1. Socio-economic and environmental trends in Granada, Spain

Spain has been hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 pandemic but the recovery provides opportunities to build back more sustainably. As many other cities around the world, Granada has also been affected by the pandemic. With almost 514 000 registered COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic and 9 315 total deaths as of 8 April 2021, the Autonomous Region of Andalusia (hereafter Andalusia) has the third-highest caseload and number of deaths in the country, after Madrid and Catalonia (Ministry of Health, Consumer Affairs and Social Welfare, 2021[1]). Of these 9 315 deaths, the province of Granada accounted for 1 578 (around 17%). However, Andalusia is the seventh region with the lowest death rate per capita in Spain (Figure 1.1). While the crisis put many economic activities on hold, notably tourism – a pillar of Granada’s economy – the crisis has also been an opportunity to further reflect on sustainable production and consumption patterns. Environmental and social sustainability is one of the pillars of the Spanish Recovery, Transformation and Resilience Plan (España Puede): 37.1% of the funds will be allocated to the green agenda. In particular, funds will aim to accelerate sustainability in cities and rural areas (16%), resilient infrastructure and ecosystems (12.2%) and a just and inclusive energy transition (8.9%) (Government of Spain, 2020[2]).

In the post-COVID-19 scenario, the circular economy holds the potential to become the “new normal”. The circular economy is based on three principles: i) design out waste and pollution; ii) keep products and materials in use; and iii) regenerate natural systems (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2019[5]). According to the OECD (2020[6]), in cities and regions, the circular economy implies a systemic shift, whereby: services (e.g. from water to waste and energy) are provided, making efficient use of natural resources as a primary material and optimising their reuse; economic activities are planned and carried out in a way to close, slow and narrow loops across value chains, and infrastructure is designed and built to avoid linear lock-ins (e.g. district heating, smart grid, etc.) (see Chapter 2; Box 1.1).

By reconfiguring material loops, the circular economy can increase resilience in terms of food and energy security, reliable access to water, sustainable waste management and the future of transport. Cities could reclaim public space for people while regenerating green areas. Local food production could reduce transport costs, and organic waste could be used to close loops and strengthen links across urban and rural areas. Buildings, made of traceable and recyclable materials, could reduce emissions from material management and absorb carbon dioxide, increase water efficiency and be self-sufficient energy-wise. This will require conducive regulations, investments, new forms of collaboration and partnerships and a cultural shift towards a more resourceful and less wasteful society (Romano, 2020[14]). The COVID-19 crisis highlighted that changes are possible, but that it is important to tackle inequalities (Box 1.2).

Granada is the capital city of the homonymous province and the fourth most populous city in Andalusia. The region is composed of 8 provinces (Almería, Cádiz, Córdoba, Granada, Huelva, Jaén, Málaga and Seville) and is Spain’s most populous (8 464 411 inhabitants in 2020) (INE, 2021[19]). In 2020, Granada hosted 233 648 inhabitants, making it the 20th most populous city in Spain (INE, 2021[20]). Its metropolitan area covers 34 municipalities and represented, in 2019, over half of the population of the province of Granada (914 678 inhabitants), which is mainly composed of small municipalities with less than 2 000 inhabitants (Institute of Statistics and Cartography of Andalusia, 2021[21]).

The population of Granada is ageing and shrinking. In 2019, the senior population (over 65 years of age) represented 21.5% of the total population of the city, a figure that is higher than the national (19.4%) and regional (17.1%) level (INE, 2020[22]). Additionally, the population decreased by 4.4% between 2000 and 2020 (Figure 1.2) (INE, 2021[23]). For the 2013-22 period, the National Statistics Institute forecasts a negative population growth of -0.66% for the province of Granada, entailing the loss of 6 085 inhabitants in the census and an average annual loss of 609 Grenadians (Granada City Council, 2015[24]). The ageing trend of the local population can bring changes in energy and consumption emissions. Emissions per capita tend to be lower in households with senior citizens than in households with other age ranges (EEA, 2019[25]).

Granada attracts thousands of students from all over Europe every year, however the graduate retention rate is low. The University of Granada, one of the oldest universities in Spain and a descendant of the Arab Madrasahs, is the fourth-largest higher education institution in the country. It ranked among the top ten Spanish universities in 2020 (University of Granada, 2020[26]). During the 2019-20 academic year, approximately 55 000 students enrolled in the university, reaching the highest Erasmus exchange rate in Europe (University of Granada, 2020[27]). The number of international students was constantly increasing before the COVID-19 pandemic. The main research areas of the university are artificial intelligence, information and communication technology (ICT), food and health sciences. However, graduate retention rate in Granada is low, as graduates tend to leave the city in search of more attractive work destinations.

