The long-term prosperity of Ibiza and Formentera depends on the preservation of our land, sea and biodiversity. Natural resources are key assets for our well-being, but they are also crucial for a sustainable and prosperous economy.
For a thriving natural environment and long-term economic and social prosperity, we need to address issues impacting the islands and the well-being of its residents. These include tourism, land use, water, waste, energy, biodiversity and transport.
To gain a better understanding of these issues, in 2018 we created the Sustainability Observatory. This data project studies the evolution of sustainability on the island from a socio-environmental perspective, via a range of indicators. The work is carried out annually in order to track trends, both positive and negative, which in turn helps to better inform and guide local decision-making about the future development of the island, in line with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Tourism and human pressure
Ibiza and Formentera’s exceptional beauty, nightlife, Mediterranean climate and pristine sea have made the islands one of Europe’s most popular tourist destinations. In 2018, they welcomed 3.1 million visitors. Since 2001, the number of tourists has almost doubled, placing enormous pressure on our land, water and ecosystems.
Since 2017, the islands have received more than 2000 tourists for every 100 residents. With a tourist to resident ratio of 20/1 in 2019 – the second-highest in the world – tourism has also created social challenges. There is an ever-growing need for larger infrastructure, such as roads, desalination plants and sewage treatment facilities, which must be provided and paid for by the local community. Rental prices have also shot up, with costs in season doubling between 2011 and 2019. Households now spend an average of 82% of their income on housing.
Between 1990 and 2012, an estimated 31.14 km2 of natural areas and farmland was lost to urban development and the urbanisation of coastal areas increased by 60.8%. This has impacted some of the islands’ most valuable landscapes and ecosystems.
At the same time, the utilised agricultural area of the island has fallen from 26,579 hectares in 2014 to just 6,075 hectares in 2018. This means that the proportion of the island used for agriculture has dropped from 46.6% to just 11% in the space of four years. Furthermore, in the two years between 2014 and 2016, the amount of derelict land increased from 15.9% to 46.8%. This has led to a loss of rural landscapes and the disappearance of local plant varieties, animal breeds and traditional knowledge. The islands’ food supply is now largely dependent on imports, with just 2% of food consumed in Ibiza produced on the island. Meanwhile the growing loss of agricultural land and lack of forestry management increase the risk of fires.
To address these issues, IbizaPreservation supports projects to re-plant traditional crops such as almonds, promote the consumption of locally-grown food, and encourage new farmers to the land.
Escalating water demand has led to depleted and polluted aquifers and a growing dependency on desalination plants. The Sustainability Observatory’s 2019 report notes that Ibiza’s underground aquifers are depleted and overused. 9 out of 16 currently have low levels of water. Aquifers are contaminated when overused and groundwater levels drop, causing salt water to intrude.
Urban demand for water has increased by 11.8% in the past decade. 44.6% of water is now supplied by desalination plants. However, it is important to note that desalination plants can negatively impact the marine ecosystem with salt water by-products. They also contribute to our soaring energy demand.
Most visitors to Ibiza and Formentera are unaware of the water shortage on the islands. By consciously thinking about our water consumption, we can help conserve our islands’ precious water resources.
Waste is a major environmental challenge in island economies. In Ibiza, waste generation is going up rather than down, increasing by 22% in the past nine years to 662 kg per person per year in 2019. This is 36.4% higher than in the rest of Spain, where the average in 2017 was 485.45 kg per person per year.
Large amounts of rubbish are dumped in the Ca na Putxa disposal site, the only waste facility operating on the islands. This site is rapidly filling up. In 2019, more than 80% of our waste ended up in landfill. According to EU legislation, 50% of waste must be recycled by 2020.
By recycling, saying “no” to single-use plastics and unnecessary packaging we can all help reduce the amount of waste on our islands.
Energy use is an important environmental challenge but also a significant financial burden on economies like Ibiza and Formentera that rely almost exclusively on imported fuel to supply energy. As islands, we are also vulnerable to security of supply issues and exposed to higher prices.
Since 2011, consumption has increased by 33% to over 470,000 TOE. Ibiza is not on track to meet the target of reducing consumption by 26% on 2005 levels by 2030. In fact, between 2005 and 2018 (the most recent data), consumption instead went up, by 39%. Moreover, despite our considerable solar potential, in 2018 only 0.2% of Ibiza’s gross energy supply came from renewable sources. And with just 0.3% of final energy consumption coming from renewable sources, we are far from reaching the target of 35% by 2030. Solar energy is a key element in the islands’ transition to a carbon-free energy mix. This transition can also make a positive contribution to the local economy.
To encourage more households and businesses to install solar energy, IbizaPreservation funded and coordinated a study on the opportunities to develop photovoltaic (PV) solar energy in Ibiza. This report showed under existing regulations and with government subsidies, solar energy is a profitable investment where returns can be realised within 6 to 11 years.
Ibiza and Formentera harbour a remarkable biodiversity. Endemic plant and animal species are well preserved and the islands shelter important breeding colonies for the Balearic shearwater, Europe’s most threatened seabird. In our waters, Posidonia meadows support a diversity of marine life.
A significant portion of Ibiza and Formentera is protected (35% and 43% respectively). But between 2000 and 2016, areas designated as Natural Reserves and Parks were reduced. And protection under land-planning regulations has swayed from strict protection to permissive tolerance of development.
Our Sustainability Observatory’s 2019 report reveals that the conservation of Ibiza’s natural habitats is poor. Only 23% of the area is mapped, of which 23% is in an inadequate state, particularly when it comes to the Posidonia seagrass in the part of Ses Salines designated a Place of Community Importance (LIC). It is therefore important to improve the study of the state of the habitat and the reasons for its degradation.
Recent measures to preserve marine biodiversity are encouraging. In 2014 nine marine sites were included in the EU Natura 2000 network, and a new marine reserve was proposed in 2015. However, providing these areas with sufficient personnel and means to safeguard marine habitats and biodiversity remains a challenge.
A strong reliance on private vehicles has led to growing congestion on our main roads. The rate of motorisation measures the number of motor vehicles per person in a particular place over a specific period. Ibiza and Formentera together have the highest motorisation rate in the Balearics. In 2018 and 2019 Ibiza exceeded 1000 vehicles per 1000 people – meaning there is now more than one car per person on the island. Private vehicles are the main source of CO2 emissions in Ibiza, accounting for 31% of the total.
Our reliance on cars can have significant environmental impacts due to greenhouse gas emissions and the need for increasingly-larger road infrastructure. There are also economic impacts associated with costly, imported fuels and road congestion. A reliance on private cars also impacts the provision of public transport, walking and cycle routes.
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