Austria country briefing - The European environment — state and outlook 2015

Briefing Published 18 Feb 2015 Last modified 11 May 2020
6 min read

Main themes and sectors addressed in the national State of Environment report

The State of the Environment Report (SoER) describes the environmental situation in Austria. It is a written report on the performance of tasks specified in the Environmental Control Act[1], and is presented to the Austrian National Assembly by the Federal Environment Minister every three years. The Umweltbundesamt - Austria's environmental protection agency - is responsible for preparing the SoER.

The 18 chapters of the 10th SoER[2] address the following environmental themes: Water and Water Management, Air, Soil, Climate change mitigation, Climate change adaptation, Agriculture and Forests, Biodiversity and Nature protection, Noise, Resource and Waste Management, Contaminated Sites, Chemicals, Energy, Industry, Transport, Tourism, Spatial Development, Environment and Health, and Sustainable Development.

To ensure continuity and comparability, and to better reach the interested audience, all chapters within the SoER are structured as follows:

  • Environmental Policy Targets
  • Situation and Trends
  • Summary Assessment and Outlook
  • Recommendations

Any feedback and comments on the contents and/or technical handling of the report can be sent by e-mail to:

For the latest data, facts and figures, please go to

Key findings of the State of Environment report

The 10th Austrian SoER confirms that the quality of water resources in Austria is generally good[3]. This applies to groundwater and surface waters and also to bathing waters. The Austrian National Water Management Plan[4] states that there are deficiencies in flow conditions, water structures and in the continuity of Austrian rivers. In the field of wastewater treatment, more attention will have to be paid to the maintenance of existing infrastructures, particularly the sewage systems[5].

In recent years, air quality in Austria has improved considerably and emissions of most air pollutants have decreased. Emission ceilings for 2010 were complied with for sulphur dioxide, ammonia and volatile organic compounds. However, emissions of nitrogen oxides are still clearly above the emission ceilings, despite a downward trend in recent years. The yearly average limit value for nitrogen dioxide has being exceeded at several monitoring stations adjacent to places where traffic is the most significant source.

The admissible levels for particulate matter which are specified in the European Air Quality Directive[6] were exceeded in some federal provinces in 2010 and 2011, also due to unfavourable meteorological and dispersion conditions. In 2012 and 2013 the situation improved.

Austria has achieved its climate change mitigation target under the Kyoto Protocol. The share of renewable energy in gross final energy consumption has been rising continuously and amounted to as much as 32.2 % in 2012[7].

The total amount of waste generated in Austria has slightly decreased compared to previous years, but further action is needed to reduce the amount of waste from households and to prevent food waste.

To achieve the policy targets stipulated for contaminated site management, it will be necessary to revise the legislative background and to speed up further the identification and remediation of contaminated sites.

All six Austrian National Parks are recognised by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)[8]. About 2,8 % of the national territory has been classified as National Park, altogether about 16 % of the national territory has been classified as nature reserve. Despite the large number of measures, many habitats and species are under pressure from land use by humans and habitat changes, which will be exacerbated even further by climate change.

Agricultural areas in Austria are still free from genetically modified organisms. In 2010, more than 19 % of agricultural land was farmed organically – one of the largest shares of organic agricultural land in Europe.

While the expansion of mixed forests (and reduction of coniferous monocultures) is an encouraging step towards more natural forest development, and the increasing use of wood as a source of renewable energy plays an important role in climate change mitigation, biodiversity conservation and restoration efforts still need to be increased in the Austrian forests.

There is an increasing loss of soil and unsealed area to development in Austria. In total, the amount of land being used for development (construction land and traffic areas, sports facilities, other infrastructure areas) has remained high at 22.4 hectares per day. Of these, 4.3 hectares are sealed every day, that means covering of the ground by an impermeable material such as asphalt. There is still great potential for the reuse of brownfields.

Figure 1: Development of built-up area between 2001-2012 in Austrian municipalities

Development of built-up area between 2001-2012 (municipalities)

Source: Umweltbundesamt (2013): 10. Umweltkontrollbericht – Umweltsituation in Österreich (10th State of the Environment Report - Environmental Situation in Austria)

Main policy responses to key environmental challenges and concerns

Nitrate inputs to groundwater are addressed, inter alia, through measures implemented in the framework of the Austrian agri-environmental programme[9].

Austria's implementation of the EU Floods Directive[10] is a continuation of national policies promoting integrated flood risk management, based on recent experience from devastating floods.

Regarding air pollution an amendment to the Austrian Ambient Air Quality Act[11] and stricter regulations in the transport sector[12] have further improved conditions in designated areas.

