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Sound and independent information
on the environment


Air pollution (Spain)

Why should we care about this issue

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 23 Nov 2010

Over three-quarters of Spain's population lives in urban environments and a significant proportion is intermittently exposed to high concentrations of pollutants. As a result, there is growing public interest in and demand for information about air quality.

 Air pollution is harmful to health and contributes to respiratory and cardiac diseases, which in turn are particularly harmful to vulnerable groups (people with respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, pregnant women, the elderly and children). It also has a negative impact on natural ecosystems, agriculture and the built environment (buildings and cultural heritage).

In Spain, the principal pollutants are particulate matter (concentration increases naturally with African dust outbreaks), tropospheric ozone (caused by precursor emissions and affects peripheral areas far away from the source of emission) and nitrogen dioxide. Environmental noise is also a major air pollutant in Spain and the principal cause in urban environments is traffic.

The state and impacts

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 08 Apr 2011

Assessment of air quality in Spain by zone

Air quality assessment is prescribed by European legislation and has been progressively transposed into Spanish law. Analysis of the 2008 assessment based on data obtained from the main regional air pollution-monitoring networks can be obtained on detail from the report “Spain's Natural, Rural and Marine Environment 2009”, and could be highlighted the following:

  • NO2 (137 air quality zones): 126 zones recorded values below the annual limit value and 133 recorded values below the hourly limit value.
  • PM10 (138 air quality zones): 131 zones recorded values below the annual limit value and 95 recorded values below the daily limit value.
  • O3 (136 air quality zones): 24 zones recorded values below the long-term target value for the protection of human health and 29 zones recorded values below the target value for the protection of vegetation.


It is worth emphasising the following:

  • Areas affected by SO2 have decreased over the years and problems now only persist in specific zones.
  • Although the limit and target values for NO2, PM10 and tropospheric ozone are still exceeded, this only occurs with NO2 in Spain's big metropolitan centres. Moreover, in 2008, levels of PM10 concentration fell.
  • Significant advances have been made in modelling to ensure that zones are not left unassessed.


Air quality in the urban environment in towns and cities with over 50,000 inhabitants

Since 2000, the population-weighted mean number of hours during which the 1-hour mean concentration of NO2 is above 200 µg/m3 has been below the limit value set by the legislation for 2010. Moreover, the weighted annual mean concentration has been below the limit value of 40 µg/m3 since 2006.

For particulate matter smaller than 10 µm, in 2009 the population-weighted mean number of days per year in which the daily mean concentration was over 50 µg/m3 was below the 35-day limit in force since 2005. Furthermore, the mean annual figure for PM10 is even more favourable and has not exceeded the limit value set for 2005 since 2002.

The population-weighted mean number of days per year in which concentration levels exceeded the maximum daily eight-hour running average of 120 µg/m3 for urban ozone is well below the target value for 2010.

Air quality

Regional background air quality for the protection of health and vegetation

The Background Air Pollution Monitoring Network reports on air quality in areas not directly affected by sources of pollution. The Spanish network began operating in 1983 as an EMEP/CAMP network set up to ensure compliance with their commitments. From 2006 onwards, management was combined with the GAW (Global Atmosphere Watch), which resulted in creation of the current 13-station EMEP/CAMP/GAW network.

The 'Environmental Profile of Spain' summarises data available from stations belonging to the EMEP network and portrays the general state of regional background air quality based on the mean, minimum and maximum concentrations recorded at the stations each year. Analysis reveals that only ozone levels exceed the target value for the protection of human health and vegetation, though this did decrease in 2008.


Environmental noise

In conformance with Law 37/2003, of 17 November 2003, on Noise, which transposes Directive 2002/49/EC of 25 June into Spanish law, Strategic Noise Maps (SNM) have been drawn up and approved for Spain's state-owned road network and its large-scale rail and airport infrastructure.

The SNM produced in the first phase of implementation of the Directive indicated that a total of 8,130,800 people living in large urban conurbations were affected by noise from road and rail traffic, airports and industrial facilities.

Outside these conurbations, the number of people affected by major roads stood at 2,116,100, while those affected by major railways totalled 81,800 and the number affected by major airports reached 143,700.

SNMs were drawn up for roads carrying over 6 million vehicles per year, for railways carrying over 60 000 trains per year and for airports recording over 50 000 arrivals and departures per year.




The key drivers and pressures

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 08 Apr 2011

Socio-economic and industrial development

Spain's population has risen rapidly in recent years to reach a total of 46,745,807 inhabitants in 2009. Over the period 2000-2009, the population increased by 15.4 %. On the other hand, there has been a country's sustained GDP growth (EUR 1,053,914 million in 2009, though the rate growth has slowed since 2006. Between 1995 and 2009 alone, Spain's net GDP rose by 135.7 % (current prices). Both exert pressure on air quality.

Primary energy consumption increased continually until 2007. However, in 2008 it dropped to 137,836 Ktoe, 3.6 % below the 2007 level and in 2009 was 130,508 ktoe, with a decline of 8.3% over 2008,

Use of coal, oil and nuclear power to generate electricity all fell, while that of natural gas rose. Renewable energy use remained stable at around 20 %.

