Interview: The interplay between the new Valencian Climate Change Law, forests and rural development

By Marta Esteve, Polytechnic University of Valencia

In December 2022, the new Law on Climate Change and Ecological Transition of the Valencian Region came into force, setting targets to make the Valencian Region climate neutral by 2050.

The law creates a series of mechanisms to decarbonise different economic sectors and public administrations, such as a carbon footprint register where companies and public entities must register their carbon footprint and submit decarbonisation plans. The text places more emphasis on the so-called diffuse economic sectors (services) and establishes mobility policies such as the creation of low-emission zones, and the promotion of public transport and zero-emission vehicles. Three green taxes will be applied to polluting vehicles, commercial areas with a high number of vehicles, and industries that emit large amounts of CO2. Since its approval, the law is being presented and disseminated to stakeholders and society in general.

To discuss key aspects of the law, implementation challenges and how it relates to forests, INFORMA’s Project Controller and Communications Coordinator at the Polytechnic University of Valencia (UPV), Marta Esteve, interviewed the Director General of Climate Change of the Valencian Region, Celsa Monrós. Read the highlights of the interview below!

The Director General of Climate Change of the Valencian Region, Celsa Monrós

What are the strengths of the new Valencian Climate Change law?

The law sets binding objectives for the whole society and all regional and local administrations in order to prepare the transition to a sustainable society and economy adapted to the impacts of climate change. It also sets up governance mechanisms and tools such as the Emissions Inventory, the Registry of Climate Initiatives, the Valencian Integrated Energy and Climate Change Plan, and the municipal Climate Action Plans to make this transition easier.

What have been the main difficulties in drafting the law? What will be the main challenges to putting it into practice?

Any regulatory text, due to its own nature and the need to ensure legal certainty, entails a very long and complex process, which sometimes becomes demotivating if you are not very clear about your goal. Another point was the level of concreteness and ambition: it is a very cross-cutting law that covers all areas of the economy and society. Deciding on the level of detail that we should define in the law and what we should leave for further development was complicated – finding the proper balance, even though it is a very extensive law that defines specific measures. We were criticised by some sectors for not defining it even more, but we had to make a cut at some point.

How will the new standard contribute to territorial development, specially to stop rural depopulation and all the associated activities, such as forest management?

We have to find formulas to be able to pay for the ecosystem services provided by rural areas, understanding them as large areas of carbon sequestration from the natural environment, but also areas with large territories where solar or photovoltaic power plants can be set up. The rural landscape will change like the rest of the landscape, partly due to the impacts of climate change (desertification, crop change, major fires, redefinition of the coastline), and partly due to new activities (implementation of renewable energies). We must find a balance through a brave dialogue with rural communities so that they do not feel that they are once again the ones paying for the transition, but rather that they are key players in it.

In forest management, biomass can play a fundamental role as a repository of carbon, which not only has an output as a source of renewable energy but also as a raw material for a multitude of products that until now have come from fossil fuels.

How do you foresee Sustainable Forest Management and voluntary carbon offset markets within the framework of this law?

Within the Registry of Climate Change Initiatives, there is a section on offsetting emissions, where we want to promote the voluntary carbon offset market. We will also have to identify areas that can be reforested or managed and formulas for their transfer or exploitation for offset projects, taking into account the ownership and the ecosystemic characteristics of the area.

What relevance does climate mitigation have in the law?

It is one of the most important aspects, hence the objectives and the need to know the carbon footprint and the reduction plans of all those sectors that have a significant impact on greenhouse gas emissions in the Valencian Region. But of course, the adaptation part also is a very important component, because we cannot forget that climate change is already having consequences in our territory, which are increasing, and for which we must be prepared to reduce our vulnerability and give an effective response when they take place.

How is the law articulated with the EU Forestry Strategy and other European Union mechanisms?

This law has aimed to align itself with the European Green Deal, the RePowerEU, the national legislation and that which already existed in the Valencian Autonomous Region. As I have mentioned, the dialogue with the other actors and departments has been continuous, and right now the Forestry Regulation of the Valencian Region is at the point of being approved, which has taken into account the law on issues such as the resilience of our forests and the creation of mechanisms to facilitate reforestation for the compensation of emissions. In the end we are all clear about the diagnosis, objectives and we are aligning the mechanisms to provide the most effective and efficient response possible. We must coordinate and act on each administration in the field of our competences so that the government machinery is synchronized and aligned.

How have you integrated and involved relevant actors in the implementation of the law? How do you plan to keep doing it in the future?

It is a law that has been very participatory. We began with sectoral roundtables, with the participation of more than 80 public and private entities, where we were able to listen to the different approaches to the fight against climate change, barriers, interests and needs of each sector. Then there was a period of allegations, with more than 200 proposals, and finally the legislative debate in the Valencian Regional Parliament.

Currently, we are in the process of disseminating and communicating about the law, and then, within the law, we have created a system of governance in which both the administration, through the Climate Change Policy Coordination Commission, and the community, through the Citizen Assembly or the Environmental Advisory and Participation Council, have a voice in the development and monitoring of the measures.

To what extent does the law use and supports scientific-technical collaborations and public-private partnerships?

The law includes the creation of a Committee of Experts, which should help to develop and define the measures for the transition to a new economic and social model, in which, of course, all the stakeholders of society will have to be involved. Research, training and education are also mentioned as part of this blend to develop new services and new economic models.

At the moment we are already working in many sectors with these public-private alliances, such as in water purification or waste treatment, where waste management is being tendered out to companies. Now, these companies must go further and understand their role in reducing emissions, through, for example, the production of biogas as an added value to water treatment or organic waste treatment to reduce methane emissions.

The production of renewable energies is also one of the most controversial issues, where land occupation, the possibility of compensatory payments to municipalities, or compatibility with other activities will lead to the negotiation and creation of partnerships between companies, society and public administration.

What are the law’s most ambitious objectives? What main advances does this regional law provide with respect to the national one?

The reduction of diffuse emissions to 40% with regard to 1990 is surely the most ambitious objective of all, and one that requires changes in energy production, the building sector, urban planning, mobility, agriculture and management of the natural environment. We are talking about the need to include the climate perspective in absolutely all economic and social sectors.

The law follows the „polluter pays” premise with the corresponding taxes on emissions. Are there any lines of subsidies, incentives or other measures envisaged beyond individual awareness?

The taxes that are created, of which there are three types, have a more educational function than a revenue-raising one, but in any case they are finalist taxes. This means that the collection made from them, in addition to those budgetary amounts that can be defined by the Valencian Regional Government later on, will be destined to an Ecological Transition Fund that will help to make the necessary transition in different sectors and that its destination will be defined on an annual basis.