In the area of climate change mitigation domestic measures under the national climate strategy[13] showed considerable GHG reduction effects since 2005. However, flexible Kyoto mechanisms also played an important role for Austria’s compliance under the EU burden sharing target of -13 % in the first commitment period. The Austrian Climate Change Act[14] includes sectoral emission ceilings for the years 2013 up to 2020 and ensures a more coordinated and stringent implementation of mitigation measures. Austria has implemented the "klima:aktiv" programme[15] , which supports among others measures in the area of mobility.

A national strategy on climate change adaptation[16] was developed and finalised in 2012 with broad-based stakeholder engagement.

A new national biodiversity strategy[17] that complies with EU requirements is being developed to safeguard domestic species diversity in a sustainable way. To further strengthen and consolidate cooperation among all stakeholders, the Austrian National Park strategy[18] was adopted in 2011, including a far-reaching public awareness campaign ("National Parks Austria[19]"). A variety of measures are implemented in the framework of the so-called "to live diversity" campaign[20].

In spatial development, measures regulating the allocation of land for building purposes are in place in nearly all of the federal provinces (use of designated, undeveloped building land). In some of the federal provinces, the designation of floodplains and retention areas has already been incorporated into spatial planning regulations.

Country specific issues

Use of renewable energies: For further upgrades of hydropower, a criteria catalogue has been developed[21]  to achieve a balance between conservation efforts and an efficient use of water resources. The Green Electricity Act 2012[22] defines quantitative targets for upgrades of hydropower, wind energy, biomass, biogas and solar energy during the 2010 – 2020 period.

Resource and waste management: The Austrian Resource Efficiency Action Plan (REAP)[23] provides a framework for Austrian efforts towards increasing resource efficiency (by at least 50% by 2020), identifies relevant action fields and suggests policy instruments and measures for specific implementation.

Biodiversity and nature protection: The Austrian National Park Strategy[18] specifies goals and success indicators for National Parks and their further development until 2015 and sets out a vision for 2035. Monitoring projects for invasive neobiota are being implemented on the local and the regional level.

Noise: Since 2012 noise maps have been available for 5 agglomerations, as well as for all airports, for more than 5 000 km of the main roads and for 2 000 km of the main railroads[24]. They provide a basis for planning instruments in regional planning.

Transport: The Austrian General Transport Plan[25] defines quantitative environmental goals as part of a transport strategy (e.g. reducing the contribution of transport to ambient air pollution by 2025 by up to 70 % for NOx and by 50 % for particulate matter (PM2,5)). This is a significant contribution to the integration of environmental aspects in transport planning.

Tourism: The number of tourist businesses certified with the Austrian Ecolabel has increased since 2009. Especially the creation of the "Green Meetings and Green Events" ecolabel has proved to be a positive development[26].

Sustainable development: "Growth in Transition" is an Austrian project which intends to initiate a dialogue among institutions and people about how we can shape a transformation process which encourages a better balance between economic growth and sustainability[27].


[1] Environmental Control Act: Umweltkontrollgesetz (BGBl 1998/152): Bundesgesetz über die Umweltkontrolle und die Errichtung einer Umweltbundesamt Gesellschaft mit beschränkter Haftung. 

[2] Umweltbundesamt (2013): 10. Umweltkontrollbericht – Umweltsituation in Österreich (10th State of the Environment Report - Environmental Situation in Austria)

see also

[3] Speaking note of the Austrian Minister for Environment addressing the 10th State of the Environment Report for the Environment Committee of the Austrian National Council on 20/06/2013.

[4] BMLFUW – Bundesministerium für Land- und Forstwirtschaft, Umwelt und Wasserwirtschaft (2009): Austrian National Water Management Plan - Nationaler Gewässerbewirtschaftungsplan 2009 – NGP 2009. 

[5] Umweltbundesamt (2013). Environmental Situation in Austria – 10th State of the Environment Report - 2013: the State of the Environment in a Nutshell.

[6] European Air Quality Directive: Luftqualitätsrichtlinie (RL 2008/50/EG): Richtlinie des europäischen Parlaments und des Rates vom 21.05.2008 über Luftqualität und saubere Luft für Europa. ABl. Nr. L 152

[7] BMLFUW – Bundesministerium für Land- und Forstwirtschaft, Umwelt und Wasserwirtschaft (2014): Data Facts and Figures 2014

[8] National Parks Austria, and Austrian tourism board, National parks in Austria

[9] BMLFUW – Bundesministerium für Land- und Forstwirtschaft, Umwelt und Wasserwirtschaft (2007): Austrian agri-environmental Programme. See also: Part of the programme for the development of rural areas 2007 – 2013 (Österreichisches Programm für die Entwicklung des Ländlichen Raums 2007 – 2013) 

[10] EU Floods Directive: Hochwasserrichtlinie (RL 2007/60/EG): Richtlinie des Europäischen Parlaments und des Rates vom 23. Oktober 2007 über die Bewertung und das Management von Hochwasserrisiken. ABl. Nr. L 288.

