The Spanish cities that will be most affected by rising sea levels

In the next 80 years, rising sea levels of up to 81 cm along the Spanish coastline will see beaches submerged underwater and coastal urban areas and ports threatened. Here are the cities in Spain that NASA and the IPCC reveal will be the hardest hit.

rising sea levels spain
Cádiz is among the cities in Spain which will experience the highest rising sea levels in the next 80 years. Photo: Pablo Valerio/Pixabay

The sixth report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has sent shockwaves around the world, with the widespread and intensifying effects of climate change on the planet deemed “irreversible” and humans singled out as the only guilty party. 

Spain and the Mediterranean are expected to be one of the most affected areas by climate change in the decades to come as increased desertification, longer droughts and insufferable temperatures become a mainstay in mainland Spain and its islands.

One of the consequences of global warming which will have the biggest impact on the Spanish territory is rising sea levels, as evidenced by a new map published by NASA in tandem with the IPCC report. 

Rising sea levels have been recorded since the early 20th century, with the average global rise from 1900 to 2016 estimated to have been between 16 and 21 cm. 

But this rate is intensifying and many villages, towns and cities along the 8,000 kilometres that make up the Spanish coastline face having to adapt to a sea level at least half a metre higher by  the year 2100. 

As showcased in the interactive map which can be accessed here, Santa Cruz de Tenerife in the Canary Islands is expected to experience a +81centimetre sea level rise in the next 80 years, the highest in Spain. 

rising sea leavels spain

Cadiz (+75cm) and Barcelona (+75cm) will also be negatively impacted, with the Catalan capital’s much-loved beaches losing an estimated 6 to 10 metres of sand per year already. 

READ ALSO: Why are Barcelona’s beaches disappearing?

Other cities across the Spanish territory which NASA has reported will see their beaches and coastline threatened in the next decades include Valencia (+71cm sea rise level), Málaga (+61cm), Almería (+60cm), Alicante (+58cm), Palma de Mallorca (+66cm), Santander (+72cm), Gijón (+66cm), A Coruña (+73cm) and Vigo (+71cm). 

Nasa’s projections are based primarily on data collected by satellites and instruments on the ground, as well as computer analysis and simulations. 

According to the IPCC, a low-emissions future could help reverse some of these increases, but coastal planning which factors in the destructive nature of rising sea levels on cities, beaches, agriculture and areas of wild coastline will have to be on the long-term agenda of many municipalities across Spain. 

Rising sea levels also influence land erosion, the intensity of storms and other extreme meteorological events such as storm surges, a tsunami-like phenomenon of rising water associated with low-pressure weather systems.

Some of Spain’s most important protected natural areas – the Ebro Delta or Doñana National Park – are also at risk of subsidence, which occurs when the ground sinks due to the weight of the sediments, tectonic causes, or compacted oil or water extractions. Couple subsidence with rising sea levels, and the impact on the environment can be far greater.

Spain’s current Coastal Law came into force in 2013 promising protection and sustainable use of the coastline. However, in many cases it had the adverse effect of easing the levels of protection of the country’s seafront in favour of residential properties and economic activities. 

By reducing the protection perimeter from 100 metres to 20 metres with respect to the previous rule, thousands of houses built illegally on public land became legitimised, and thousands more benefitted from construction amnesty.

The result is a considerably built-up coastline which in 2018 was home to more than 60 percent of the Spanish population (Greenpeace stats). 

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


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.