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Desertified Spain

Notes on rural Spain’s exposure to depopulation and climate change

Sergio Villamayor-Tomas, Institut de Ciència i Tecnologia Ambientals (ICTA-UAB); Gerard Pocull, Francesco Facchini and Cara Maeztu, ICTA-UAB; Esteve Corbera Elizalde, ICTA-UAB, Institució Catalana de Recerca i Estudis Avançats (ICREA)
Project selected in the Social Research Call 2019 (LCF/PR/SR19/52540011)

Spain’s rural areas are undergoing unprecedented environmental and social transformations, with depopulation and climate change as the most prominent phenomena. Some 17.5% of its rural territory is exposed simultaneously to high rates of depopulation and to aridity. The literature and the experts point to various depopulation mitigation factors, such as the development of agroindustry and of renewable energies, rural and environmental tourism, immigration, housing availability, the rural cultural and entertainment offering, and connectivity with urban zones. However, some of the latter may involve undesired social and environmental effects. For example, agro-industrial development brings with it the concentration of farms and agricultural services, which makes it more difficult for young and immigrant farmers to gain access to the land. Similarly, livestock farming intensification can contribute to soil erosion, to overexploitation and to the contamination of water resources, thus increasing the risk of aridity and reducing the resilience of the territory to climate change.
Key points
  • 1
       Some 29% of Spanish rural territory is exposed to high rates of depopulation, 45% to aridity problems (i.e. climate change) and 17.5% to both phenomena at once.
  • 2
       This 17.5% falls to 11.5% in rural areas that are accessible (with a low population density and mainly farming land uses, but connected with urban centres) and increases to 23.3% in remote rural areas (with a low population density, farming land uses and disconnected from urban centres).
  • 3
       Depopulation mitigation factors exist – such as farming intensification – which may be counter-productive from the perspective of the fight against climate change.
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