Standort: / Meldung: "Begin The Begin"

Chris Cummins

Letters from a shrinking globe: around the day in 80 worlds.

23. 9. 2016 - 15:08

Begin The Begin

NGOs and climatologists say Austria is dawdling on its climate obligations and we are running out of time to avoid disaster.

I remember feeling joyous after watching the Paris Climate Agreement been forged at a giant meeting in the suburb of Le Bourget last December. I felt that finally something had changed.

Although, as a global community, we had a long way to go in avoiding catastrophic climate change, we now at least had a plan.

a picture


When I spoke to him immediately after a last-gasp agreement had been reached, Austrian environment minister Andrä Rupprechter called it a “turning point in the history of climate action.”

We were now living in a post-denial era, we were now in an era of transition to a carbon-free economy by 2050.

The path had been set.

Get Going!

It might seem a long time until 2050, and, let’s be honest, this year one week really does feel like a long time in politics. But it is vital to step-out on to that path very quickly says climatologist Helga Kromp-Kolb:

“The climate deal is a recognition that there is only a limited amount of carbon dioxide we may emit into the atmosphere and so it is vital to start changing our systems because you can’t do this over a short period of time. If we don’t get started we will never get the job done.”

cop protestors


Same old, same old

But have you seen those vital first steps being taken?

Each day you wake up, it seems to be the same old mobility policy. Cars still come first. And this is in spite of the increasingly alarming statistics about their impact on human health of air pollution, which this month has even been linked to dementia.

It’s a depressing sign that the authorities, on the anniversary of the shocking Volkswagen pollution scandal, wouldn’t sanction the Rasen Am Ring in Vienna, a world car-free day initiative aimed at challenge to the dominance of the combustible engine. Economic concerns were cited.

Choking ourselves and the economy

According to a report compiled by the European Environment Agency EEA in cooperation with the EU member states air pollution is still responsible for more than 400 000 premature deaths in Europe each year. Who counts the economic cost of that? By choking ourselves we are choking the economy.

Meanwhile as China forges ahead with a wind-power programme, in Europe subsidies for renewables are being cut.

"Asking the wrong questions"

So when is the Austrian path to carbon-free 2050 going to begin? The first baby steps have included holding an experiment in direct democracy. This month, a period of online public consultation ended about the Austria’s climate change policy. The Austrian government asked voters, for example, whether it should set targets for 2030 for the expansion of renewable energy.

If you didn’t hear about this online consultation, you weren’t alone – only 399 people took part. And Adam Pawloff of Greenpeace is outraged at the form it took – given that the Paris Climate Agreement, which Austria’s parliament recently ratified, including very concrete targets.

“The Austria government is not setting itself targets. It is asking if we need targets. And from our point of view that’s the wrong question.”

Karl Schellmann, of the WWF agrees: “Our current energy and climate policy is questioning things that they themselves have already decided. We need targets and we need effective policy.”

yes a press conference

Nora Holzmann

"We Need Targets"

Why is this clarity so important? However Johannes Wahlmüller of GLOBAL2000 says that if the government doesn’t get going with strict policies and targets now, Austria will not be able to fulfil its climate obligations:

“The problem is that investments in the energy system have a long term effect. For example if an oil-based heating system is installed now, it is likely to run for decades. A transition to a zero-carbon future needs planning and foresight. We need to start now.”

What should we be seeing?

Climate politics can seem like a numbers game and all numbers games seem abstract. If, like me, you woke up the day after the Paris Agreement and wondered what an era of transition to green energy should look like on an everyday basis, this is what Karl Schellmann says should be happening already:

“We have to get away from fossil fuel powered cars and move to more public transport, electric cars, bicycles and walking. And we have to shift away from oil-based heating systems. That’s a key issue, agrees Helga Kromp-Kolb. “Every second household in Austria heats with fossil fuels households. That is something that would be easy to change”


Georg Mayer

What We Should See

We should be already seeing a huge effort to make Austria’s buildings more energy efficient. That’s why the signs of the new green era should already be visible, if Austria is taking its climate obligations seriously, says Johannes Wahlmüller.

“We should see scaffolding erected and builders at work providing subsidized thermal renovations for people’s homes. We should be seeing how the public transport systems are being expanded. We should be seeing wind-turbines being erected. We should see solar systems being installed on roofs. That’s what Austria would look like if it really wants to get fit for the challenge of climate change.”

This week top climate scientists meeting in Oxford warned hitting the Paris climate goal of keeping global average temperature increases to less than 1.5 degrees Celcius will be 'difficult if not impossible to hit'. If we don’t start immediately we have no chance.