Personal tools


Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

Sound and independent information
on the environment


Country profile (Spain)

What distinguishes the country?

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 08 Apr 2011

Geography and extension. The greatest part of Spanish national territory is located in the Iberian Peninsula, at the South-Western end of Europe. It includes, besides, two archipelagos: the Canary and the Balearic Islands, other smaller islands and the cities of Ceuta and Melilla. The country’s peninsular section covers an area of 493,514 square kilometres, whereas that of the islands amounts to 12,484 square kilometres. The whole area (506,030 square kilometres) makes Spain one of the 50 largest countries in the world and the second largest in the EU-27, next to France. Spain is under the influence of two bodies of water: the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, linked by the Straits of Gibraltar. The length of the coastline can reach 10,099 kilometres, if the mouths of the rivers, up to the point where tides make themselves felt, are to be included; the total area of the waters over which Spain claims to exercise territorial or jurisdiction rights, is estimated to be in the region of between 900,000 and 1,000,000 Square kilometres. The orography is characterized by a high average altitude, for 57.7% of the territory rises more than 600 metres above sea level, which gives Spain second place among the highest countries in Europe. The arrangement of the mountain ranges, following a Wets-East general direction, with the exception of the “Sistema Ibérico” and the “Cordilleras Costeras de Cataluña”, exerts a major influence on the climate, creating, as it actually does, natural barriers preventing the wet air masses coming from the Atlantic Ocean from pushing in. The hydrological regime depends, in the main, on the precipitation pattern, abundant in autumn and in springtime, and scarce or non-existent during summertime. The hydrographic network is modified by a system of hydraulic works that regulate the river flows with a view to utilizing them, for human consumption, electricity generation and agricultural purposes.


Spain has a very wide variety of climatic conditions including the following types: oceanic, continental and Mediterranean. There exist, in addition, other climatic regions smaller in size but highly interesting nonetheless: Mediterranean mountain climate, cold steppe climate, hot steppe climate and subtropical climate. As regards temperatures, differences are huge between the inland and the periphery. In the former, the continentality factor being active, winters are cold, with average temperatures ranging from 0º to 3º C in the month of January, in contrast to hot summers with an average temperature of 24º C during the months of July and August. Conversely, the latter, especially in the Mediterranean coast, enjoys mild winters, the average temperature for January being 10º C, and standing at between 16 and 18º C for the year as a whole. Likewise, rainfall varies tremendously: the North and the North-West, being under the direct influence of the Atlantic Ocean, are remarkably wet and do not have a clearly dry season: it is called “Wet Spain”, with yearly rainfall levels above 600 mm and even reaching 2,000 mm. The rest of the Spanish territory is predominantly dry, with yearly rainfall levels below 600 mm, even though it includes some exceptionally wet areas. Semiarid Spain stretches throughout the South-East, rainfall levels standing at less that 300 mm per year, which creates a semi-desertic landscape.


Flora, fauna and protected natural areas

Spain’s huge climatic and lithological heterogeneity has helped to create a highly compartmentalized territory, which, in turn, has brought about a large variety of vegetation landscapes, from forests similar to those of Atlantic Europe up to and including sub-desertic steppe-lands and subtropical plant formations. Nowadays, the vegetation landscape of Spain has the appearance of a mosaic in which natural woodland, brushwood and herbaceous formations, along with farming and reforestation areas, are unevenly distributed throughout the territory. The vast variety of landscapes finds its main expression in a rich flora, consisting of about 26,500 taxa, 8,000 of which belong to vascular plants. Concerning the fauna, the existence is estimated of between 50,000 and 60,000 species; seven hundred and seventy of which are vertebrates (not including sea-water fishes) and the remainder, invertebrates. In either case, they amount to more than 50% of the total number of species of each group existing in the European Union. Spain has a large number of examples of endemism, especially in the Canary Islands. Out of the 6,893 animal species living in the said islands, 44% are endemic.

