Austrian climate policy in crisis

Last week, I’ve visited a conference called “Climate in crisis – Last exit Copenhagen?” in Vienna which showed that not only the climate is in crisis but especially also Austrian climate policy. Not only is Austria the only EU15 country not to achieve its Kyoto target, but it also fails with respect to a clear strategy for the COP15 summit, a climate protection law, a functioning renewable energy act or a commitment to international adaptation funding.

Despite talking about global responsibility in his opening remarks, the Austrian Minister for the environment, Nikolaus Berlakovich, couldn’t give any details on Austria’s possible contributions to climate adaptation funds for developing countries. Clearer statements about climate change came from one of Austria’s best-known scientists Helga Kromp-Kolb from the University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences Vienna who fears that current climate change models even underestimate the speed of unfavourable developments. Her message is clear: “We are on target for a collapse” and “The disastrous effects that can be currently seen in countries like Ethiopia or Kenya are nothing compared to what will come in the future”.

So, according to Kromp-Kolb, emissions have to peak between 2010 and 2015 and will have to be reduced by 90% in developed countries and 50% in developing countries by 2050. Otherwise, several tipping points like the melting of the Arctic, the thawing of the permafrost in Siberia, the instability of the gulf stream or the destruction of the Amazonas might make climate change uncontrollable. In short, we have to accomplish the transformation from “The Age of Fossil fuels” to “The Age of Sustainability and Justice” because sustainability without justice is not possible. Moreover, as such a systemic change must always come bottom-up from the population, everyone has to get active, inform other people, put pressure on politicians and think about his or her own lifestyle.

One focus of the event was on climate change adaptation measures in developing countries. According to Sven Harmerling from Germanwatch, it will be crucial to address all people like politicians, government agencies, research communities, donor agencies or civil society organizations and to develop holistic approaches including catastrophe precautions, risk insurance and ambitious financing. Moreover, it will be important to foster political participation of the most vulnerable people. This bottom-up concept of “community based adaptation” was also mentioned in a case study on climate change adaptation measures in Ghana which also highlighted the importance of female empowerment as women in developing countries are more vulnerable than men with regards to climate change. With regards to the COP15 negotiations, it will be necessary that any climate change adaptation funds must be additional to existing ODA funds that are provided to achieve the UN Millenium Development Goals.

Finally, the environmental speakers of three Austrian parties as well as officials from the ministries of finance, external affairs and environment discussed the Austrian perspectives towards the COP15 summit and international adaptation funds. Unfortunately, the chief negotiator of the Austrian government officials delegation reported that there was almost no progress at the last climate summits in Bonn, Bangkok and Barcelona and that there won’t be a global treaty in Copenhagen. In fact, the main obstacles are the diverging emissions reduction goals of developed and developing countries as well as the reluctance of developed countries to provide sufficient adaptation funds for developing countries. Unfortunately, it became clear that the Austrian delegation as part of the European delegation is also reluctant concerning emissions reduction goals and adaptation funds as the officials from the ministries hesitated to confirm that any adaptation funds will be addition to existing ODA funds and avoided to talk specifically about the Austrian or European contribution to such global funds.

Despite this negative outlook, the environmental speakers of the political parties said that more political will and courage, a functioning climate protection law and renewable energy act, more public awareness for necessary big measures and the willingness of everyone of us to inform other people and to change one’s lifestyle will be necessary. In the face of those clear statements, the only question remaining is why the politicians from the Social Democratic Party and the People’s Party couldn’t yet convince their colleagues in the government to act…

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Note: This blogpost was also published on the TH!NK ABOUT IT website.

Posted on November 17, 2009 in Sustainability

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About the Author

Andreas Lindinger is a Vienna-based business consultant, sustainability expert and urban thinker passionate about livable cities, sustainable transportation, renewable energy and civic engagement. Andreas offers a transdisciplinary business, finance and sustainability background, industry expertise in energy, mobility and environmental consulting and broad international experience gained in Vienna, Vancouver, Berlin and Dublin. Make sure to also check out Vienncouver.com and to follow @lindinger on Twitter.

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