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Sound and independent information
on the environment

Austria

Country profile (Austria)

What distinguishes the country?

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Environment Agency Austria
Organisation name
Environment Agency Austria
Reporting country
Austria
Organisation website
Organisation website
Contact link
Contact link
Last updated
21 Dec 2010
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CC By 2.5
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Environment Agency Austria
Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 03 Oct 2013 Feed synced: 21 Dec 2010 original

Figures

Figure 2: CORINE Land Cover 2006 (Umweltbundesamt, compiled)

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Figure 2:  CORINE Land Cover 2006 (Umweltbundesamt, compiled)
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Figure 3: EU Directive 91/271/EEC concerning urban waste water treatment Austrian Report 2008 (modified)

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Figure 3: EU Directive 91/271/EEC concerning urban waste water treatment  Austrian Report 2008 (modified)
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Figure 1: Climatic map of Austria (Copyright 2008 Österreichische Hagelversicherung V VaG, modified)

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http://www.umweltbundesamt.at/uploads/pics/div_fig1_02.jpg
Figure 1: Climatic map of Austria (Copyright 2008 Österreichische Hagelversicherung V VaG, modified)
Fullscreen image Original link

Austria is a landlocked country with approximately 8.3 million inhabitants and a large proportion of the Alps in central Europe. Geopolitically peripheral until 1989, it is situated today in the interior of central Europe with 83,879 km surrounded by eight countries (Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia and Hungary), no fewer than six of which are EU Member States. Austria's geopolitical situation today therefore differs fundamentally from when it joined the EU 15 years ago and prior to the subsequent enlargements in 2004 and 2007.

 

In general, the climate within Austria varies very widely over short distances (approximately 700 km from east to west and approximately 50 290 km from north to south) because of the pronounced relief formation, and ranges from an alpine to a central European climate, from one influenced by the Atlantic to a continental and Illyrian one, the latter already showing a Mediterranean influence.

Specific topography of Austria

Austria's natural landscape is characterised primarily by the high proportion of mountain areas about 60% of the country's territory is mountainous, with only 32% lying below 500 m. The specific land forms have resulted in small yet distinct regions and a close interdependence between the natural and cultural landscapes with specific types of use and management (Figure 2), which has direct consequences for the environment and nature conservation.

 

As a further consequence of the country's topography, the distribution of soil types is also on a very small scale, i.e. the associated soil properties differ widely even over a very small area.
For details see the digital soil map for Austria.

 

Varied topography and the overlap of different biogeographical regions give Austria a speciesrich fauna and flora. With regard to native animal and plant species, Austria is, despite its small size, one of the most speciesrich countries in central Europe.

Population density

 

In Austria, the peripheries of urban conurbations show tendencies of urban sprawl, whilst the rural regions are sparsely populated. Austrias inhabitants are distributed across 17,365 communities with 1.764,455 dwellings (STATISTIK AUSTRIA 2009, status 2001). The mountainous regions are particularly sparsely populated (Figure 3).

 

Measures have been taken for centuries to protect this very scarce permanent settlement area from natural hazards which can be particularly serious in the mountainous regions. Flood prevention measures and the reclamation of former wetlands for agricultural production have reduced the areas available for surface waters, and led to the straightening of watercourses and the loss of many former wetlands.

 

Governance/ environmental governance:

 

Unlike the majority of the 27 EU countries, Austria has a federal system of government. The Republic  is made up of nine federal states. The division of legislative and executive powers between federation and states is set out in the federal constitution. Since 1985, comprehensive protection of the environment has been an important state objective and has constitutional status in Austria.   

Another specific feature of the political system in Austria are the large corporative interest organisations, the chambers of commerce, agriculture, labour and the national trade union federation. These organisations, membership of which is compulsory, are referred to as social partners and they are governed by public law. When draft legislation is proposed by the government, it undergoes an evaluation process during which the social partners propose amendments.

 

For the organisation of the Austrian Federal Ministry responsible for the environment, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Environment and Water Management, see Organigramme.  

 

The main Austrian expert organisation for all environmental issues is Umweltbundesamt GmbH. Its core tasks include the monitoring, management and evaluation of environmental data, see profile of the Environment Agency Austria.

Economic/agricultural structure

Austria's economy is characterised by the predominance of the services sector and small and mediumsized businesses particularly in the various service industries. Most of the country's territory is used for agriculture and/or forestry, with large areas of forest managed by farmers. In EU terms, agriculture in Austria is small scale, and Austrian farmers are increasingly focussing on 'green' farming. The number of organic farmers in Austria has risen dramatically since 1990 and remains high. Austria has the highest density of organic farms in the European Union.
BMLFUW Austrian Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Environment and Water Management 2010A.  
Download "Grner Bericht"

 

Since the first approvals were given for GMOs in the European Union, Austria has maintained a very sceptical position towards their use in agriculture (Eurobarometer 64.3, 2006). This scepticism is shared by consumers and farmers alike, particularly since a significant proportion of organically grown foods and other certified nonGMO foods are produced and consumed in Austria and Austrian producers export substantial quantities of organic and nonGMO foods to other EU markets. Given the smallscale of agricultural structures in Austria, this organic cultivation would be seriously jeopardised by the introduction of GM crops. Austria supports sustainable agricultural production and emphasises that financial support measures for farmers are linked to environmentallyfriendly agricultural practices. This policy would be contradicted by the widespread adoption of currently available GM crops. Therefore, Austria endorses measures to strengthen the responsibilities of the Member States in relation to the evaluation and authorisation of GMO applications and the cultivation of GM crops. Austria will contribute to follow up on the Commission proposals of July 2010 to allow states to decide for themselves whether they wish to cultivate GMOs.

