This interview is part of our series “#ProgressiveLocalStories”, aiming at raising awareness on the many positive initiatives implemented by progressive cities and regions in Europe in relation to the Sustainable Development Goals. Cities and regions have become laboratories for innovative solutions and, with this series, we want to discover how progressive mayors, councillors and presidents of regions put in place policies to tackle the climate crisis, eradicate social inequalities and build more sustainable communities.
Why is Extremadura a progressive region?
The regional executive has committed itself towards progress. We thus work to improve the lives of our citizens by harmonising our economic and social development while respecting the planet’s sustainability. In a highly globalised and technological world in which it seems almost impossible to grow economically and still preserve the environment, we promote what is local, traditional and environmental as the main keys to Extremadura’s economic growth. This strategy has been chosen as a way to tackle the problems that emerge from the negative environmental indicators, which are responsible for the high levels of pollution and climate change.
Extremadura has political stability and a social agreement. It also has an abundance of natural resources that are essential to move towards new energy policies. We work in this region to meet the international commitments of the European Union and of the Paris Agreement that aim at reducing global warming.
The reduction of greenhouse emissions, the adaptation to impacts and the promotion of a Green and Circular Economy are the pillars of our policies and are an inherent part of the decisions we take. For these reasons, and in the realm of our energy policy, we have been thoroughly working towards a model based on renewable energies that will minimise the impact on the environment.
We are working on a “Plan for Energy and Climate” that will be finalised this year. It is a series of guidelines against climate change that will allow the region to produce 20% of Spain’s renewable energy that will then involve the increase of the current generator by eight-fold. These actions are part of the “Green and Circular Economy Strategy”, an initiative that turns the region into a space for innovation for the sustainable management of natural resources, and that promotes the transition towards a productive model that will enable a more specialised, diverse and sustainable economy; an economy of solidary with an agriculture that is able to generate high-quality products in a healthy environment in other words.
We work to harmonise our policies at every level of governance. We share a narrative in which solidarity, gender equality, mobility, ecology, human rights, social justice, tolerance and inclusion are the keys to move towards the future of people.
Our commitment can be seen in the 2020 budget of the region of Extremadura. We have sustainable accounts whose main goal is not just the maintenance and stimulus of production, but also the promotion of research and innovation. This will foster investments, internationalisation and the digital transformation of our region. This budget will dedicate almost 70% of its totality to essential public services, which would amount to 3,796.8 million euros. Extremadura devotes over 10 million euros a day to social policies, specifically 4.7 million to health, 3 million to education, 930,000 euros to policies for citizens with dependencies and 870,000 euros to employment.
Extremadura's progress requires that we keep working to ensure the arrival of large projects, projects that will create jobs and - at the same time - that will spark the interest of other companies and allow the development of new sectors. To achieve this, we will continue to show potential investors the value of Extremadura as a strategic location in the new economic context.
Which concrete actions did you put in place (or are currently still ongoing) to make Extremadura a sustainable region and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals?
At the level of Extremadura's government, we prioritise the protection and preservation of the environment. We are also committed to the fight against climate change and to comply with the Sustainable Development Goals. The regional government sees the 2030 Agenda as a unique opportunity for a global transformation towards models of development that are both sustainable and inclusive. We believe that local and regional governments are decisive in working in accordance with the 17 SDGs. Without them, the 2030 Agenda will not achieve the expected results and its future will be uncertain.
Local and regional governments are catalysts of change and they have the ideal level of governance to link global objectives to local communities. Moreover, they are the necessary vehicle to incorporate local efforts to the global contribution towards development: the promotion - by local and regional governments - of the values, objectives and results of the Sustainable Development Agenda turns all the efforts into a single voice that gives visibility to the joint contributions that aim at eradicating inequalities.
For this reason, Extremadura's government signed last September a commitment with its 388 municipalities so that they would become agents of change, able to create a strategy of strong and innovative alliances to achieve concrete objectives across our territory but with the ability to create global change. Among these commitments were the defence and visibility of the core values of the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals, as well as the adoption of the SDGs and their goals in the scope of all our activities.
Furthermore, the administrations are involved in the achievement of the SDGs by guaranteeing that their activities are targeting the development objectives at a local level. We are also promoting synergies and cooperation relationships with other local and regional levels, as well as with sectors and agents that promote the SDGs. The regional government has also signed an agreement with the Spanish Network for Sustainable Development [REDS in Spanish] in order to achieve higher awareness and communication about the new Sustainable Development Goals within the society in Extremadura. The idea is also to develop activities linked to the diffusion and knowledge of the 2030 Agenda.
Extremadura passed its Law on Territorial Sorting and Sustainable Urbanism [LOTUS in Spanish] during the last mandate in order to comply with the contents of the SDGs. This law was created so that all the elements of territorial and urban sorting will follow the Sustainable Sorting Criteria [COS in Spanish]. An element featured in article 10 of this law is the inclusion of a gender perspective as a criterion for sustainable sorting. For this, the law is pioneering at a regional level given the fact that it is one of the first to include specific measures about the topic in order to build inclusive cities and municipalities.
To conclude, we are working in Extremadura to make sure that sustainability is a concept that is present in all our policies and we coordinate our regional, social and local actions to meet the goals of the SDGs.
How can the European Union contribute to make Extremadura more sustainable? How can Europe better help cities and regions to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals?
Extremadura and the European Union share the same ambition regarding the climate and the environment. The EU - and its Member States - negotiates the international agreements in this field and establishes best practices and objectives. We must contribute to these objectives, but we need the support of the EU to achieve that. In December 2019, the European Commission presented the European Green Deal and we still need to see how it will be put into place. We share the majority of initiatives featured in the Green Deal such as the European Climate Law or the energy, industry and mobility initiatives. Moreover, we are waiting for the “Farm to Fork Strategy” that must bring solutions to the problems of the fields of Extremadura besides from fighting against climate change. We are waiting for the ecological financing strategies and also share some of the mechanisms to attain their objectives.
Regarding the Just Transition Fund, we believe that we should take into account the fact that some regions, because they have begun this transition in the past, have already put efforts into being more environmentally friendly. These efforts must be taken into account and valued. The fact that the region of Extremadura doesn’t rely on fossil fuels doesn’t mean that it doesn’t need help during this transition. For this reason, we are waiting to see what advisory and support mechanisms will be put into place to achieve a sustainable Europe.
As we have already mentioned it, Extremadura - just like the European Union - is firmly committed to the Sustainable Development Goals. The EU offers the strategies, guidelines, norms and funds to align our policies and actions on the SDGs. We also need to highlight the essential role of the European Structural and Investment Funds and their support for the SDGs.
The EU also allows us to join a network of regions and cities with common interests in order to share experiences and best practices, and to develop our administrative capabilities. In Extremadura, we are happy to participate in “Platforma”, a network that works on international cooperation and development and on the compliance with the SDGs. These types of collaborations allow us to reach the necessary stakeholders to access competitive European programmes. Extremadura has been a part of projects such as “CivAct”, which aspires to develop capabilities for migrants, refugees and European citizens that will then foster an inclusive cohabitation, a cohabitation that promotes freedom, democracy, equality and human rights in Europe. Another EU project in which Extremadura has participated is “Wise”, which fights to promote democratic commitment and active citizenship in the creation of local, regional and European policies. Both these projects have been co-financed by the Europe for Citizens programme.
Guillermo Fernández Vara has been the President of Extremadura since 2015. He belongs to the panish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE). Fernández Vara was also the President of the region in the 2007-2011 mandate. He has been a member of the European Committee of the Regions since 2015.