Austria

   

Environmental Policies

#26
Key Findings
Despite a history of environmentally conscious decisions, Austria falls into the lower-middle ranks with regard to environmental policy (rank 26). Its score on this measure has declined by 0.1 point relative to 2014.

The ÖVP/FPÖ government was less committed than its predecessor to restrictions on carbon-dioxide emissions. It increased the speed limit on some highways, and sought speed up approval for projects deemed to be in the “national interest,” potentially bypassing environmental regulations. Greenhouse gas emissions levels are high, and emissions for heavy trucks and vehicles have not decreased since 2005.

Lobbyist action has also led to policies keeping carbon-market prices low, further diminishing pressure to reduce industrial emissions. The government has remained committed to the Paris climate agreement despite some contradictory signals.

After the collapse of the government and the ejection of the FPÖ from the governing coalition, all parties highlighted the future importance of climate-change policy.

Environment

#19

How effectively does environmental policy in your country protect and preserve the sustainability of natural resources and environmental quality?

10
 9

Environmental policy goals are ambitious and effectively implemented as well as monitored within and across most relevant policy sectors that account for the largest share of resource use and emissions.
 8
 7
 6


Environmental policy goals are mainly ambitious and effectively implemented and are monitored within and across some of the relevant policy sectors that account for the largest share of resource use and emissions.
 5
 4
 3


Environmental policy goals are neither particularly ambitious nor are they effectively implemented and coordinated across relevant policy sectors.
 2
 1

Environmental concerns have been largely abandoned.
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 thought of 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.

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 environmental 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 member states 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, well above those of its neighbors France, Italy and Switzerland, but below Germany.

Partly due to EU laws (the so-called Eurovignette directive), more international transit and partly due to the failure to make railroads a more attractive way to transport goods, Austria has completely failed to decrease carbon dioxide emissions from vehicle traffic. Greenhouse gas emissions for heavy vehicles and trucks have not decreased since 2005 – contrary to other traffic emission sources.

Industry and commerce remain the largest contributor to carbon dioxide emissions. Economic growth and cheap carbon-market certificates for carbon dioxide can be seen as the principal reasons for the increase in carbon dioxide 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 carbon dioxide certificates, contributing to a significant fall in certificate prices. As the FPÖ – a party that has repeatedly denied the existence of human-induced climate change – has become a governing party, there is not much reason to expect that this trend will be reversed.

The FPÖ has proven to be less strict in promoting restrictions on carbon dioxide emissions. This can be seen in the decision of the FPÖ’s minister of infrastructure and transportation to increase the speed limit on highways, although (for the moment) this is limited to a rather short part of the highway system. As this is defined as an experiment, the final outcome is still open. However, such an experiment, demonstrates a tendency to perceive climate change as a less serious challenge. Similarly, the government is aiming to speed up approval procedures for projects of “national interest.” The first drafts of this act left no doubt that the primary motivation of the government was to bypass environmental regulations, which the government considers to be too severe.

The end of the ÖVP-FPÖ coalition in summer 2019 has already an impact. Almost immediately after the coalition collapsed, parliament voted (against the votes of FPÖ members, but with the votes of ÖVP members and former opposition party members) to implement strict non-smoking rules for restaurants and cafés, which had been postponed under the coalition due to the FPÖ’s veto.

In the 2019 election campaign, all parties – to various degrees – paid lip service to strengthening climate change policy. It will depend on the outcome of the ongoing government formation negotiations (which will likely result in a coalition between the ÖVP and a new partner, not the FPÖ) to what extent Austria will try to become a leading advocate for climate protection policies in Europe.

Citations:
World bank data on COP2 emissions: https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/EN.ATM.CO2E.PC?view=map
CO2 Emission data for Austria: http://www.umweltbundesamt.at/fileadmin/site/publikationen/REP0582.pdf

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, contributes to their being advanced and has introduced 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 contributes to their being advanced and/or has introduced some appropriate reforms.
 5
 4
 3


The government demonstrates commitment to existing regimes, but does not contribute to their being advanced and has not introduced appropriate reforms.
 2
 1

The government does not contribute to international efforts to strengthen global environmental protection regimes.
Global Environmental Policy
6
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 carbon dioxide 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.

When the U.S. president declared that the United States will not respect the Paris climate agreement, the public reaction in Austria was very critical of the American trend to lower environmental protection standards. But, the anti-Trump mood in Austria is indirectly used to cover-up Austria’s underperformance in most aspects of climate change.

The Austrian government is still committed to the Paris climate agreement despite some signals of a greater support for the U.S. position since Donald Trump has become president. In addition, Austria appears increasingly less interested in playing the role of vanguard in matters of environmental protection – either globally or within the European Union.

It is likely that the end of the ÖVP-FPÖ coalition will result in a more environmentally sensitive approach to policymaking in Austria on the international and especially on the European level. However, it is unlikely that Austria will accept (or even promote) a shift from the member-state level to the EU level in decision-making power regarding environmental matters.
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