 

In economic sectors with relevance for the environment, such as renewable energy (e.g. biomass heating plants and smallscale biomass systems, solar thermal systems and hydroelectric power stations), wastewater treatment, and waste disposal, Austrian companies have developed internationallyacknowledged expertise and are very active on these markets. (see: Austria and the European Environmental Policy)

 

Austria however continues to be of the opinion that nuclear energy is neither a sustainable form of energy supply nor a workable option for combating climate change. As long ago as 1978, when a national referendum was held on the commissioning of the nuclear power station at Zwentendorf, the majority of the population voted against it. Since then the use of nuclear energy has been explicitly prohibited in Austria. (Bundesverfassungsgesetz fr ein atomfreies sterreich Federal Constitutional Act for a Nonnuclear Austria). Optimal safety for the Austrian population and protection of the environment are a top priority and therefore the creation of strict and binding safety standards for nuclear installations is a major objective of Austrian nuclear policy. In all cases where nuclear power installations have or could have a negative impact on the country, Austria uses all possible legal options to protect its safety interests.

Links & References

What have been the major societal developments?

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 13 Apr 2011 Feed synced: 21 Dec 2010 original

The collapse of the Eastern Bloc in 1989/1990 led to the fall of the Iron Curtain, which had before hampered the development of Austria, particularly of the eastern part of the country.

 

Austria soon became one of the largest investors in the economies of the transition countries and Eastern Europe. Some of the most important factors influencing social development since 1980 have been the collapse and rebuilding of the country's own heavy industry, the favourable economic development owing to the opening up of the Eastern borders since the 1990s, the country's accession to the EU in 1995, the accessions of 2004 and 2007, and finally the deep economic and financial crisis.

 

Nevertheless, during the same period there have also been huge changes in demography, which has made Austria a country influenced by the issues of immigration, migration and EUinternal migration and pose future challenges to the safeguarding of the pension and social systems and public budgets from national to communal levels.

 

Simultaneously, trends in tourism have made a considerable contribution to stabilising rural areas, particularly in the western part of the country. Tourist areas with high overnight stay rates are located primarily there. Winter tourism has increased in recent decades and in 2005 it reached summer overnightstay rates for the first time (UMWELTBUNDESAMT Federal Environmental Agency 2010A). This increase does, however, imply a significant environmental burden.

 

Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from traffic rose by 61% between 1990 and 2008. A major cause of this, in addition to the increase in domestic mileage covered, was the export of fuel. The low price of Austrian fuel in European terms has led to fuel exports which has in turn reinforced structural fuel exports. In 2008, around 25% of GHG emissions by the transport sector were attributable to fuel exports (UMWELTBUNDESAMT Federal Environmental Agency 2010A).

Links & References

What are the main drivers of environmental pressures?

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 13 Apr 2011 Feed synced: 21 Dec 2010 original

Figures

Figure 5: Real GDP and Domestic Material Consumption, (BMLFUW 2009A- updated).

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Figure 5: Real GDP and Domestic Material Consumption, (BMLFUW 2009A- updated).
Fullscreen image Original link

Figure 4: Most pressing environmental problem in Austria (STATISTIK AUSTRIA 2007, modified).

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Figure 4: Most pressing environmental problem in Austria (STATISTIK AUSTRIA 2007, modified).
Fullscreen image Original link

Figure 7: Greenhouse gas emissions (1,000 tonnes CO<sub>2</sub>-equivalent) 1990-2008 (Umweltbundesamt, own analysis).

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Figure 7: Greenhouse gas emissions (1,000 tonnes CO<sub>2</sub>-equivalent) 1990-2008 (Umweltbundesamt, own analysis).
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Figure 6: Primary energy consumption by fuel in Austria (Umweltbundesamt, own analysis).

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Figure 6: Primary energy consumption by fuel in Austria (Umweltbundesamt, own analysis).
Fullscreen image Original link

National surveys show the priority given by the Austrian population to environmental problems; see Figure 4 (STATISTIK AUSTRIA 2007).

 

The close match between the importance of environmental problems in terms of physical/technical assessment parameters and how they are evaluated by the public  is  striking. Only the importance attributed to the consumption of energy/natural resources, a main driver, is underrated. (BMLFUW Austrian Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Environment and Water Management 2009B)

 

During the 1990s, Domestic Material Consumption (DMC) rose by an average of 0.5% per year, and between 2000 and 2006 by 0.9% per year (Figure 5).