As far as biodiversity protection is concerned, attention must be drawn to the important effort made by Spain. In the year 2009, 27.65% of the whole of Spanish territory was under protection, either by having been declared Protected Natural Areas PNA or through its inclusion in the Natura 2000 Network. The number of PNA is 1,519, encompassing a total area (terrestrial as well as maritime) of 6,174,788 hectares. The Sites of Community Importance (SCI), both on land and on the sea, amount to 1,435, while the number of Bird Special Protection Areas (BSPA) stands at 594. In this regard, the great importance must be highlighted of numerous Spanish spots for bird migration between Africa and Europe. Such an effort for the protection of biodiversity has been acknowledged by the UNESCO MAB programme, since Spain is the third country in the world (after theUnited States and the Russian Federation) in terms of numbers of Biosphere Reserves.

Wild endangered species are more and more, and better and better, protected: species such as the brown bear, the Iberian lynx, the European mink, the capercaillie, the bearded vulture, the Spanish imperial eagle and other, are examples of emblematic vertebrates put under special protection with encouraging results as regards their preservation. Sea fauna, on the other hand, is rich and varied both in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. In 2007, a detailed account was made of 608 vertebrate taxa (107 of which are mammals) which are deemed to be under different degrees of threat (vulnerable, at risk or in critical danger).


Administrative structure

The Kingdom of Spain is a constitutional monarchy with a Parliament (Cortes Generales) consisting of two houses: the Congress of Deputies and the Senate. The basic law of the land is the 1978 Constitution, which enshrines the right to self-government of the regions and nationalities that make up the Spanish nation. Spain consists of 17 Autonomous Communities and 2 Autonomous Cities, Ceuta and Melilla, situated in the North of Africa. The system currently in force has been the result of an in-depth territorial, political and administrative reorganization of the State, which has turned Spain into one of the most decentralized countries in Europe. As laid down in the Constitution, political parties are the expression of pluralism as well as a fundamental instrument for consolidating civil rights and democracy.

Spain AA CC

From an administrative standpoint there are three levels: the Central Government, whose responsibilities reach the whole of the national territory; the Autonomic Government, the scope of whose responsibilities is limited to the territory of the individual Autonomous Community, and, finally, the Local Government, made up of the Town Councils in the municipalities; the Provincial Councils in the provinces, and the Inter-Island and Island Councils in the Canary and the Balearic Islands, respectively.


Government and political transition

In 1975, Spain went from dictatorship to democracy, when Prince Juan Carlos of Bourbon became King Juan Carlos I of Spain and assumed the role of Head of State. The Spanish transition was a model of its kind, the 1978 Constitution becoming a basic tool for the evolution of the country. The Spanish Constitution did recognize and guaranteed the right to self-government of the regions and nationalities that make up the Spanish nation, as well as the solidarity towards each other. As a result of the territorial organization of the state, the political and administrative power was redistributed among national and autonomic bodies. 

Each Autonomous Community has its own Statute of Autonomy. It is the Community’s basic institutional law and it regulates essential aspects such as the organization and operation of its Autonomic Parliament and Government, the responsibilities assumed, their administration, its singularity features and its differentiating traits, such as the language or the civil law, and its relations with the State. Such a distribution of responsibilities is based on the distinction among those responsibilities being exclusive to the State or the Autonomous Communities; those being shared between the State and the Autonomous Communities, and the concurrent responsibilities, concerning which action by the State as well as by the Autonomous Communities is possible. The conflicts of jurisdiction are settled by the Constitutional Court.

The Autonomous Communities are ruled according to a parliamentary system, their basic institutions being the Parliament, the President of the Community and the Autonomic Government. From a financial and economic standpoint, the Autonomous Communities enjoy a great autonomy in matters pertaining to management, with legal capacity to prepare and pass their own annual budgets, and to establish their own financial resources by means of taxes, rates and surcharges. The general financing system of the Autonomous Communities, which includes, besides, taxes assigned by the State and a share in State taxes, is multilaterally set by the State and the Autonomous Communities.

