In Madrid, where summer temperatures are becoming increasingly unbearable due to climate change, the fate of the city’s trees has become a hot-button topic ahead of Spain’s local and regional elections.
On the eve of Sunday’s vote, the right-wing Popular Party (PP), which governs both the capital and the Madrid region, has come under attack for its renovation of Puerta del Sol square without planting a single tree.
In a city whose emblem features a wild bear nuzzling a strawberry tree — a statue of which graces the square — critics say a major opportunity was missed to introduce vegetation to the sweeping plaza.
Faced with the backlash, city hall has paused controversial plans to fell more than 1,000 trees next to the Manzanares River to extend a metro line.
“All scientists say ‘you must plant trees’… and add more greenery” to fight climate change, which is causing abnormal heat in Madrid, said Susana de la Higuera, spokeswoman for Pasillo Verde, the association behind the protests that have been key in halting the tree-felling plans.
“But Madrid’s regional government is trying to destroy (the trees) here, and city hall is also involved,” she told AFP.
Experts say climate change is causing earlier and more intense heatwaves in Madrid and the rest of Spain.
Trees play an important role in countering the “urban heat island effect” that causes cities to be several degrees warmer than nearby rural areas.
The issue is particularly sensitive in Madrid which lost nearly 20 percent of its mature trees over the past four years, mostly due to the historic snowfall which blanketed the Spanish capital in January 2021, municipal figures show.
Javier Padilla, spokesman for the leftist Mas Madrid, said city hall had “done nothing to replant the trees” after the storm, and also accused the region’s hardline right-wing Isabel Diaz Ayuso of climate change denial.
She came under fire in November for saying measures to fight global warming were “a big scam” and claiming that the climate has been continuously changing “for as long as Earth has existed”.
Meanwhile, mayor Jose Luis Martinez Almeida, hit back at his left-wing critics by accusing them of a mass culling of the city’s trees when they were in city hall between 2015 and 2019.
If re-elected on Sunday, he has pledged to plant 500,000 trees.