Most of the mainland Spain landscape is dominated by a high plateau called the Meseta Central. The Meseta is skirted and crossed by a number of mountain ranges such as: the Pyrenees (which extend into Navarre, the Basque Country, Aragon and Catalonia) the Sistema Central (Madrid, Castile-Leon, Castile-La Mancha) the Sierra Nevada (in Andalusia) and the Cordillera Cantábrica (extending through Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria, Castile-Leon and the Basque Country). It is also made up of coastal plains, and lowland river valleys. In general, the regions of Spain can be subdivided into four main groups: the Meseta Central, other mountain systems, lowland areas and islands.
Environment - current issues: pollution of the Mediterranean Sea from raw sewage and wastes from the offshore production of oil and gas; water quality and quantity nationwide; air pollution; deforestation; desertification
The holm oak and the Dehesa desert are under threat. An invasive fungi called phytophthora from Australia found its way to the Dehesa causing a disease known as sudden oak death, aided by drought, several insects and other fungi. The biodiversity based around this habitat could be seriously affected.
Extensive forests are now limited to northern Spain because of centuries of unplanned cutting. Fires cause a loss of 700,000 to 1,000,000 hectares of forestland each year. With more than 8,500 plant species, Spain has the richest vegetation in Europe.
However, the government has begun a reforestation project. An average of 92,000 hectares (227,000 acres) arforested annually. Erosion affects 18% of the total land mass of Spain.
Air pollution is also a problem in Spain. In 2006, Industrial carbon dioxide emissions totaled 223.2 million metric tons (1 metric ton = about 2,200 pounds), ranking Spain 20th worse pollution compared to the other nations of the world. Industrial and agricultural sources contribute to the nation's water pollution problem.
Spain is currently the world’s second-biggest tourist destination after France, with the population of 45 million being bolstered every year by as many as 60 million foreign visitors, 80% of whom flock to the coasts. Due to the fact that tourism is drastically increasing, there is more coastal development causing more air pollution, and coastal erosion. In Barcelona, just 32 percent of the coastline remains undeveloped. Some cities have been taking action against coastal destruction. Since 1883, the Asturian coast has made it illegal to build within 500m of the coastline.
Spain is also exposed to oil pollution from tankers which travel the shipping routes near the nation's shores. Spain's cities produce about 13.8 million tons of solid waste per year.
The Directorate General of the Environment, within the Ministry of Public Works and Urban Affairs is responsible for all environmental issues. As of 2001, 8.4% of the country's total land area is protected.
In the same year, 19 of the country's mammal species, 10 bird species, 10 types of freshwater fish, and 822 plant species were endangered. Endangered species include the Spanish lynx, Pyrenean ibex, Mediterranean monk seal, northern bald ibis, Spanish imperial eagle, Cantabrian capercaillie, dusky large blue and Nevada blue butterflies, and on the Canary Islands, the green sea turtle and Hierro giant lizard. The Canarian black oystercatcher and the Canary mouse have become extinct.
The Pyrenees Mountains (North eastern Spain, natural boarder between Spain and France) have lost almost 90% of their glacier ice over the past century, according to scientists who warn that global warning means they will disappear completely within a few decades.
While glaciers covered 3,300 hectares of land on the mountain range that divides Spain and France at the turn of the last century, only 390 hectares remain, according to Spain's environment ministry.
Spain’s glaciers are losing the battle against warming and scientists say they may be some of the first to disappear from the continent over the coming decades. Their loss will have a severe impact on summer water supplies in the foothills and southern plains south of the Pyrenees.