The Spaniards do participate in politics by the agency of their representatives, who are elected by equal, free, direct, secret and universal ballot in four types of elections: legislative, autonomic, local and European. The purpose of the legislative elections is that of choosing the members of the “Cortes Generales”, using different voting systems for the Congress (proportional adjusted system) and the Senate (majority system with open electoral lists, each voter being able to cast his/her ballot for up to three candidates belonging to different political parties)


Economic structure

Spain’s production structure has undergone substantial changes over the last few decades, evolving towards services and industry to the detriment of primary industry. This process has followed the guidelines common to developed countries, becoming more intensified after accession to the EU (1986). From that year onwards, commercial relations with foreign countries became more open; the industry underwent a greater degree of development, specialization and efficiency; exports increased and the country consolidated itself as a tourist destination. Likewise, a growing development of the construction and related industries did come about. Funds provided by the EU were a decisive driving force for this economic development, by contributing to the building of a communications network (roads and high- speed trains).

Spanish economy experienced a sharp contraction in 2009, with a GDP drop (at constant prices) of 3.6%, which represents the biggest downturn in decades. In 2008 the GDP grew only 0.9%, while between 2003 and 2007, that rate was between 3% and 4% (at constant prices) and have placed Spain on the way to a clear convergence with EU countries.

In parallel to the increase of the GDP, a redistribution of income has taken place along with an expansion of social services rendered by Government Bodies, especially in the fields of health care and education, although the investment in R&D&I is still insufficient in spite of the effort made over the last few years to bring the country closer to European levels. In 2009, the GDP reached 1,051,151 million euros (first estimation) and the income per capita (at market prices) was 22,886 € (slightly lower than in 2008).

Based on first preliminary Eurostat estimations for 2009, GDP per inhabitant in Spain, expressed in purchasing power parity, was above the EU average (Spain = 103, EU-27 = 100) and ranked the 12th position among the 27 EU states..

Another process that must be highlighted in order to enable the Spanish economy to be put on a level with that of the European Community as a whole is the implementation of the CAP, which has had a strong impact on the farming and livestock breeding industries and provided a major boost for the agrifoodstuffs sector. Of no lesser importance has been the introduction of the Euro as a single currency, thanks to which economic relations with the EU countries have become smoother, even though it has brought in an inflation factor. Interrelation among all these factors has made it possible to create a large supply of jobs, which has helped to reduce the traditionally high unemployment rates, opening the country to immigration flows from abroad with a view to fill vacancies in the farming, building and service sectors, especially in the catering industry.


The cyclical fluctuations of the economy (expansion, recession) have been less pronounced in the Spanish case since accession to the EU; but since 2008 the world financial crisis is having a negative impact, especially on industries such as building and car-making, and, as a result, on the unemployment rate, all of which is compounded by the traditional energy deficit of our economy, heavily dependent on oil imports in spite of the strong boost given to alternative energies, especially in the field of wind power.


More information


What have been the major societal developments?

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 23 Nov 2010

End of dictatorship and of the autarkic economy system (1950-1979)

In the Nineteen fifties Spain was a country with an autarkic economic system based on farming, with a low industrial development, strong state interventionism and a dictatorial political system, with neither political freedom nor voting rights, and highly isolated from the surrounding countries. In 1950, Spanish population reached 28,1 millions, 34 % more than in 1900, emigration to American countries remaining a solution to the lack of economic expectations. This situation begins to change from 1957 onwards, when the Stabilization Plan was put into effect and the economy accordingly reoriented, a policy backed by the IMF, and the industrial development plans begin to be drawn up (1963). From the political standpoint, relations are resumed with the western countries and with the USA, following Spanish membership of the UN (1955). Rural population emigrates to more industrialized areas: Catalonia, Northern Spain and Madrid, the poorest rural regions becoming depopulated. Agriculture gets a boost thanks to the irrigation plans, backed by a hydraulic policy based on the building of reservoirs and forestation. As a result of both the economic stabilization plans and the farm mechanization process, emigration to Europe increases, for the continent was in need of labour for its industrial take off. Mass tourism begins, a phenomenon of major importance for the development of the country as a whole, and, especially so, for the Mediterranean areas and the archipelagos. Regarding education (state, private and denominational) the analysis of the situation carried out in the 1969 White Paper must be highlighted, for ulterior reforms were based upon it, in addition to the stimulus given to vocational training schools and to Superior Technical Colleges, as a means to support industrial development. This economic take-off was not accompanied by such social and political reforms as the country needed, which were carried out in the following phase.


