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Catalan Government to protect a large part of the western Pyrenees from light pollution next autumn

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Catalan Government to protect a large part of the western Pyrenees from light pollution next autumn

  1. Thirteen of the sixteen municipalities of L’Alt Pirineu already have the maximum protection and the Catalan Government encourages the three remaining municipalities to speed up the procedures “to create the most important light protection area in Europe”

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The Ministry of Climate Action, Food and Rural Agenda plans to declare the Alt Pirineu Natural Park and the Aigüestortes and Estany de Sant Maurici National Park protected areas against light pollution next autumn. Mireia Boya e Busquet, Director General for Environmental Quality and Climate Change, explained the matter on Wednesday evening to the mayors of these protected areas and their catchment area.

Maximum protection for 13 municipalities in L’Alt Pirineu

Boya was very satisfied with the work carried out by the town councils of the Alt Pirineu Natural Park, which has allowed them to reach the final phase of the processing of the protection status in just one year since the initial resolution was published. In fact, 13 of the 16 municipalities that make up the area already have the maximum level of protection.

The Director General encouraged the three municipalities of the Natural Park that have yet to be incorporated into this body to speed up the processing, along with those that make up the Aigüestortes and Estany de Sant Maurici National Park, which interrupted the processing process, initiated in 2018, due to the pandemic, explaining that “it is an opportunity to highlight the value of one of the most important assets in the Pyrenees, to create the most important area of light protection in Europe”. The Generalitat de Catalunya will give them full support to reactivate the initiative in the coming months.

Economic and technical promotion throughout Catalonia

Indeed, all the municipalities in the country that have been declared areas of maximum protection can now receive priority financial aid to renovate their lighting installations, within the framework of a project that has also been presented in Sort. Boya announced that “we have extended the financing for lighting improvement actions, offering 100% financing to the municipalities and all the necessary technical support”.

The planned annual investment in aid for local authorities is between 500,000 and 1,900,000 euros/year, which will be distributed through calls for subsidies. A specific financial budget item will also be earmarked for privately owned establishments, with grants of between 100,000 and 200,000 euros per year between 2024 and 2028.

More than 100 municipalities involved

The aim of the project is to protect and highlight the importance of the natural environment at night in the most privileged areas of Catalonia. At the same time it wants to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from energy consumption used in lighting by at least 60% in outdoor lighting installations (almost 1,400 tonnes of CO2-eq/year) and also in other municipalities of less than 1,000 inhabitants, which are normally close to areas of high natural value.

This protection will be achieved through four lines of action:

  1. Support for public lighting planning in the municipalities involved.
  2. Financial aid for the modernisation of facilities. This will potentially affect some 500 municipalities, some 120,000 municipal public lighting points and also privately owned establishments.
  3. Measurement and prediction: implementation of an innovative system for assessing the quality of the night sky throughout Catalonia based on computer modelling, satellite vision and also monitoring at fixed measurement stations. This will enable the creation of indicators to evaluate the evolution of light pollution throughout the territory.
  4. Dissemination, information and training actions.

Sustainable lighting

A poorly designed outdoor lighting installation produces light pollution due to the impact that excess light has on its surroundings and, indirectly, due to the fact that it consumes more energy than necessary, with the consequent emission of GHGs for the production of that energy. The use of new technologies can significantly reduce energy consumption and the environmental impact of outdoor lighting. It is therefore necessary to use light that is as warm as possible and to minimise the emission of blue light, which has the greatest impact on the environment and living beings. Amber light helps people to fall asleep, while white light does not. Correcting poor lighting leads to improved public health.

In particular, in areas of special protection, the light to be installed must be one that guarantees three basic criteria: the shade of light should be pumpkin; the flow of light should be downwards, avoiding sending light to the sky or to areas where darkness should be preserved, and there must be remote management or dimming systems to adjust the lighting, or even switch it off, where and when it is needed.

Preserving natural darkness

The loss of natural darkness not only affects stargazing, but is a further factor threatening biodiversity, as many animal and plant species depend on darkness to carry out their vital actions of feeding (predator-prey relationship) and reproduction. The Alt Pirineu Natural Park, for example, boasts one of the greatest diversities of nocturnal Lepidoptera in Europe. Up to 800 different species of butterflies live there, thanks in large part to the quality of the dark sky.

“In these times of global environmental crisis and climate emergency, the network of natural parks is a fundamental infrastructure for the country”, stressed Boya, who remarked that “we must not only have protected natural spaces but must also ensure their health: we must ensure that the environmental quality of these areas is optimal for the species that live there, from the point of view of water quality, air quality and soil contamination”. And also, she added, “we must preserve the natural darkness of these spaces, an element of environmental quality that is indispensable for the life and survival of many species”.