Granada is well known for its cultural heritage and one of the most important touristic destination in Spain. Granada hosts the Alhambra Palace, named United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site in 1984, which is one of the most visited monuments in Europe and the most visited in Spain, with 2.7 million visitors in 2019 (Government of Andalusia, 2020[28]). There are many touristic attractions in Granada and its surrounding areas, including the Sierra Nevada ski resort, the natural areas of La Vega, the Llano de la Perdiz, the Sierra de Huétor. In 2017, with the arrival of 1 786 852 tourists, half of which were international, Granada recorded an average stay of 1.82 days (Government of Andalusia/Granada City Council, 2020[29]). Granada belongs to the UNESCO Creative Cities Network, which promotes cites that prioritise creativity as a driver for sustainable urban development. The city also aims to present its candidacy for the European Capital of Culture in 2031, to be officialised between 2024 and 2025. Granada is seeking to achieve this award by improving and optimising the city’s historical heritage, with an investment of over EUR 23 million (UNESCO, 2021[30]; Granada City Council, 2021[31]).

Granada relies on tourism as a pillar of its economy. In 2013, 84.6% of the 22 363 existing firms in the city operated in the service sector, mainly related to tourism, and employed 83% of the total labour force (Granada City Council, 2015[24]). However, certain neighbourhood associations in Granada (especially of the Albaicín neighbourhood) claim that gentrification and unsustainable tourism have resulted in higher rents, despite 85% of stays in 2016 occurring in hotels, with flat rentals (5%) or Airbnb (1%) reported as being less common (Government of Andalusia/Granada City Council, 2020[29]). The city could generate positive environmental, social and economic impacts through greater circularity in sectors related to culture, tourism and hospitality. This would include circular approaches in value chains and policies related to food, housing and mobility, among others.

Granada is a digital hub thanks to its strong specialisation in R&D in technology and artificial intelligence. In 2017, the Spanish Ministry of Economy, Industry and Competitiveness designated Granada as City of Science and Innovation, acknowledging the city as leader for investment in scientific and technological infrastructure. Following this designation, the Municipality of Granada set up the Bureau for Science (Mesa por la Ciencia) to promote dialogue and research. In addition to the council, the bureau is composed of the University of Granada, the Science Park, the Granada Health Technology Park (Parque Tecnológico de la Salud, PTS), five centres of the Higher Council for Scientific Research, as well as the Granada Confederation of Businesses and the Government of Andalusia (Granada Ciudad de la Ciencia y la Innovación, 2021[32]). Granada hosts the PTS, one of the few technology sites specialised in health in Europe and contributing to the regional strategy for the digital industry, Industry 4.0.; as well as the largest technology and biotechnology cluster in the region, OnGranada (onGranada, 2018[33]). The qualification of the city of Granada as City of Science and Innovation and initiatives for implementing smart solutions in (Box 1.3) could be a way through which to develop concrete links between digitalisation and the circular economy. For example, applications would consist of using data and technology for circular economy models preventing waste, increasing energy efficiency in buildings, monitoring and reducing air pollution through traffic data, transforming waste into resources and regenerating natural systems.

Granada’s economy is characterised by the service sector. In 2019, the service sector represented 77.6% of the province of Granada’s gross domestic product (GDP), slightly higher than the regional (73.9%) and national (74.7%) levels (Ministry of Employment and Social Security, 2020[34]). In contrast, the industrial sector in the province of Granada represented 8.1% of GDP in 2019, below the regional (12.1%) and national (16.2%) averages (Ministry of Employment and Social Security, 2020[34]). In the same year, the agricultural sector represented 7.7% of GDP, more than double the national level (3.1%), while the relative contribution of agricultural employment in the province (8.6% in 2018) was slightly higher than in Andalusia (8.3%) and twice as high as in Spain (4.2%) (Unicaja, 2019[35]). According to the latest available data, in 2015, Andalusia accounted for approximately two-thirds of the integrated agricultural production areas in Spain in 2015, while their distribution varies considerably across provinces and crops (Government of Spain, 2021[36]). In 2019, Granada was the third province of Andalusia in terms of integrated production (70 183 hectares). These areas were dedicated mainly to olive groves (98.4%), as well as almond trees (1.3%) and protected agriculture (0.2%) (Government of Andalusia, 2019[37]).