Democratic development and accession to the European Union (1979-2001)

According to the 1981 Population and Housing Census, Spain had in that year 37.7 million inhabitants, but from that date on, it suffers a gradual stagnation hardly exceeding 40 million inhabitants (40.8 million) in 2001. The end of the dictatorship, the introduction of civil liberties and the 1979 Constitution, mean the dawn of a new era for Spain, which is going to be characterized by a strong impetus in every respect. Spanish accession to the European Communities (1985) revolutionizes the country’s economy, which becomes clearly reoriented to a market economy. Structural funds will play a decisive role in creating a network of transport infrastructures, through the development of dual-carriageway and high-speed train networks. Agriculture is gradually adapted to the requirements of the CAP, its significance to the GDP being gradually diminished, while that of services and industry becomes greater. The latter finds in the European countries an important market for manufactures, although it has to undergo a tough industrial reconversion process which brought about trade disputes and tension, particularly in the iron and steel sector. Spain is visited by millions of tourists, which fosters a construction boom, one of the mainstays of the economy in the second half of the Twentieth Century, but also a major cause of environmental pressure in tourist areas. The per capita income grows significantly and regional inequalities are gradually reduced. As regards education, the 8/1985 Organic Law must be mentioned, for it guarantees the right to education and raises the quality of teaching, while health care also experiences a major development –covering every resident in the country- as do other social services.


Globalization and world financial crisis (2001-2009)

At the end of the Nineteen-nineties, Spain, which traditionally was a country of origin in terms of emigration, became a host country. In 2009 the population stood at 46.7 million inhabitants, of whom 5.7 million were immigrants (mainly from UE-27,South American and African countries) which means about 12,2% of the total number of residents in our country. The economy went through a period of remarkable expansion, with sustained growth, job creation and consumption increase, led by a strong growth of the construction industry (especially in tourist areas) and by the expansion of the service sector. In 2008 this sector had over 2,7 million companies, employed 12.8 million workers and made a contribution to the GDP amounting to 63.2% thereof, the catering industry being its main component. For its part, industry (manufacturing, extractive and power producing) accounted for 13.1% of the GDP (Regions of Catalonia, Madrid, Valencia and  Basque Country were the areas making the highest contribution to the sector). Although Spain is the second country in the European Union in terms of the area devoted to farming, the contribution made by agriculture, livestock breeding and fishing on the same date, hardly amounted to 2.4% of the GDP. The economic growth has been stopped since the year 2008 by the world financial crisis which has had major repercussions on the construction industry, increasing unemployment both in this particular sector and in other closely related to it. In the field of education, 93.4% of teaching (state, private with state subsidy or purely private) is financed by public funds, which amounts to 4.41% of the GDP (2007). University education had, in the 2008-2009 academic year, 1.5 million students in 77 universities, while non-university education had in the 2008-2009 academic year, 7.6 million students in 26,033 educational establishments. In spite of the obvious achievements attained in raising the educational level, it suffers the effect of a high rate of premature school leaving (especially in the secondary compulsory education) .


Comparison between the period starting in 1979, with the Spanish Constitution, and the one prior to it

In the field of politics, the achievement and consolidation must be highlighted of civil liberties and the democratic development as against dictatorship. In the economic area, the development of a market economy in line with that of the European Union, based on industry and services, as against an autarkic regime based on the primary sector. From a social standpoint, the widening of social security cover and education as against the deficiencies of the previous regime. Also, in this particular area, the growing participation by women in almost every field of activity, especially in those being the responsibility of the State (civil service, teaching, university, etc.).


More information


What are the main drivers of environmental pressures?