Since 1990, primary energy consumption in Austria has increased by 36%, amounting to 1.429 PJ in 2008. The share of fossil fuels, to meet this consumption, is as high as 72%.

 

In 2008, the transport sector was the largest endconsumer of energy with 34%, of which almost 95% was from fossil fuels. Industry accounted for 29% of final energy consumption, private households for 25% and the services sector for 10%. Agriculture accounted for 2%. Final consumption of electricity rose between 1990 and 2008 by 39%, with the highest rise in manufacturing (STATISTIK AUSTRIA 2009A).

 

Related to this the development of GHG emissions are shown in Figure 7.

(The data are based on figures for sold fuels and therefore include fuel exports. Emissions produced by fuel export (passenger cars and heavy duty vehicles) are displayed separately. The difference in fuel prices between Austria and other countries has affected the data, particularly since 2001.)

A total of 31,373 km2 (37.4%) of the country's territory is currently available as permanent settlement area, i.e. as space available for agriculture, settlement and transport infrastructure. The associated areas used for building and transport purposes have increased by more than 6% since 2004 (BEV 2010). In contrast, the population has risen by 2.6% over a comparable period (STATISTIK AUSTRIA 2009B). Around 5 hectares per day are being sealed (BEV 2010).

 

The main reasons for making demands on the land are the increased standard of living and changes in the structure of society and the economy. The average living area per person rose from 22 m2 in 1971 to 36 m2 in 2001 (STATISTIK AUSTRIA 2004). Land designated for transport infrastructure purposes is increasingly being used for roads, with approximately 40% of the areas for building and transport purposes (BEV 2010).

 

The measures necessitated by dense settlement to protect against natural hazards and the intensive use of hydroelectric energy with the associated interference in aquatic ecology have resulted in some 63% of the waters failing to achieve the 'good status' required under the EU Water Framework Directive (BMLFUW 2010B).

 

The main Alpine crest acts as a natural barrier in Austria and, as such, is particularly exposed to longhaul air freight. Unlike other EU countries, this affects the sensitive highAlpine regions (Source: Austria and global environmental protection). Air currents from the northeast and southeast are frequently associated with aboveaverage SO2 and fine particulate air pollution in Austria.

The calculation models for modelling ambient air quality produce much less reliable results for Austria than for regions that are less strongly divided in orographical terms.

Links & References

What are the foreseen developments?

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 13 Apr 2011 Feed synced: 21 Dec 2010 original

What are the foreseen main developments in coming decades that could be expected to contribute most to future environmental pressures

 

Demographic forecasts assume a roughly stable population over the next few decades without taking into account the immigration factor. If forecasts for immigration are included, the population could reach approximately 9.5 million by 2050.

 

As a consequence of the limited settlement area available and economic wealth, urban sprawl and land consumption occur in restricted areas, with resulting high pressures on the environment. Global warming and its consequences aggravate this pressure. These developments are one of the reasons why natural hazard and risk management in Austria is considered a key task in terms of policy development and implementation.

 

In order to combat climate change, increased efforts are required to reduce emissions. In addition, adaptation to climate change and its effects has to be accelerated, including provision for natural catastrophes (for example through implementation of the EU Floods Directive), the preservation of carbon dioxide sinks in forests and the further development of landuse planning. In general, efforts must be made to reverse the upward trend in material consumption and to increase resource efficiency through increased prevention of waste as well as increased waste recycling and/or reuse.

  

Land use is to be curbed in the future. For example, in order to move away from private motorised transport, public transport has to be promoted more strongly (UMWELTBUNDESAMT 2010A). In addition, a rise is anticipated in passenger and goods transport by rail, road and waterways (ROK 2008B).

  

There will also be effects on health, which cannot be ignored, for example owing to fine particulate emissions. There is some uncertainty regarding the as yet unknown future risks of, for example, flame retardants or nanomaterials. Technology is being further developed to counteract the rise in the emission of hazardous substances as a result of the increasing use of biomass.

 

The status of Austrias larger watercourses is to be improved by 2015, with action focussing on creating continuity, an incremental increase in quantities of residual water in diversion power plants and the local improvement of structures in water bodies and on their banks. The development of alternative energies and in this respect particularly the further development of hydroelectric energy in a manner compatible with the ecological objectives of surface waters is a particular challenge.

 

All in all, many of the trends described here have common characteristics, requiring integrated policy solutions. It will be increasingly important for a relatively small country like Austria, with a high research and development potential, to develop sustainable, stable solutions by increasing efficiency and taking even smarter measures in areas such as energy, resources, spatial planning and transport, and in particular by strengthening cooperation with the neighbouring regions.

 

At the same time it should be noted that the choice of the correct european policy instruments, along with their timing, quality and flexibility, is of key importance.

Links & References

Disclaimer

The country assessments are the sole responsibility of the EEA member and cooperating countries supported by the EEA through guidance, translation and editing.

European Environment Agency (EEA)
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