Climate change mitigation (Austria)
Why should we care about this issue
- Climate change
A large part of Austria is covered by the eastern Alps; about 40% of the total area lies more than 1000 m above sea level. Climate change will affect the Alpine area more severely than other European regions. Various effects of global warming have already been observed and further changes are expected to occur as regional climate models project continuously rising temperatures for the Alps until the end of the 21st century.
Observations point to a strong and general increase in temperatures in the Alps. Model results show a trend of continuous warming: the mean alpine temperature could increase by 3 to 5C in summer and 4 to 6C in winter by the end of the 21st century. General trends concerning observed mean precipitation have not been found. However, heavy precipitation tends to increase in different seasons depending on the territory. Most projections until 2100 suggest a decrease in summer and an increase in winter. Precipitation in winter will increasingly fall as rain rather than snow, leading to fewer days with snow cover. This trend is very likely to continue throughout the 21st century for all alpine countries. A retreat of the alpine glaciers has been observed since the end of the Little Ice Age in about 1850. The disappearance of medium altitude glaciers and a general reduction of glacier volumes and lengths are being predicted for the 21st century.
(see also results of the project ClimChAlp Climate change, impacts and adaptation strategies in the Alpine Space and the chapter Climate change: impacts and adaptation in the Alps The vulnerability of the Alps to climate change Climate change and impacts Future threats The need to adapt)
Forests make up more than 40% of the total Austrian territory. The agricultural area including alpine pastures has a comparable share. Mountainous ecosystems, and thus large parts of Austria, are highly vulnerable to changes.
National and international research documents the direct impact of the increase in air temperature and surface water temperature on the physical/chemical and ecological status of surface water bodies. As an example, for 12 Austrian lakes a tendency of water temperature rise as a consequence of the increase in air temperature can be observed. (M. Dokulil, 2009).
Observations show the migration of certain species toward higher altitudes. In the future, the composition of the vegetation group might change in altitude and latitude, inducing a loss of biodiversity, especially of the most endemic species that have a very limited climatic tolerance. Plant communities shift towards higher latitudes and altitudes, hence rare and endemic species with low dispersal capacities could become extinct in the present alpine and nival belts. The projected increase in temperature will likely move the tree line to higher elevations. Warmer temperatures are also expected to enhance the survival rates of forest pests such as the bark beetle or fungi infections. An increased frequency and severity of summer droughts is thought likely, which would threaten tree health and survival. Especially secondary coniferous stands in areas below 1000 m in elevation, which are extremely sensitive to environmental stress factors, are highly vulnerable to climate change. (BMLFUW 2009)
Agriculture is highly exposed to climate change, as farming activities are directly affected by climatic conditions. A change in currently viable areas of crop production is likely while crop yields may rise if moisture is not limited. Increases in the number of extreme events may offset potential benefits and soil degradation (by erosion, leaching, etc.) might be accelerated. As a consequence, a loss of agricultural productivity due to greater duration and/or intensity of precipitation in some areas may occur. On the other hand, droughts occurring in other parts of the country as in the hot and dry summers of 2000 and 2003 resulted in parts of Eastern Styria in a distinct decline in groundwater levels at the same time of high peak water demand over the summer months.
Tourism plays an important role in Austrias economy. A shortening of the winter sports season will probably occur in the next decades (OECD 2007). To some extent, the impacts might be offset by technologies such as snowmaking equipment, as long as climate conditions remain within appropriate bounds. However, artificial snow making also raises environmental concerns because of the quantities of energy and water required.
Concerning hydropower generation, the change of both the seasonal distribution of the reservoir influx and the overall water volume has an impact on the annual production capacity, due to potential changes in runoff extremes. Operating problems regarding water storage for power plants are likely to occur in individual cases, as glaciers are receding.
In general, there is a possible increase in the risk of incidence of vectorborne diseases (including Malaria), also associated with modern transport and tourism flow.
Therefore, to tackle the problem, Austrias climate policy relies on two pillars: adaptation and mitigation.
The key drivers and pressures
- Climate change
Figure 1: Share of 2008 GHG emissions by sector
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Figure 2: Development of national Greenhouse gas emissions compared to economic indicators 1990-2008.
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Figure 3: Gross energy consumption 1990-2008 (Statistik Austria 2009a)
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Greenhouse gas emissions in Austria
In 2008, greenhouse gas emissions in Austria amounted to 86.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2 equivalents). They were thus 11% above the levels of 1990. Emissions in 2008 were 17.8 million tonnes of CO2 equivalents above the annual mean value of the Kyoto target stipulated for 20082012. If the intended use of flexible instruments under the Kyoto Protocol is taken into account, the gap amounts to 6.9 million tonnes of CO2.
The main sources in 2008 were industry (30.5%), transport (26.1%), energy supply (15.6%) and residential and commercial energy demand (13.8%). In the sectors industry and energy supply, around 80% of the emissions are caused by installations participating in emission trading (Umweltbundesamt 2010a).
Around threequarters of GHG emissions result from energy use. For this reason, the growth in GHG emissions has gone handinhand with the increase in gross energy consumption and fossil fuel consumption.
Further factors of influence are economic and population growth; gross energy consumption per unit of valueadded; the use of renewable energy sources and changes in the mix of fuels.
Although gross energy consumption has grown by 36% against 1990, in real terms it has still increased less than GDP (52%) over the total period 19902008, albeit with significant sectoral differences.
The consumption of fossil fuels has largely paralleled energy consumption and GHG emissions have decoupled slightly from this over the course of the time series. The main reason for this effect is the reduction of emissions in the nonenergy sectors (around 25% mainly agriculture and waste). Other factors worth noting are greater use of lowcarbon fuels (due to a significant reduction in the use of lignite and the changeover from coal to gas); the growth in the use of renewable energy sources and the increased import of electricity (Umweltbundesamt 2009a). In Austria there is no nuclear power plant in operation.
