30 November 2019 there were over 1,800 national laws and executive acts addressing aspects directly related to climate change (eg, climate strategy and targets, adaptation, mitigation, low carbon energy, agriculture and other sectors). This is an over twentyfold growth over the past 20 years,2 with a remarkable increase in developing countries in recent years (Nachmany et al., 2017). Overall, as at November 2019, 42% of entries in Climate Change Laws of the World were legislation, and the remaining 58% executive policies. In 2017 over 70% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and 76% of the population were covered either by nationally binding climate legislation or by executive climate strategies with a clearly designated coordinating body, while climate legislation alone covered 44% of emissions and 36% of the population. That year 76% of countries had a national emissions target of some sort compared with only 23% in 2012 (Lacobuta et al., 2018).

The first comprehensive climate legislation to introduce legally binding targets on GHG emissions was the UK’s Climate Change Act of 2008.3 France’s Energy Transition Law of 20154 was the first domestic law to mandate climate-related risk disclosure for asset managers. Mexico’s General Law on Climate Change of 2012 was amended in 2018 to bring it into consistency with the Paris Agreement and the NDCs, while Sweden’s Climate Change Act of 2017 includes one of the most ambitious targets integrated into a law: to reach net zero emissions by 2045. Some other examples of framework climate change laws include the climate change acts of Finland (2015), Norway (2017), Kenya (2016) and Ireland (2015). Most recently, in November 2019 New Zealand adopted a Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Bill (2019), which among other things established a target of climate neutrality by 2050 for all GHGs except biogenic methane. At the time of writing several countries are in the process of developing framework climate and energy transition laws, including Spain, South Africa and Chile, to name a few. This article considers experiences and recent developments on climate and energy transition legislation in the UK, France and Spain with the aim of providing insights for other countries.

Alina Averchenkova
Distinguished Policy Fellow, Lead, Governance and Legislation, Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, London School of Economics and Political Science | @averchenkova

Lara Lázaro-Touza
Lecturer, Cardenal Cisneros University College (affiliated to Madrid’s Complutense University) and IE School of Global and Public Affairs, Senior Analyst at the Elcano Royal Institute | @lazarotouza

1 The authors gratefully acknowledge the comments and suggestions of Gonzalo Escribano and David Howell. The usual disclaimer applies.

2 Based on data in the GRI, 2018; data retrieved 30/IX/2018.

3 ‘The Climate Change Act 2008 c 27’, 2008.

4 ‘LOI n° 2015-992 du 17 août 2015 relative à la transition énergétique pour la croissance verte, Journal Officiel du 18 août 2015’.

Sunset in Mazarrón, Murcia (Spain). Photo: Den Heslop (@flyden)