Unemployment in Granada recorded a downward trend over the last five years but remains high compared to national and OECD standards. Since 2012, the unemployment rate in the city of Granada has dropped from 30.1% in 2012 to 23.2% in 2019, almost aligning with the Andalusian rate (22.3%) but above the national average (14.2%) (OECD, 2021[38])(Figure 1.3). As a consequence of the sanitary crisis, between February and December 2020, the number of job seekers in the city increased by 26.7%, from 22 935 to 29 069, bringing the city of Granada’s unemployment rate to 28.4% (Spanish Public Employment Service, 2021[39]).

The labour market in the province of Granada is concentrated geographically in its capital. This is evidenced by the fact that 38.2% of all job seekers at the provincial level in 2019 were affiliated with the social security system of the municipality of Granada (National Public Employment Service, 2020[41]). The average net income in the city of Granada amounted to EUR 21 710 in 2018, close to Andalusian levels (EUR 21 799) for the same year but below the Spanish average (EUR 25 950 (Institute of Statistics and Cartography of Andalusia, 2018[42])).

Potentially, the circular economy can create job opportunities in Granada. In the province of Granada, 9 720 jobs associated with the circular economy were reported in 2018 (Spanish Public Employment Service, 2020[43]). According to the Prospective Study of Economic Activities Related to the Circular Economy in Spain report published by the Spanish Public Employment Service in 2020, in 2018, there were 601 894 employees in activities related to the circular economy in Spain, which represented a 0.5% increase compared to 2009 (Spanish Public Employment Service, 2020[44]). Job families associated with the circular economy included the following areas:

  • Collection, treatment and disposal of waste; recovery.

  • Decontamination activities and other waste management services.

  • Rental activities (e.g. cars, leisure and sports equipment, machinery, office equipment).

  • Repair and installation of machinery and equipment.

  • Repair of computers, personal effects and household goods.

  • Retail sale of second-hand goods in shops.

  • Sale and repair of motor vehicles and motorbikes.

  • Wastewater collection and treatment.

  • Water collection, treatment and distribution.

  • Wholesale trade of scrap metal and waste products.

Box 1.4 presents international examples of employment opportunities linked to the circular economy.

Granada faces important environmental issues but CO2 emissions and air pollution are the main concerns to which the circular economy could provide solutions. CO2 emissions in the city of Granada have remained relatively stable since 2003 but the main drivers of emissions have changed over time. Annual CO2 emissions in Granada have varied between 427 and 502 kilotonnes of CO2, with a spike in 2007 before the global financial crisis and a low point in 2013, but total emissions have decreased by 6.4% overall (Figure 1.4). The importance of road traffic as a driver of CO2 emissions has declined since 2007 but CO2 emissions from electricity generation have been increasing since 2012, both in absolute terms and as a share of total CO2 emitted. The contribution of the domestic sector has remained relatively stable over time, accounting for 19% to 25% of CO2 emissions in Granada.

Granada is one of Spain’s most polluted cities, mainly as a result of emissions due to traffic, heating and construction but also due to its orography and climate conditions (Government of Spain, 2019[50]). The city and its metropolitan area are located in a valley surrounded by mountains, a situation that favours the formation of thermal inversions and weak winds, hindering the dispersion of pollution during the winter season. In 2019, the metropolitan area of Granada registered the highest mean population exposure to PM2.5 air pollution1 in Spain (15.1 μg/m3), above the OECD average (13.9 μg/m3) and the World Health Organization (WHO) standard (10 μg/m3) (OECD, 2021[51]). However, progress has been made over the last decade, as exposure to PM2.5 air pollution has decreased by 22% between 2005 and 2019 (OECD, 2021[51]). Granada has set up initiatives to improve air quality and the transition to the circular economy is believed to contribute to this goal (Box 1.5). Figure 1.5 shows the words that the city of Granada most associates with the circular economy concept according to the OECD Survey (2020[52]). The bigger the word in the figure, the higher the importance. These words are, in the order of priority, “climate change”, “environment”, “sustainable development”, “reusing” and “recover”.

