Austria: CLIMATE CHANGE

In March, demonstrations against climate change organized by Fridays for Future started in Vienna, with only a few thousand people coming together from different educational facilities. In comparison, to the global strike in September, the organizers announced overall 150.000 participants in nearly all federal states, with 80.000 of them marching only in Vienna (Kurier, 2019.) With this massive increase of demonstrators, it is fair to say that the country’s reaction was highly supportive. Thus, the President was the first person in the government who invited activists of the Fridays for Future movement to a personal dialogue, leading to several conversations with parties of the Parliament throughout the past months of elections. In July, the National Council urged the government to declare a nationwide climate emergency, which was then carried on by the interim government. However, it is not yet foreseeable how serious climate change measures will be tackled in the upcoming period as coalition talks of the Austrian People’s Party and the Green Party are just taking place. 

On the 18th of December 2019, the Council of Ministers determined a National Climate and Energy Plan. As stated on the website of the Austrian Climate Adaptation Strategy, the document contains 440 pages with 136 recommendations for action represented in 14 sectors. According to the environment minister Ms. Maria Patek, the paper will be consigned to Brussels by the end of the year 2019. Even though Austria takes on a pioneering role with this extensive work compared to other European countries, environmental organizations aroused a lot of criticism, saying that Austria cannot achieve the binding CO2 reduction targets: minus 36 percent or 14,2 million tons less CO2 by 2030. As for now, only the reduction of  9 million tons is foreseeable, the upcoming government could be guided by the document and its recommendations to choose solutions for the remaining five million tons. For instance, the reduction of two million tons could be achieved through the termination of environmentally harmful subsidies; and additional recommendations for the reduction of another three million tons include “Greening the tax system” – without using the euphemism ‘CO2 tax’. However, other points are much likely to be achieved with the plan or have already been implemented, such as the goal of using 100 percent renewable electricity by 2030, as well as raising the renewable energy sources to a total of 46 to 50 percent (Die Presse, 2019).  

In conclusion, after revising the document, the Department of the Environment in Austria is fully convinced about the content and leaves us waiting curiously for the response of the European Commission.

Republic of Austria, EST Ambassador 2020: Tekla Scharwaschidze


References

APA, (2019, Decemeber). Ministerrat verabschiedet nationalen Energie- und Klimaplan, Die Presse

https://www.diepresse.com/5740486/ministerrat-verabschiedet-nationalen-energie-und-klimaplan

Bernhard Gaul, (2019, Dezember). Klim-Demo sorgt für Rekordzahlen in Österreich, Der Kurier

https://kurier.at/chronik/wien/klimademo-in-wien-strassensperren-und-oeffi-einschraenkungen/400617836

Österreichische Anpassungsstrategie (Austrian Adaptation Strategy), (2019)

https://www.klimawandelanpassung.at/ms/klimawandelanpassung/de/kwa_politik/kwa_oesterreich/

Berlin, Germany: Combating Climate Change: the Carbon Tax

It was back in September 2019, when the German government formally introduced the concept of a carbon tax in its Klimapaket (climate package), a comprehensive plan that would allow the country to achieve its climate protection goals by 2030. 

A carbon tax is “a fee imposed on the burning of carbon-based fuels (coal, oil, gas)”. By imposing this tax, a government increases the price of fuels, and thereby also the prices of products and services that require their consumption.

In Germany, public discourse and academia have been greatly focusing on the idea of a CO2 tax, and in particular on the aspect of fairness surrounding it. A point that is often – probably rightly – made, is that such a tax can make certain products or services completely inaccessible for the parts of society that can already barely afford them, while not influencing the behaviours of those groups that actually contribute to the problem. For example, making flights 20% more expensive, due to the fuel that they burn, is only going to prevent low-income people from taking a yearly vacation, whereas frequent travellers – who are usually more affluent – will be able to bear the extra cost and keep travelling.

On the other hand, and what is currently being suggested by proponents of the carbon tax, is the redistribution of the money gathered through the tax, and its investment in climate protection policies and infrastructure projects or even repayments that will benefit the lower classes.

