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Pioneering Climate Law: How the Balearic Islands Lead the Way in Protecting Future Generations

Updated: Sep 22, 2023

Cala S'Almunia - traditional Mallorca stone fisherman's house on a cove. The sea is turquoise blue.

This week's blog post is a particularly proud one for me as I have a deep connection to the Balearic Islands, particularly Mallorca. It fills me with immense pride to learn about the historic milestone achieved by my homeland on the 13th of April 2023. The regional Parliament of the Balearic Islands passed a pioneering law on the well-being of present and future generations, the first of its kind in Spain and one of the first in the European Union.

However, these island gems, like numerous coastal counterparts, are confronting a looming spectre - climate change. Among the ranks of the most vulnerable regions, they're witnessing a warming rate 20% swifter than the global average. If current emission levels persist, these lands might witness temperature spikes of 3-5ºC and a surge in sea levels ranging from 37 to 90 cm by the end of the century.

Further exacerbating these climate-change driven issues, is another threat; Over-tourism. The islands' restricted access to resources, coupled with a heavy reliance on emissions-intensive industries like transport and energy, are intricately intertwined with the challenges posed by over-tourism.

Originating from an unprecedented act of public participation, the Balearic Parliament has created a pioneering law. This legal milestone mandates the formation of a Commission tasked with safeguarding the well-being of both current and future generations. Its pivotal role involves assessing the potential fallout of new regulations and public ventures on the collective welfare of the island's inhabitants, spanning generations.

Balancing the scales between present interests and those of generations yet to come presents a central dilemma for the Commission. Securing the well-being of the island's future occupants could necessitate imposing certain restrictions on the present populace. However, it remains paramount to also consider the interests of those currently residing there, ensuring a balanced transition towards a society marked by climate neutrality.

The concept of a "just transition" encapsulates a societal pivot that transcends mere climate equilibrium. It encompasses social cohesion and the fair distribution of burdens and benefits. Within the Commission's ambit lies the duty to sift through proposals and policies, with the ultimate aim of shielding future generations while also prioritizing the well-being of the present community.

To effectively fortify climate resilience, the Commission must first demystify the concept of well-being. The umbrella of well-being encompasses multiple facets, ranging from collective social prosperity and sustainable consumption to judicious use of natural resources and the preservation of biodiversity, all outlined in the law.

However, drilling down into the essence of well-being is essential. Diverse interpretations abound, spanning mental well-being, the fulfilment of desires, and ensuring equitable resource access for the future. The Commission must proactively define well-being to steer its initiatives towards sustainable and satisfactory living standards. This involves promoting locally sourced sustenance, sustainable energy sourcing, and dismantling unsustainable consumption patterns.

The Commission's diverse composition, including experts from academia, social organizations, and environmental agencies, is commendable. Yet, a crucial piece of the puzzle remains unaddressed—representatives from the most socially and climate vulnerable communities in the Balearic Islands. These communities bear practical insights and lived experiences of climate vulnerability, a treasure trove for enriching climate policy formulation. By ensuring these voices are not drowned out, the Commission can craft climate policies that are fair, responsive, and sustainable, ones that genuinely reflect the concerns and aspirations of those disproportionately affected by climate change.

The trajectory set forth by the Balearic Islands toward fortifying themselves against the onslaught of climate change is not just a commendable endeavour—it's a beacon of hope and pragmatism. Their bold steps, encompassing an understanding of well-being, a delicate balance between present and future interests, and the amplification of voices from the margins, paint a roadmap for climate resilience that other regions would be wise to follow.

I would also like to extend a special thank you to my friend Júlia Isern Bennassar for generously sharing her invaluable insights and expertise on this subject.

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