Austria

   

Environmental Policies

#20
Key Findings
Despite a history of environmentally conscious decisions, Austria’s focus on growth gives it middling overall scores with regard to environmental policy (rank 20). Its score on this measure is unchanged relative to 2014.

While public opinion has pushed the government to be in the vanguard of international environmental protection, the country in fact failed to meet its Kyoto commitments. This in part due to failures to shift to rail-based goods transport, which has kept vehicular CO2 emission rates very high.

Lobbyist action has also led to policies keeping carbon-market prices low, further diminishing pressure to reduce industrial greenhouse-gas emissions. However, public opinion has sustainably shifted to support the need for environmental protection more generally.

Environment

#15

How effectively does environmental policy protect and preserve the sustainability of natural resources and quality of the environment?

10
 9

Environmental policy effectively protects, preserves and enhances the sustainability of natural resources and quality of the environment.
 8
 7
 6


Environmental policy largely protects and preserves the sustainability of natural resources and quality of the environment.
 5
 4
 3


Environmental policy insufficiently protects and preserves the sustainability of natural resources and quality of the environment.
 2
 1

Environmental policy has largely failed to protect and preserve the sustainability of natural resources and quality of the environment.
Environmental Policy
6
Austria’s government has sought to establish a policy course balancing economic growth and protection of the environment. In reality, this is very often seen as a contradiction. Environmental policies may have significant effects for employment and even for economic growth in the long run, but in the short run – and the Austrian government, like any democratic government, is first and foremost focused on short-term effects – traditional economic incentives are given priority most of the time, at the cost of environmental protection.

However, this has changed little by little in recent decades, as public opinion has slowly accepted the need for environmental protection. Ecological values have been embraced by virtually all political parties, not just the Greens, and as long as protecting the environment is not in immediate conflict with economic growth, the government has promoted environmental policies. But the ambiguity remains, as well as a tendency to think within traditional frameworks that favor economic growth over environment protection. Public opinion in Austria is inclined to think the country should be in the vanguard of international environmental protection and for that reason Austria’s signing of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change in Paris at the end of 2015 was not disputed domestically. Despite all this, Austria is one of the very few EU countries that has failed to meet the objectives of the Kyoto Protocol. To this day, Austria’s greenhouse gas emission levels are very high for a country of its size.

Partly due to EU laws (the so-called Eurovignette directive), and partly due to the failure to make railroads a more attractive way to transport goods, Austria has completely failed to decrease vehicle-traffic CO2 emissions.

Industry and commerce are responsible for the second-highest increase in total CO2 production, and remain the largest contributor to CO2 emissions in full with 45.6% of total greenhouse gas emissions. Economic growth and cheap carbon-market certificates for CO2 can be seen as the principal reasons for the increase in CO2 emissions in this sector. In part due to strong lobbying by economic actors, the Austrian government has failed to control the supply and prices of tradable CO2 certificates, contributing to a significant fall in certificate prices.

Global Environmental Protection

#28

To what extent does the government actively contribute to the design and advancement of global environmental protection regimes?

10
 9

The government actively contributes to international efforts to design and advance global environmental protection regimes. In most cases, it demonstrates commitment to existing regimes, fosters their advancement and initiates appropriate reforms.
 8
 7
 6


The government contributes to international efforts to strengthen global environmental protection regimes. It demonstrates commitment to existing regimes and occasionally fosters their advancement or initiates appropriate reforms.
 5
 4
 3


The government demonstrates commitment to existing regimes, but neither fosters their advancement nor initiates appropriate reforms.
 2
 1

The government does not contribute to international efforts to strengthen global environmental protection regimes.
Global Environmental Policy
5
Austria’s approach to global environmental policy is full of contradictions. Rhetorically, Austria (the government, political parties, media) paints itself as a frontrunner in global governance, from Kyoto to Copenhagen and Paris. In practice, however, the country’s efforts do not support this conclusion. Austria is still proud of its 1978 decision not to use nuclear energy, one of the first countries to do so worldwide. This has become a kind of national narrative, in which Austria is proud to be in the vanguard of enlightened environmental consciousness. Austria tends to lecture others, including its neighbors in Europe, about the need to improve ecological standards. But when it has come to the practical job of reducing CO2 emissions, Austria continues to fall behind its peers. The real power of special interests (such as the automobile associations, goods transporters, and industry) has thus far proven too strong to overcome.
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