Which city in Spain has the cleanest air? 

A new study looking at global air pollution has found that a city in southern Spain is one of the urban areas with the cleanest air in the world. 

Which city in Spain has the cleanest air? 
The view from the Alcazaba fortress at the top of Almería, the city with the cleanest air in Spain according to a recent international study. Photo: Wikipedia

The Andalusian city of Almería in southeast Spain is among the towns and cities with the lowest levels of air pollution on the planet, according to the results of a study carried out by international air purifying company HouseFresh.

The coastal city of roughly 200,000 inhabitants recorded levels of harmful particles of 4.4 μg / m³, below the limit set by the World Health Organization (WHO) of 10 μg / m³.

This is the level from which the WHO makes an association between prolonged exposure to air pollution and the appearance of respiratory diseases, leukemia, heart disease, strokes and breast cancer.

Other towns and cities in Europe with similarly low levels of PM2.5 concentration included Fundao in Portugal with 4.2, Neuchatel in Switzerland with 4.5, Corte in France with 4.6 and Crieff in Scotland and Enniskillen in Northern Ireland, both with 4.3.

The PM2.5 concentration refers to atmospheric particulate matter (PM) that have a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometres, about 3 percent the diameter of a human hair.

On the other side of the spectrum with the worst air quality in Spain was the city of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands with a level of 31 μg / m³, which could be partly attributed to the common presence of dust in suspension blown over from the nearby Sahara desert.

The Gran Canarian capital’s air pollution level is still classified as moderate by the WHO and lower than that of the Polish city of Orzesze (44.1) or Sarajevo in Bosnia Herzegovina with 42.5.

best and worst air quality spain

Housefresh used data collected in April 2021 by IQAir, a Swiss air quality technology company specialising in protection against airborne pollutants.

They have a real-time map and ranking of the cities and towns with the most polluted air in Spain, so you can check the current levels in your part of Spain here

Screenshot of Spain’s air pollution map on August 11th 2021.

The average PM2.5 concentration in Spain’s air is currently double that of WHO exposure recommendations. In 2020 the country ranked 80th of out 106 countries for worst air pollution, meaning its levels were lower than the average globally.  

But in big cities such as Madrid and Barcelona air pollution levels are regularly above what’s healthy, with a study published in January 2021 in The Lancet finding that the Spanish capital and its surroundings is the area of ​​Europe with the most deaths associated with nitrogen dioxide (NO2). Barcelona and the nearby town of Mollet des Vallès came in sixth and seventh place.

“In 2020, 84 percent of all monitored countries observed air quality improvements, largely due to global measures to slow the spread of COVID-19,” IQ Air’s 2021 report states.

Barcelona’s Public Health Agency recently reported that 600 deaths could be avoided every year if the air pollution drop recorded in 2020 could be maintained in 2021 and future years. 

“About half of all European cities exceed the WHO’s target for annual PM2.5 pollution. The highest levels of PM2.5 pollution was found in Eastern and Southern Europe, with Bosnia Herzegovina, North Macedonia and Bulgaria taking the lead,” IQ Air concluded.

Another air pollution study carried out by Spanish enviromentalist group Ecologistas en Acción found that “with the information currently available, the population affected by PM2.5 particles in Spain in 2019 amounted to 17.8 million people, 37.5 percent of the population.

air pollution spain

“The affected areas were the industrial areas of the Bay of Algeciras and Carboneras, Malaga and the Costa del Sol, towns in Andalusia’s interior, Oviedo, Eivissa, the Santander Bay, The Plain of Vic, Alicante and southern Murcia (except the capital and Escombreras), the industrial zone of Huelva, Zaragoza, the Asturian central basins, Palma in Mallorca, the Torrelavega region, the south of Lleida, the southeast of Alicante, Castellón, the Community of Madrid and Pamplona”.

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Rampant branch closures and job cuts help Spain’s banks post huge earnings

Spain’s biggest banks this week reported huge profits in 2021 and cheered their return to recovery post-Covid, but ruthless cost-cutting in the form of thousands of layoffs, hundreds of branch closures and the removal of many ATMs have left customers in Spain suffering, in this latest example of ‘Capitalismo 2.0’. 

A man withdraws cash from a Santander branch in Madrid.
More than 3,500 Santander workers lost their jobs in Spain in 2021 and a further 2,000 more employees working for Santander across Europe were also laid off. Photo: PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP

Spanish banking giant Santander on Wednesday said it has bounced back from the pandemic as it returned to profit last year, beating analyst expectations and exceeding its pre-COVID earnings.

Likewise, Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA said on Thursday that it saw a strong rebound in 2021 following the Covid crisis, tripling its net profits thanks to a recovery in business activity.

It’s a similar story for Unicaja (€137 million profit in 2021), Caixabank (€5.2 billion profit thanks to merge with Bankia), Sabadell (€530 million profit last year), Abanca (€323 million profit) and all of Spain’s other main banks.

This may be promising news for Spain’s banking sector, but their profits have come at a cost for many of their employees and customers. 