Regarding the waste sector, one of the pillars of the circular economy, available data at the regional rather than at the local scale, shows that levels of separate waste collection in Andalusia are still relatively low in the region compared to other Spanish autonomous regions and there is no yet ambitious vision for conceiving a paradigm change from waste as a resource. Urban waste per capita collected in Andalusia decreased by 13.4% between 2012 and 2014 but has been growing since then, following the overall trend for Spain (Figure 1.6). In 2018, urban waste collected per capita in Andalusia reached 526.7 kg per capita, over 40 kg above the Spanish average of 485.9 kg per capita, making Andalusia the fourth-highest autonomous region in terms of urban waste collected per capita. On average, 12% of all urban waste collected in Andalusia had been separated between 2010 and 2018, below the Spanish average of 18.6%. The share of separate waste as a share of total urban waste collected in Andalusia remained relatively stable between 2010 and 2018, oscillating between 11.1% and 13.7%, below the overall Spanish level (Figure 1.7). In Spain, separated waste as a share of the total waste collected surpassed the 20% bar in 2018 (20.4%). Responsibility for the different phases of municipal waste separation, collection and treatment is fragmented, and the Municipal Waste Management Programme for the province of Granada 2014-24 does not integrate circularity principles. Data is available at the city level but it is both unclear in terms of the indicators measured and inconsistent with national sources. Integrating circular economy principles into waste management and other economic sectors could help to significantly reduce the amount of waste generated, as well as increase the share of waste separated and recycled (INE, 2019[58]).

Water consumption in Granada is decreasing but wastewater treatment and reuse in Andalusia remain relatively limited. Water consumption in the city of Granada and its 14 adjacent municipalities2 decreased by 22.6% between 2013 and 2020, from 50 980 350 m3 to 39 439 912 m3, according to Emasagra (2020[59]). In 2018, the average household water consumption in Andalusia was 128 litres per inhabitant per day, just below the national average of 133 litres (EP Data, 2021[60]). Granada has high-quality drinking water, well above the norms established by the WHO, the EU and Spanish sanitary authorities (Emasagra, 2020[61]). However, just 75.3% of the population of the province of Granada benefitted from water treatment (considering plants in operation and still under construction), the lowest rate of all Andalusian provinces and well below the Andalusian average of 89.7% (Government of Andalusia, 2020[62]). Furthermore, just 4.8% of treated wastewater is reused in Andalusia, below the national average of 11.2% (Official Association of Biologists of Andalusia, 2021[63]). Moving from a linear to a circular approach reducing and reusing water can have positive environmental, economic and social impacts, particularly in water-scarce areas such as Andalusia.

No clear trend towards reduced final energy3 consumption can be observed for the province of Granada between 2008 and 2018. However, the municipality aims to enhance energy efficiency. (Government of Andalusia, 2019[64]). Final energy consumption has varied between 1 164.3 and 1 396.3 kilotonnes of oil equivalent annually over this period. However, the province of Granada accounted for just 9.9% of Andalusia’s total energy use in 2018, with Cádiz, Málaga and Seville being the highest energy consumers. In 2018, 67.5% of the province of Granada’s final energy consumption came from fossil sources (petroleum and natural gas), while 22.1% of the final energy consumed was electric. Transport – which still overwhelmingly depends on fossil fuels – and the residential sector were the main drivers of final energy consumption, accounting for 41.6% and 20.9% respectively in 2018. The municipality aims to reduce consumption through savings and efficiency campaigns in the residential sector, the implementation of the Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan 20254 and the use of alternative energies (Granada City Council, 2013[65]). The transition to a circular economy can contribute by promoting shared transport solutions, thus increasing efficiency and by improving energy efficiency in buildings. Further details on how the circular economy can contribute to a more sustainable Granada will be discussed in Chapter 2.


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← 1. Calculated as the mean annual outdoor PM2.5 concentration weighted by population living in the relevant area, that is, the concentration level, expressed in µg/m3, to which a typical resident is exposed throughout a year.

← 2. Alhendín, Armilla, Cájar, Cenes de la Vega, Cúllar Vega, Churriana de la Vega, Gójar, Huétor Vega, La Zubia, Las Gabias, Ogíjares, Otura, Pinos Genil and Pulianas.

← 3. Final energy measures all energy supplied to the final end users (households, agriculture, industry, services, etc.) for all energy uses (Government of Andalusia, 2019[64]).

← 4. See http://www.movilidadgranada.com/pmus_index.php.

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