[11] Austrian Ambient Air Quality Act -Amendment: Immissionsschutzgesetz-Luft (BGBl. I Nr. 77/2010): Bundesgesetz, mit dem das Immissionsschutzgesetz-Luft (BGBl. I Nr. 115/1997 i.d.g.F.) und das Bundesluftreinhaltegesetz geändert werden und das Bundesgesetz über ein Verbot des Verbrennens biogener Materialien außerhalb von Anlagen aufgehoben wird.

[12] IG-L – Abgasklassen-Kennzeichnungsverordnung (AbgKlassV; BGBl. II Nr. 120/2012): Verordnung des Bundesministers für Land- und Forstwirtschaft, Umwelt und Wasserwirtschaft, mit der Bestimmungen über die Durchführung der besonderen Kennzeichnung von Fahrzeugen betreffend die Zuordnung zu den Abgasklassen festgelegt werden.

IG-L - Off-Road-Verordnung (Off-RoadV, BGBl. II Nr. 76/2013): Verordnung des Bundesministers für Land- und Forstwirtschaft, Umwelt und Wasserwirtschaft über die Verwendung und den Betrieb von mobilen technischen Einrichtungen, Maschinen und Geräten in IG-L-Sanierungsgebieten.

[13] BMLFUW – Bundesministerium für Land- und Forstwirtschaft, Umwelt und Wasserwirtschaft (2007): Austrian climate strategy: Anpassung der Klimastrategie Österreichs zur Erreichung des Kyoto-Ziels 2008-2012

[14] Austrian Climate Change Act: Klimaschutzgesetz (KSG; BGBl. I Nr. 106/2011): Bundesgesetz zur Einhaltung von Höchstmengen von Treibhausgasemissionen und zur Erarbeitung von wirksamen Maßnahmen zum Klimaschutz

[15] klima:aktiv - the Austrian climate protection initiative

[16] BMLFUW – Bundesministerium für Land- und Forstwirtschaft, Umwelt und Wasserwirtschaft (2012a): The Austrian Strategy for adaption to climate change. Part 1 – Context. Adopted by the Federal Government in October 2012 and by the Federal States in May 2013. 

BMLFUW – Bundesministerium für Land- und Forstwirtschaft, Umwelt und Wasserwirtschaft (2012b): Kronberger, B.; Balas, M. & Prutsch, A.: Die österreichische Strategie zur Anpassung an den Klimawandel. Teil 1. Wien.

BMLFUW – Bundesministerium für Land- und Forstwirtschaft, Umwelt und Wasserwirtschaft (2012c): Kronberger, B.; Balas, M. & Prutsch, A.: Die österreichische Strategie zur Anpassung an den Klimawandel. Teil 2 – Aktionsplan. Handlungsempfehlungen für die Umsetzung. Wien.

[17] Federal Ministry of Environment, Youth and Family (1998): Austrian Implementation Strategy for the Convention on Biological Diversity.
Currently under development: Biodiversitätsstrategie Österreich 2020.

[18] BMLFUW – Bundesministerium für Land- und Forstwirtschaft, Umwelt und Wasserwirtschaft (2010): Österreichische Nationalpark-Strategie. Ziele und Visionen von Nationalparks Austria. Broschüre, Wien.

See also: National Parks Austria, Österreichischen Nationalpark-Strategie

[19] National Parks Austria, themes

[20]To live diversity” campaign: "vielfalt leben"

[21] BMLFUW – Bundesministerium für Land- und Forstwirtschaft, Umwelt und Wasserwirtschaft (2012d): Österreichischer Wasserkatalog Wasser schützen – Wasser nutzen; Kriterien zur Beurteilung einer nachhaltigen Wasserkraftnutzung

[22] Green Electricity Act 2012: Ökostromgesetz 2012 (BGBl I Nr. 75/2011): Bundesgesetz über die Förderung der Elektrizitätserzeugung aus erneuerbaren Energieträgern (ÖSG 2012).

[23] BMLFUW – Bundesministerium für Land- und Forstwirtschaft, Umwelt und Wasserwirtschaft (2012e): Ressourceneffizienz Aktionsplan (REAP). Wegweiser zur Schonung natürlicher Ressourcen. Wien. 

[24] Noise Protection for Austria

[25] Austrian General Transport Plan: BMVIT – Bundesministerium für Verkehr, Innovation und Technologie (2012): Gesamtverkehrsplan für Österreich. Wien. 

[26] Österreichisches Umweltzeichen (2012): UZ 62 Green Meetings und Green Events. 

[27] Growth in Transition Initiative


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