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 23 Nov 2010

Agriculture, livestock raising and fishing

In the EU, Spain holds second place in terms of the size of the area used for agricultural purposes (24.9 million hectares in 2007) and is the fourth country as regards the number of agricultural units (1,043,907). Cultivated land is devoted to herbaceous crops, fallow land, olive groves, fruit trees and vineyards. The area set aside for irrigated crops amounts to 13.7% (2009) of the total agricultural land. The modernization of irrigation has succeeded in achieving that localized irrigation be the most widely used method, accounting for 46.5% of irrigated land (2008). Area under organic farming covered in 2008 more than one million hectares (1,317,750 ha to be precise). The average consumption of fertilizers per hectare was 92.4 kg/ha in 2009, whereas the consumption of phytosanitary products reached 2.81 kilograms of active ingredient per hectare. As regards livestock breeding, pigs are predominant (2nd country in the EU), followed by cattle and poultry. The Spanish fishing fleet has diminished in number of boats, power and tonnage, but not in total catches. Aquaculture has been developed, focused on the farming of molluscs and fishes. The role played by agriculture, livestock breeding and fishing in the economy had been steadily reduced over the last few years and in 2009 amounted to just 2.4% of GDP, accounting for 4.2% of jobs. Concerning the emissions of GHG from this particular sector, in 2008 they amounted to 9.6% of the total.



The final consumption of energy, broken down by sector, showed in 2008 the following distribution: transport (40.2%), industry (30.4%), residential sector (16.7%), services (9.3%) and agriculture (3.4%). In the afore mentioned year, the degree of energy self-sufficiency stood at 21.6%. The final consumption of energy per GDP unit was 125.4 TPE/million (€ of the year 2000), whereas the final consumption of energy per inhabitant was 2.19 TPE/inhab. Almost 20% of electricity came from renewable sources; hydroelectric (7.4%) and wind power (10.0%) topping the list. GHG emissions amounted to 78.42% (including transport) and decreased by 8.03% as against 2007 figures. The fact must be stressed that for the second time, renewable sources of energy overtook nuclear power in the generation of electricity in Spain and for the first time to coal.


Industry and construction

In the industrial sector the greatest contribution to the country’s overall turnover was made by the metallurgy, food industry and transport equipment. The final consumption of energy in the sector is on the decrease since 1995, stabilized in 2008 by 30.4% of the total final energy. GHG emissions from industrial processes amounted to 7.7% of total emissions in 2008 and fell by 8.8% when compared to those of 2007. Industry’s share of the GAV’s sectorial structure was 14.5% in 2008 (in 1995 was 18.0%), providing in 2008 employment to 15.3% of the workforce. The industry’s turnover is very unevenly distributed throughout Spain, five Autonomous Communities standing out due to their respective contributions: Catalonia, the Community of Madrid, the Community of Valencia, Andalusia and the Basque Country. As regards construction, it must be pointed out that up to 2008 it has been the most dynamic sector in the Spanish economy, having and important influence on other sectors that contribute to its development. In 2008 its GAV amounted to 11.6% of the total, and from 2000 to 2008 grew by 143.6%. In 2007 the sector accounted for 12.6% of the total number of jobs and it has been the industry showing the greatest increase in employment between 2000 and 2007 (45.4%).


Tourism and service sector

Spain was in 2009 the third country in the world in terms of tourist arrivals (52.2 million), with a decline of 8.7% compared to 2008. Total tourist expenditure decreased by 7.1%, with disbursement per visitor near to 924 € and  average stay by  9.7 days, with an increase of 2.2% when compared to 2008.The number of foreign tourists per inhabitant is on the increase, from 0.86 in 1995 to 1.12 in 2009, although over the last few years such an increment is slowing down slightly. Aircraft was the mode of transport most widely used by foreign tourists (77% of total arrivals). The Spanish coastal regions are the preferred destination area, catering for 86.8% of foreign tourism.


The service sector has been gradually gaining relevance in the economy and in 2008 it accounted for 67.4% of total GAV. The increase in the number of jobs has been of the utmost importance, for in 2008 the sector provided employment to 67.4% of the total labour force. By the branch of economic activity, both production and employment are being led by retail and wholesale trade, followed by business services, tourism and transport.