Since 1990, internal passenger traffic has increased by 94.4 %. Although growth rates have slowed in recent years, 2008 was the first year to show a slight drop in the previous 12-month period. As regards inter-urban freight traffic, the volume grew over the same period by 86.5 %, though it fell by 7.7 % in the last year recorded.

The modal split of transport in 2008 underlines the continuing high demand for road transport in Spain. This mode accounts for almost 90 % of passenger transport and 86 % of freight transport. Another noteworthy change was that rail accounted for a larger share of passenger transport than air transport.

Transport modal split 2008


Emissions of air pollutants

In 2008, GHG emissions totalled 405 740 kt of CO2-eq, an amount equal to a 40 % increase on the Kyoto Protocol base-year figure (289,773 kt of CO2-eq). However, emissions in 2008 were 7.5 % below the level in 2007. The progress for 2009 envisages a further reduction of emissions with a final increase of only 28.5 % from the Kyoto base year.

The pollutant split reveals that in 2008, CO2 accounted for 83.2 % of total emissions. It was followed in terms of volume by CH4 with 8.9 % and N2O with 6.2 %. Fluorinated gases contributed just 1.7 % of the total.

The breakdown by sector shows that energy processing (including transport) generated the majority of these emissions, with the next-biggest producers being agriculture, industrial processes, waste treatment and disposal, and solvent use.

GHG emission


Over the period 1990–2008, aggregate emissions of acidifying and eutrophying substances fell by 44.7 %. The decrease was particularly pronounced between 2007 and 2008, when emissions plummeted by 29.1 %. For their part, aggregate tropospheric ozone precursor gas emissions dropped by 40.7 % over the same period, with the principal decrease occurring in 2008 (34.0 %).

Acidifying and Eutrophying


Analysis by gas type over the same period reveals notable reductions in emissions of SO2 (75.6 %), NMVOCs (60.3 %), CO (49.0 %) and NOx (10.3 %). Only NH3 and CH4 emissions increased (11.4 % and 33.5 %, respectively).

Emissions Acidifying and Eutrophying


Over the period 2000–2008, particulate matter emissions fell by 6.3 % for PM10 and by 1.4 % for PM2.5. This was due largely to the major reductions in the final year (8.7 % for PM10 and 6.8 % for PM2.5).

Particulate matter emissions

The 2020 outlook

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 08 Apr 2011

The table below summarises the principal results of greenhouse gas emission projections and shows how far Spain is from achieving its Kyoto Protocol targets. It presents three different emission projection scenarios — baseline (without measures), base (with measures) and target (with additional measures). Compliance with the second scenario and the emission data estimated for 2008 indicate Spain will meet its Kyoto commitments.

GHG projections table

The national emission projections built up on emission inventory 1990-2007 have been provisionally updated (please note this provisional update does not constitute a new official edition) taking into account the methodological improvements incorporated into emission inventory 1990-2008. According to this update, expected 2008–2012 average annual emissions are 32.81% above the base year of KP.

GHG Projections

In Spain, the national emission ceilings established by Directive 2001/81/EC for 2010 are set at 847 kt of NOx, 662 kt of NMVOCs, 746 kt of SOx and 353 kt of NH3. The following table summarises the emission projections for air pollutants according to the National Emissions Ceiling Directive and compares the emission projections in each of the three scenarios for all four pollutants.

The 'Projection of Air Pollutant Emissions in Spain. Summary', published in December 2009, provides a comprehensive analysis of the emission projections for each pollutant and of the measures proposed in each scenario. 

Pollutants projections table




Existing and planned responses

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 23 Nov 2010

Fight against climate change

The actions and initiatives implemented by the Spanish Ministry of the Environment and Rural and Marine Affairs to combat climate change are based on reducing emissions, saving energy, increasing energy efficiency and raising renewable energy's contribution whilst preserving competitiveness, jobs and economic and budgetary stability. Key elements of this policy are the National Emission Rights Allocation Plans and the Spanish Climate Change and Clean Energy Strategy. Horizon 2007–2012–2020.

'Climate Change Policies in the EU and Spain: Analysis and Perspectives. Environment Series. Number ES, January 2009' compiles all of the initiatives adopted in this regard and describes their characteristics and envisaged scope.

Measures will also be implemented by Spain's Regional Governments and will include actions identified as additional to those set out in earlier chapters.

Other measures of interest that will undoubtedly contribute to emissions reductions include the 2008–2012 Action Plan under the Energy Saving and Efficiency Strategy, the 2005–2010 Renewable Energy Plan, the Strategic Infrastructure and Transport Plan and the Building Code.

Emissions reductions

In 2008, the MARM approved the Second National Emissions Reduction Programme. This will be implemented through a series of sectoral action plans that fall within the scope of the Action Plan for Application of the Second National Emissions Reduction Programme in accordance with the National Emissions Ceiling Directive.

As regards air quality (including that in the urban environment), two of the principal measures are the Spanish Air Quality Strategy and Law 34/2007, on Air Quality and Protection of the Atmosphere.

Among other aspects, this latter piece of legislation makes it mandatory for Regional Governments to adopt plans and programmes to improve air quality and to comply with the air quality targets set for their territory. This also applies to towns and cities with over 100 000 inhabitants.




The country assessments are the sole responsibility of the EEA member and cooperating countries supported by the EEA through guidance, translation and editing.

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