In 2021, 19,000 bank employees lost their jobs, almost all through state-approved ERE layoffs, meant for companies struggling financially.

BBVA employees protest against layoffs in May 2021 in Madrid. Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA is looking to shed 3,800 jobs, affecting 16 percent of its staff, in a move denounced by unions as “scandalous”. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)

Around 11 percent of bank branches in Spain have also been closed down in 2021 as part of Spanish banks’ attempts to cut costs, even though they’ve agreed to pay just under €5 billion in compensation.

Rampant branch closures have in turn resulted in 2,200 ATMs being removed since the Covid-19 pandemic began, even though the use of cajeros automáticos went up by 20 percent in 2021.

There are now 48,300 ATMs in Spain, levels not seen since 2001.


Apart from losses caused by the coronavirus crisis, Spain’s financial institutions have justified the lay-offs, branch closures and ATM removals under the premise that there was already a shift to online banking taking place among customers. 

But the problem has been around for longer in a country with stark population differences between the cities and so-called ‘Empty Spain’, with rural communities and elderly people bearing the brunt of it. 


Caixabank laid off almost 6,500 workers in the first sixth months of 2021. Photo: ANDER GILLENEA/AFP

Just this month, a 78-year-old Valencian man has than collected 400,000+ signatures in an online petition calling for Spanish banks to offer face-to-face customer service that’s “humane” to elderly people, spurring the Bank of Spain and even Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to publicly say they would address the problem.

READ MORE: ‘I’m old, not stupid’ – How one Spanish senior is demanding face-to-face bank service

It’s worth noting that between 2008 and 2019, Spain had the highest number of branch closures and bank job cuts in Europe, with 48 percent of its branches shuttered compared with a bloc-wide average of 31 percent.

Below is more detailed information on how Santander and BBVA, Spain’s two biggest banks, have reported their huge profits in 2021.


Driven by a strong performance in the United States and Britain, the bank booked a net profit of €8.1 billion in 2021, close to a 12-year high. 

It was a huge improvement from 2020 when the pandemic hit and the bank suffered a net loss of €8.7 billion after it was forced to write down the value of several of its branches, particularly in the UK. It was also higher than 2019, when the bank posted a net profit of €6.5 billion.

Analysts from FactSet were expecting profits of €7.9 billion. 

“Our 2021 results demonstrate once again the value of our scale and presence across both developed and developing markets, with attributable profit 25 per cent higher than pre-COVID levels in 2019,” said chief executive Ana Botin in a statement.

Net banking income, the equivalent to turnover, also increased, reaching €33.4 billion, compared to €31.9 billion in 2020. This dynamic was made possible by a strong increase in customer numbers, with the group now counting almost 153 million customers worldwide. 

“We have added five million new customers in the last 12 months alone,” said Botin.

Santander performed particularly well in Europe and North America, with profits doubling in constant euros compared to 2020. In the UK, where Santander has a strong presence, current profit even “quadrupled” over the same period to €1.6 billion.

Last year’s net loss was the first in Banco Santander’s history, after having to revise downwards the value of several of its subsidiaries, notably in the UK, because of COVID.

The banking giant, which cut nearly 3,500 jobs at the end of 2020, in September announced an interim shareholder payout of €1.7 billion for its 2021 results. “In the coming weeks, we will announce additional compensation linked to the 2021 results,” it said.


The group, which mainly operates in Spain but also in Latin America, Mexico and Turkey, posted profits of €4.65 billion ($5.25 billion), up from €1.3 billion a year earlier.

The result, which followed a solid fourth quarter with profits of €1.34 billion, was higher than expected, with FactSet analysts expecting a figure of €4.32 billion .

Excluding non-recurring items, such as the outcome of a restructuring plan launched last year, it generated profits of 5.07 billion euros in what was the highest figure “in 10 years”, the bank said in a statement.

In 2020, the Spanish bank saw its net profit tumble 63 percent as a result of asset depreciation and provisions taken against an increase in bad loans due to the economic fallout of the virus crisis.

“The economic recovery over the past year has brought with it a marked upturn in banking activity, mainly in the loan portfolio,” the bank explained, pointing to a reduction of the provisions put in place because of Covid.

In 2021, BBVA added a “record” 8.7 million new customers, largely due to the growth of its online activities. It now has 81.7 million customers worldwide.

The group’s net interest margins also rose 6.1 percent year-on-year to €14.7 billion, said the bank, which is undergoing a cost-cutting drive.

So far, it has axed 2,935 jobs and closed down 480 branches as the banking sector undergoes increasing digitalisation and fewer and fewer transactions are carried out over the counter.

At the end of 2020, BBVA sold its US unit to PNC Financial Services for nearly 10 billion euros and decided to reinvest some of the funds in the Turkish market.

In November, it launched a bid to take full control of its Turkish lending subsidiary Garanti, offering €2.25 billion ($2.6 billion) to buy the 50.15 percent stake it does not yet own.

The deal should be finalised in the first quarter of 2022.