Austria has a higherthanaverage share of renewable energy sources compared to other industrialised countries which amounted to 9.7% hydro power and 17.1% other renewables (mainly biomass, but also wind power, geothermal power, and solar power) of total gross energy consumption in 2008. (without net imports/exports for electricity). Nevertheless, energy supply in Austria is still heavily dependent on fossil fuels, with a share of 72.1%, but uses no own nuclear sources for electric power generation due to the ban on nuclear power.
The 2020 outlook
Figure 4: Actual and projected total GHG emissions in Austria (without Land use, Land use change and Forestry (LULUCF)) (Umweltbundesamt 2009b)
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According to EU's Climate and Energy Package, Austria is committed to achieving a 16% reduction of its GHG emissions by 2020 (excluding installations participating in the EU Emissions Trading System EU ETS) compared to 2005.
National energy forecasts for Austria which reflect the impact of the current financial and economic crisis on development trends until 2020 are currently under development. Emission scenarios based on economic projections not reflecting the current economic crisis show an increase in greenhouse gas emissions for Austria up to 2020 if no further measures are taken. If, however, measures which are currently planned are implemented and take effect by 2020 ('scenario with additional measures'), emissions outside the emission trading system are projected to reach approximately the levels of 2007. This means that in order to reach the 2020 targets, further measures are essential (Umweltbundesamt 2009a, 2009b).
Existing and planned responses
- Climate change
Policies and Measures
The first national Climate Strategy was developed in 2002. After a comprehensive evaluation process, the Climate Strategy was amended in 2007. In addition, most Federal Provinces (Lnder) have formulated their own regional climate change programmes, taking into account specific regional circumstances and needs. These programmes ideally supplement the national strategy. Additionally, joint and coordinated policies and measures (CCPMs) as an element of EU policy are implemented and transposed into national law at the appropriate level and have contributed to combating climate change (BMLFUW 2009).
The Ministries of Environment and of Economy have developed the Austrian Energy Strategy in order to achieve the national targets of the Energy and Climate Package. If the proposed measures are implemented, it is projected that Austria will reduce its GHG emissions outside the EU ETS by more than 16% by 2020, compared to 2005. In addition, the share of renewable energy sources will exceed 34% (the value of the renewables Directive) in 2020 (BMFWJ & BMLFUW 2010).
In addition, a national Climate Mitigation Act is under development. It is foreseen that this Act will identify clear responsibilities in achieving national and sectoral GHG targets.
A series of measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is embedded in different sectoral policies and has been implemented over the past years. Nevertheless, there is still need for enhancement and intensification of several measures that have been implemented.
Energy demand (residential and commercial)
Policies and measures aim at increased energy efficiency and intensified use of energy sources that are less carbon intensive by improving technical minimum standards and support schemes for energy efficient construction of buildings as well as by providing subsidies for biomass and solar space heating systems and for the thermal renovation of buildings. With respect to public awareness, numerous campaigns concerning domestic energy saving have been performed at national, regional and municipal level and by NGOs. Advisory services by publicly funded energy agencies and training programmes for specific target groups have been established and have become increasingly popular throughout the last decade.
The decline in GHG emissions mainly follows thermal insulation measures, the increasing use of renewable energy sources, district heating supply, and other factors such as mild winters. Further measures will be necessary, as well as stepping up of existing measures such as raising thermal insulation rates, increasing the efficient use of renewable energy sources combined with the best available technologies, and new approaches such as micro Combined Heat and Power Plants (CHP), and local heating. A recent revision and extension of a constitutional treaty between the Federation and the Lnder concerning housing subsidies ('Wohnbaufderung') will promote further measures.
In the energy supply sector, measures to increase the share of renewable energy sources in electricity production (Green Electricity Act) and to promote district heating from renewable energy sources have been implemented. Emission trading is the stimulus with highest relevance for emission reduction in conventional power plants. In Austria, about 200 energy intensive installations from industry and energy supply are covered by the EU ETS. While emissions from the ETS sector are capped, plants that do not participate in emission trading are required to cut down their emissions significantly. Consequently, supplementary efforts will be made to slow down the growth in electricity demand.
EU ETS is the most important single measure in this sector. Subsidies are provided for energy efficiency measures and use of renewable energy sources in industry. For example, the domestic environmental support scheme is to provide economic incentives for companies to implement measures in the field of energy efficiency, climate and environment protection. In general, the subsidy covers 30% of the environment related investment costs. Higher or lower subsidy rates are foreseen in certain circumstances.
Measures in the transport sector range from taxes based on fuel consumption, increase in energy efficiency, promotion of alternative fuels and propulsion systems to awareness raising and support of projects for sustainable transport.
Fluorinated gases, Waste management and Agriculture
The use of fluorinated gases has been restricted by law. Emissions in the waste sector have been significantly reduced by the reduced total organic carbon content of waste fractions disposed to landfills and by the collection of landfill gas. Support for sustainable agriculture and organic farming is granted.
Joint Implementation, Clean Development Mechanism (JI/CDM)
According to the national Climate Strategy the Austrian JI/CDM Programme will contribute 45 Tg CO2 equivalents (i.e. 9 Tg CO2 equivalents per year) to achieving the Austrian Kyoto target in the period 20082012.
For references, please go to www.eea.europa.eu/soer or scan the QR code.
This briefing is part of the EEA's report The European Environment - State and Outlook 2015. The EEA is an official agency of the EU, tasked with providing information on Europe’s environment.
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