Demography and sustainability | Canary Islands7

ROMAN RODRIGUEZ The Gran Canarian palms Vice President and Minister of Finance

In recent years we have been able to hear the demands of the so-called emptied Spain, sparsely populated areas and with a fair demand for infrastructure and services to develop a decent life and avoid their definitive and total depopulation. In the Canary Islands, although with particularities in some of the islands, we are experiencing a completely different phenomenon: that of an excessive population growth that puts in check the existing infrastructures -roads, housing, hospital or educational facilities, water treatment plants, waste treatment... -, multiplies the problems of land mobility, increases electricity demand and water consumption, as well as hinders the absorption capacity of the labor market itself.

The Canary Islands, a limited and fragmented territory, have experienced a population growth of over 30% so far this century, increasing its inhabitants by more than half a million. In the same period, the Basque Country grew by 3.76% (about 80,000 people), eight times less than the percentage growth of our Community, and already has less population than the Islands; and the whole of the Spanish State did it by 17%, almost half that of our land. Among the communities with great weight in tourism, only the Balearic Islands surpass us, with a growth of 38%; behind are Andalusia (15.42%), Community of Valencia (22.74%) and Catalonia (23.9%).

Such a poorly modulated demographic process generates important distortions

Of this population increase in the Canary Islands (530,000 more inhabitants in just two decades), only part, about 70,000, corresponds to natural growth (number of births less number of deaths). The rest, some 460,000, are people who came from other parts of the world, mainly from other autonomous communities and the European Union. Of the current foreign population in the Islands, 53.28% comes from EU states, compared to 25.77% from America and 10.23% from Africa, percentages that undo prejudices and selective xenophobic discourse.

Such a poorly modulated demographic process generates significant distortions - environmental, in mobility, in public services or in the labor market - that need to be addressed rigorously and consistently. For this reason, the Parliamentary Group of Nueva Canarias emphasized this issue in the Debate on the State of Nationality held last March; and presented a proposal for a resolution, approved unanimously by the Parliament of the Canary Islands, in which the Government of the Canary Islands is urged "to study the measures aimed at minimizing the impact that the significant population growth of our archipelago". Along these lines, we express our support for the study commission on the demographic challenge that the Canarian Chamber is going to set up.

double look

We pose it with a double look. On the one hand, towards the processes of overpopulation in the islands of Gran Canaria and, especially, Tenerife, as well as the excessive growth of Fuerteventura and Lanzarote, where the native population is beginning to be a minority; on the other, towards the stagnation or loss of population of the green islands, especially La Palma and El Hierro, which, like La Gomera, also require specific and appropriate responses to their realities.

The projections included in the report of the Economic and Social Council of the Canary Islands (CES) for eleven years from now place our Archipelago with 2.5 million inhabitants. Tenerife would clearly exceed one million, with a foreign population of around 29%, concentrated between 34 and 44 years old. Gran Canaria would increase more moderately, by 9%, reaching 920,000 and with a 17% foreign population. Fuerteventura would increase its current population by 45%, with the native population being a minority, and Lanzarote by 29%, with 192,792 inhabitants, of which 38%, 73,260, will be foreign residents.

These growths would have direct consequences on the dimensioning of our schools and institutes, health centers and hospitals, access to housing, employment opportunities, consumption of water and electricity, mobility, water purification, waste treatment... multiplying some of the problems that already exist today.

On the other hand, and in relation to the green islands, La Gomera would grow by about 3,000 inhabitants to exceed 24,000. La Palma would be stabilized around 84,000. And El Hierro would suffer a similar process, falling below 11,000 residents.

expert committee

As President of the Government of the Canary Islands, I promoted the creation of a Committee of experts on population and immigration in the Canary Islands, multidisciplinary in the academic sphere and plural in the political field, which presented its conclusions in 2003. Chaired by the former rector of the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Manuel Lobo Cabrera, was made up of Asunción Asín Cabrera, José Ángel Gil Jurado, Josefina Domínguez Mújica, Juan Antonio Fernández Cordón, Eligio Hernández Gutiérrez, Miguel Herrero and Rodríguez de Miñón, Andreu Domingo Valls, Margarita Ramos Quintana, José Luis Rivero Ceballos, Ana María López Sala and José Ángel Rodríguez Martín.

In their report they conclude that "the pressure of the population on the territory has a special character in the Canary Islands, because the islands do not support the same capacity as the continental territories, especially the remote islands." Emphasizing that those who arrived at the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century were, fundamentally, young people with small children or who had them once they had settled in the Islands. Assuming, therefore, a greater weight of the potentially labor-active group in the population as a whole.

On the other hand, the conclusions of the Committee of experts highlighted the importance of the general guidelines for land use planning and those for the tourism sector -also promoted by that Government and approved by Parliament in 2003- to reorient the economic model towards sustainability and modulate the population growth; ruling out the inclusion of a restrictive residence law on free movement in current European regulations, although they advocated "the start of political-institutional negotiations to try to rationalize the possible effect of population increase in the Canary Islands." Ensuring, furthermore, that all demographic political actions must be subordinated «to future development options in the field of the economy and the environment, in particular. In the case of the Canary Islands, its uniqueness requires maximum coherence between the options for future development that are adopted and the action in the field of demography».

The change of Executive after the elections of May 2003 supposed the beginning of the breach of the Directives of General Ordination and of the sectorial ones of the Tourism, until its practical abrogation; and also the neglect of the debate on demography and immigration, only present, in subsequent legislatures, in some interventions by President Paulino Rivero.

Almost twenty years after that report, the debate is reopening; and we want it to be done rigorously and without prior closed positions. What seems clear is that, from the Canary Islands, we must look for formulas that make it possible to stop uncontrolled population growth. To preserve identity. To achieve proper management of the territory and natural resources that, as is well known, are limited. To avoid the lag of our public services. To alleviate the circulatory chaos and the permanent collapse of some roads. To achieve the highest levels of sustainability and well-being in our land. To further reduce unemployment.

Only from a self-centered, more diverse and sustainable development model, which requires moderate and affordable population growth along with public, business and domestic actions, will we be able to reduce the carbon footprint of the islands, an obligatory commitment to the planet within the framework of the fight against the Climate Crisis and an enhancement of our territory for those of us who live here and for those who visit us.

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