"The risk of desertification in the European Union is not addressed effectively and efficiently." With this phrase the European Court of Auditors summarizes the situation of the fight against one of the consequences of climate change which especially threatens Spain and the south of the continent: the greatest vulnerability to desertification. The X-ray of the European auditors, published on Tuesday, continues: "Although desertification and land degradation constitute current and growing threats in the EU, the Commission does not have a clear idea of these problems, and the measures taken to fight against desertification lack coherence. "
Desertification is a form of soil degradation in the drylands, the importance of which has become apparent this year with the long period of high temperatures and low rainfall recorded last summer. It results in infertility of soils and reduction in food production. "Its effects," the report adds, "will be especially acute in Portugal, Spain, Italy, Greece, Cyprus, Bulgaria and Romania."
The court carried out its audit between September 2017 and May 2018 and, among other things, made audit visits to five Member States that declared themselves affected by desertification: Spain, Italy, Cyprus, Portugal and Romania. They were also selected for "their vulnerability to desertification" and to cover different climatic conditions, vegetation, human activities and risks. The auditors also analyzed strategic documents, reports and data.
Among the documents consulted by European auditors on Spain is the Spanish National Action Program of 2008, according to which "74% of the country is at risk of desertification", as reflected in the court report. 18% present a high or very high risk, while 19% have a medium risk. "The situation is particularly worrisome in the Region of Murcia, the Valencian Community and the Canary Islands," adds the work. In these territories, the risk of desertification is "high" or "very high" in more than 90% of the territory.
"The report seems relevant to me because it is from the institution that looks after the sustainability of the economy, it shows that ecology and economics are increasingly inseparable, and that not addressing climate change involves great costs, when it is a predictable and avoidable risk. ", says José Luis García Ortega, head of climate change at Greenpeace.
The text, according to Ortega, warns of "the incoherence of the policies assumed until now". And he explains: "We understand that you have noticed the incoherence that supposes that with CAP funds they are promoting unsustainable agricultural or livestock practices, among other factors due to the excess of water consumption or soil degradation, or the incoherence of continue to subsidize the use of fossil fuels with one hand, while with the other hand we must face the increasing costs of the impacts of climate change, including the forced displacement of the population due to desertification, as pointed out by the Court of Accounts ".
Regarding the situation in Spain, he assures: "There is no evidence that national budgets are prepared to deal with these contingencies, but above all, the call for attention is whether it makes sense to pay for the consequences of something that we can avoid but that We are feeding our budgets. " In the case of Spain, "the obvious answer is no," he adds, because although progress has been made in unifying environmental, climate and energy policies under the same ministry, the announced Climate Change Law still does not see the light. As Spain is one of the countries most affected by desertification, "should lead the fight against the problem," says this expert. The Ministry of Ecological Transition has not yet commented on the report.
The report includes the response of the European Commission to the work of the auditors. In it, the community executive "recognizes that the risk of desertification and land degradation could be better addressed" and ensures that it was part of the objective of the proposal for the framework directive on land that the Commission decided to withdraw "in the absence of a qualified majority in the Council for eight years ". The Executive concludes that, in the absence of legislation in the EU on soil protection, it is the Member States that "have the responsibility to implement the appropriate measures at the national level".
European auditors criticize that the EU does not have "a shared vision on how to achieve neutral land degradation by 2030", one of the commitments in the fight against climate change proposed by Europe, but which, judging by the Court of Auditors report, has not yet addressed.