For the duration of euronews' Green Week, our magazine and news teams are exploring stories and solutions for a better planet from across Europe.
Every morning around six million people wake up in Madrid, the European city with the highest number of premature deaths associated with nitrogen dioxide. They get ready for work, jump in their cars or on buses and inevitably add to the city's carbon footprint. Pollution in this capital is becoming a problem.
A protective national park
However, on a clear day in Madrid, you may be able to see the rocky giant that for a long time has protected the city from one of its greatest enemies: human activity. This giant is called the Sierra of Guadarrama, a mountain range that spans from the province of Ávila in the southwest, through the Community of Madrid, to the province of Segovia in the northeast. The Sierra of Guadarrama was protected and given national park status in 2013. It is one of Madrid's main weapons against pollution.
National parks, like Guadarrama, are part of the European action plan to achieve zero water, air and soil pollution. They also play a key role in the EU 2030 biodiversity strategy.
Pablo Sanjuanbenito is the Co-director of the Sierra of Guadarrama national park. He gives us some insight into the heritage of national parks. "Since their inception, the first parks in the United States, in the 19th century, were created not only for preservation purposes but also to raise awareness, to raise awareness about the conservation of nature, but also other environmental values, like pollution, waste disposal and more", he explains.
A green corridor
Some of the best-preserved forests are in the centre of the Iberian Peninsula. With 340 square kilometres of protected land, the Guadarrama National Park is an enormous air purifying filter for the Spanish capital.
Pablo describes it as "a green corridor that unites or brings the air from the mountains to Madrid". According to him, it's a real carbon sink.
At over 2000 meters high, the snow also falls frequently in the Sierra of Guadarrama, even during Spring. However, this hasn't helped it escape climate change. The temperature there has risen between one and two degrees in the last decades.
Despite being hit by the environmental damage of climate change, Guadarrama National Park still has purifying qualities. Rain and melting snow filter through its forests to give Madrid one of Europe's best quality waters. It is also a place for the local population to get away from the city and find some zen. However, this has also contributed to one of the park's new challenges: how to combine conservation with leisure space.
Madrid, like all cities around the world, is fighting against pollution. Unlike others though, this capital has nature on its side. The mountains of Guadarrama will continue to protect the city as long as we protect them.