Spain’s Telecommuting and Early Retirement Trends Benefit Climate Change Mitigation

Historically, CO2 emissions have been strongly correlated with economic development. The richer we are, the more CO2 we emit. But this relationship no longer necessarily holds at higher incomes. Many countries are starting to achieve economic growth while reducing emissions. They are decoupling the two. It’s only over the last 20 years that this decoupling has started to happen. Last year, “The Economist” calculated that 1 out of 8 people live in the 33 countries that have achieved it.

Since 1990, Spain has experienced a per capita GDP growth of approximately 40%, while per capita emissions have decreased by about 12%. Moreover, the country’s total gross emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) have reduced by around 25% since 2000. The year 2007 marked the beginning of decoupling for Spain.

Principio del formulario

The main reason emissions have fallen in Spain is that the country is replacing fossil fuels with low-carbon energy. The continued decline in the cost of low-carbon technologies makes this acceleration more realistic daily (Our World in Data, 2021).

Now, if we set aside technological factors looking for what Spain could do to strengthen its climate policies and still address its development needs, ensuring the well-being of their citizens, the answer would be “simple”: focus on social development policies that benefit climate change mitigation, prioritizing what citizens are already demanding to improve their well-being.

For example, remote work was one of the best practices citizens have experienced during the COVID pandemic. In Spain, 85% of people were more satisfied with teleworking than working in the office (servimedia, 2023). Applying one more day of working from home per week in cities like Madrid or Barcelona reduces CO2 emissions from general transportation by 3% and 7.8% in emissions produced by commuting to work (Greenpeace, 2021).

However, not even two years have passed since the COVID pandemic, and remote work has been drastically reduced in Spain. According to data published in a survey by the National Institute of Statistics (INE, 2024), only 13.8% of employed individuals (2,880,494) teleworked totally or partially in 2023. Spain is well behind the European Union (EU), with a mean of teleworking of 22%. Nevertheless, out of the total of 160,218 workers in the General State Administration, 68,669 work remotely, accounting for 42.9%. Most remote-working civil servants, 51%, do so two days a week and physically go to the office for three days to reduce the energy impact produced by commuting to the workplace and the energy consumption in the office. The government must transpose its vision to the private sector and incentivize sustainable policies that promote telecommuting for companies.

Another example, although its benefits in reducing GHG emissions have not been measured yet, regards the new generation of citizens who prioritize retiring with a high capacity to enjoy a quality life rather than contributing for the longest time to achieve the highest possible pension. According to Spanish Social Security statistics, one-third of workers prefer not to wait for ordinary age and to retire earlier. Furthermore, even if they receive less money than they would if they waited until 67, the official retirement age, they do so (Huffpost, 2023). However, in the last decade, the pension system policy has gone in the opposite direction of citizens’ demands. The government is progressively increasing the retirement age and offering delayed retirement incentives.

This is a case where citizens’ demand would benefit climate change mitigation because these pensions correspond to individuals who most extensively use cars to commute to and from work. Developing a policy that fosters a voluntary early withdrawal from the labor market also would facilitate the entry of younger individuals into the job market. Spain has the highest youth unemployment rate in the European Union: 27.8%. Besides, young people have greater environmental sensitivity and higher skills in information technology, allowing them to be more “sustainable” and productive in remote jobs. A policy that complements voluntary early retirements with the promotion of telecommuting for young individuals should be further explored to strengthen climate policies and still address the development needs, ensuring the well-being of their citizens.

This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard Spain Country Manager Juanjo Santos.


Climate Scorecard depends on support from people like you.

We are a team of researchers providing information on efforts to reduce global emissions. We help make you better informed and able to advocate for improved climate change efforts. Donations of any amount are welcome.