Spain’s Carbon Emission Cut Plan: Say Hasta la Vista to Domestic Short Haul Flights


In 2021, Spain proposed and began to undertake its ambitious 2050 climate action plan, outlining 50 goals for progressive implementation. The goal: achieve climate change resistance by becoming carbon neutral and sustainable. Some of the goals include achieving consumption of fully renewable energy by the middle of the century and cutting carbon emissions by limiting short haul domestic flights. 

Even though the idea to implement restrictions on short haul flights has been in the works since 2021, its possible implementation comes from the coalition deal in 2023 between Sanchez’s Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) and the Far-left (Sumar). This plan includes 230 policy promises to be put into practice in the next 4 years. The text upon which the two parties agreed on is equally set to evaluate the impact of restricting private jet use in the future as well as analyzing the European Union directive on taxing energy products used as aviation fuel.

What types of flights will be affected? 

The plan is not set to affect all short haul domestic flights but only those which have a rail alternative for journeys which can be made in less than two and a half hours, a strategy identical to that implemented in France in 2023. 

However, the policy does not apply in cases of connections with hub airports that link these domestic destinations with international ones. It is not yet known how many flights will be impacted by this policy, however protests can be expected from airlines that make their revenue from providing flights that connect destinations such as Barcelona, Valencia, Seville and Alicante to Madrid. 

The initial draft of this proposal looked at getting rid of short haul flights that had rail alternatives of less than four hours. The estimated reduction in carbon emissions for this initial plan would have saved up 300,000 tonnes of CO2, slashing Spain’s carbon emissions by around 10 per cent. However, this estimate may not be accurate for the envisioned two and a half hour ban as these figures looked at flights to and from Madrid, which will not be included in the present plan as it is considered to be a hub airport. 

Many critique the new policy, deeming it to be fruitless and unnecessary. Environmentalists in France complained about their identical policy, arguing that a two and a half hour ban is much too little to make a valuable change on carbon emissions considering many cities are exempted from the ban and connecting flights are unaffected (at present the policy only affects 3 routes in France).

How are key stakeholders evaluating this policy? 

In Spain, the policy draws mixed reviews from politicians. The leader of the Far-Left coalition, Yolanda Diaz, strongly advocates in favour of the policy believing that the “train will be the means of transport of the 21st century.” However, Political leader Guillermo Mariscal deemed the implementation to be “ineffective” because it would only result in a 0.06 per cent cut in carbon emissions. 

Javier Ganadara, the president of the Spanish airline association ALA, labelled the policy as redundant as “in recent years, passengers have already shifted from planes to trains.” His statement is proven by the fact that around 35 trains a day run on the route between Madrid and Barcelona compared to the 15 direct flights that can be found. He equally goes on to state that the alternative is impractical because the high speed rail network only extends so far. Many travellers will be inconvenienced by the fact they will have to take a regional train and then a high speed train to reach the airport from which they wish to fly. 

Iberia itself strongly opposes the policy, stating that domestic flights are only responsible for less than 1 percent of Spain’s CO2 emissions. The percentage is equally estimated to decrease every year thanks to investments in sustainable aviation and fleet renewal. In addition, the Spanish GDP will be greatly disadvantaged as flights from Madrid to other cities contributed to 329 million euros last year. 

Nevertheless, the Air Travel industry is responsible for around 2.5 percent of global CO2 emissions, meaning that some type of alternative needs to slowly be established in order to decrease this percentage. Much remains to be seen on whether there will be more changes to the policy and how it will be implemented. If high quality rail lines can be established covering the destinations affected, the initiative may have a great impact as well as generally make the lives of passengers more practical and comfortable. 

Photo by: Spooh

Vanessa Chioaru
Vanessa Chioaru
Hi! I’m Vanessa and I am from Romania. I am a dedicated first year law student who thorughly enjoys creative writing and debating. Being able to report on core issues concerning today’s society while offering a critical perspective is a passion I am excited to enrich through my work at the Stork.

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