In Spain, road transport remains the most demanded, well ahead of other modes of transport (railway, air and marine). The total volume of long-distance passenger transport has gone up by 94.4% (1990-2008) (in terms of passenger-kilometres) and freight transport growth by 86.5% (in terms of ton-kilometres). Transport is the sector with the highest final consumption of energy (38.9% in 2008) . GHG emissions have likewise increased by 80.4% (1990-2008), while those of acidifying substances decreased by 18%, and those of tropospheric ozone precursors have come down by 46.2% over the same period of time. In 2008 long-distance passenger road transport reached 89.6% of the total figure, and road freight transport had an 83.4% share of the market. In spite of the substantially increased fleet of vehicles (31 million in 2008), the number of fatalities due to traffic accidents has diminished (by 52.5% between 2003-2009). In Spain the transport’s GAV in the last few years stands at approximately 5% of the total. In 2007 the industry employed 696,300 persons (923,400 including activities related to transport such as the travel agency’s business).


More information


What are the foreseen developments?

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 08 Apr 2011


According to the annual population census, spanish population in 2009 was 46.7 million, 15.4% upper than in 2000 with an average annual growth of 1.7%. Of this population, 5.7 million were foreign residents (mainly Romania with 798,892 residents, Morocco with 718,055 and Ecuador with 421 426).

The most recent advances in population projections made by the INE ("Short term population projection in Spain from 2010 to 2020" Press Release of October 7, 2010) state that the population will grow by 2.7% until 2020 with the current demographic trends, compared with 14.8% growth over the last decade.

Spain will keep an annual rate of population growth in the coming years less than 0.35% with a slight downward trend. After some years of high population growth, Spain will reach just over 47 million people in 2020, with the current demographic trends. Thus, in the period 2010-2020 the resident population will grow by 1.2 million (2.7%) compared to the 5.9 million increase (14.8%) in the first decade of the century. On annual average, population growth would be 124,591 inhabitants, lower than 593,931 in the past decade.

The foreign population input may diminish over the next few years due to the economic crisis and to the growth of unemployment, as well as a result of the immigration restriction measures enforced throughout Europe, but it is estimated to hold around 250,000 people annually in the next decade.

Population projection in Spain

Economy and Society

In the current economic crisis situation is not easy to make forecasts on economic growth of countries. The reports of the International Monetary Fund differ from those of the OECD, which are quite different from those taken by the countries. In its Economic Outlook (No. 85, June 2009) the OECD expects to Spain's GDP fell 4.2% in 2009. By 2010 the reduction will be 0.9%. The unemployment rate will reach 20% in 2010 and inflation will fall to near zero. The government deficit its expected to reach 9.5% of GDP in 2010.


 Spanish society is thinking about a change in the production model, which must be carried out in the coming decades, in order to achieve a balance among productive sectors, limiting the development of construction and proceeding with the intensification of the implementation of environmental criteria in all fields of activity. This new production model must be based upon four main courses of action: increasing energy savings and efficiency; reducing the consumption of fossil fuels by fostering renewable energy sources; enhancing the introduction of new technologies and promoting innovation in every production process. In connection with the new information technologies (ICT) it must be pointed out that Spain is still making progress with their introduction, currently being on a level with the countries belonging to the EU-27, although slightly below the EU-15. In 2009, the most of Spanish homes had a computer (66.3%), telephone (80.3%), mobile phone (93.5%); and Digital Terrestrial Television receiver (99.6%). In addition, 54% of homes had Internet access (51.3% of which, through broadband connection). Approximately, 18.5 million people utilize this medium frequently. It is foreseeable that this process keeps making headway over the coming decades, thus facilitating the change in the economic model.

The new, knowledge-based economy needs to exploit, at a first stage, the possibilities opened up by the information society. The development of alternative and renewable sources of energy (wind power, solar power, etc.) will not only mean an achievement with a view to reducing our energy dependence, but will also become one of our most competitive industries.

The urban environment, where the greatest part of the Spanish population resides (in 2008 78.6% population lived in cities over 10,000 inhabitants), must undergo such modifications as may be required to achieve an improvement in the quality of life. To that end, efforts must be pursued to improve air quality, the pedestrianism of streets, sustainable building and the efficient use of energy. Current metropolitan areas (large, medium and small) must streamline the use of transport by improving the suburban train services and facilitating intermodal development.


More information



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

European Environment Agency (EEA)
Kongens Nytorv 6
1050 Copenhagen K
Phone: +45 3336 7100