To conclude, one can clearly see the positive intentions that inspired the CO2 tax, as well as the pitfalls that can lie ahead. Eventually, as with many ambitious political endeavours, the success (or, possibly, lack thereof) of the carbon tax appears to be more so a question of its implementation rather than of its initial concept, and it is going to require in-depth planning, as well as bipartisan cooperation, for it to rise up to its potential.

Berlin, Germany EST Ambassador 2020: Konstantina Nathanail

Reggio Calabria, Italy: THE CLIMATE EMERGENCY: HOW DOES ITALY RESPOND?

Our planet is on fire! This is the news that is being – and has for too long been – spread on a daily basis by scientists and millions of citizens around the world about the devastating effects of climate change. As a matter of fact, if in the past the consequences of pollution and global warming were limited to small parts of the planet, they are now beginning to be a real global problem, negatively affecting the lives of all citizens. For this reason, the various governments have started taking measures to tackle the situation, with the European Union, in particular, making a very strong choice; indeed, the European Parliament has declared a “climate emergency”, addressing the effects of this destructive problem. As a result, through a vote on Thursday 28th November, with 429 MEPs in favor, 225 against and 19 abstaining, the EU’s legislative institution proposed the goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Moreover, it recommended and urged all Member States to make this aim come true by shifting their industries towards renewable energies and increasing their financial support to fight climate change.

In Italy, environmental problems have been discussed for a long time, partly owing to the spread of the “Fridays for Future” movement, and the topic of climate change has inflamed the souls of Italian politicians. The first attempt to pass a motion declaring climate emergency in Italy was unfortunately rejected by the Senate of the Republic in June 2019. However, thanks to the European Parliament’s declaration, the Chamber of Deputies of the Italian Parliament approved, in December 2019, the famous motion, recognizing the climatic emergency and committing the government to declare it and taking effective measures. The act recommends strengthening, through research, the process of decarbonization, efficiency, and innovation of energy security, in order to implement the commitments of the Paris Agreement. As we understand it, that would happen by supporting the goal of carbon neutrality by 2050, as stated by the European Parliament. In that sense, another important goal would be to accelerate the energy transition and reduce CO2 emissions more quickly, through a public investment plan geared towards sustainability in the production sectors. Lastly, to guarantee the implementation of its commitment, the Italian Parliament would have to work on the insertion of the principle of sustainable development in the Constitution, the supreme Italian law.  

Fortunately, almost all Italian politicians agree with Italian citizens and the rest of the world on the importance of defending the climate and the environment. That means that in Italy, as well, there is the belief that great efforts still need to be made to save our planet and our future. To that end, sharing an effective European Green Deal, “a Europe’s man on the Moon moment”, as assumed by the European Commission’s President Ursula von der Leyen, constitutes the means that could lead us towards achieving our environmental goals.

Reggio Calabria, Italy EST Ambassador 2020: Pierfrancesco Maria Lanza

Sweden: The Swedish Climate Policy Framework est. 2017

On the 15th of June 2017, a large majority of the Swedish Parliament voted to adopt the “Climate Policy Framework” pursuant to the Paris Agreement. The framework establishes new climate goals, a climate act, a climate policy council, and has been described by the Swedish government as the most ambitious climate reform hitherto enacted. 

The climate act entered into force on the 1st January 2018, and mandates the government to pursue public policies to avert harmful disturbances to the ecosystem; protect ecosystems and current and future generations from the harm caused by climate change; and reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. The law also obligates the government to adapt climate policies to the long-term emission-goals established by the parliament, and to submit quadrennial Climate Action Plans to it, containing e.g: Sweden’s international and EU-related climate commitments; emissions data; prognostics of future reductions in emissions; the results of measures intended to reduce emissions; and to what degree these measures contribute to the fulfilment of domestic and global climate goals. 

The Climate Policy Council is responsible for evaluating whether, or to what degree, the government’s policies fulfil domestic and global climate commitments. This is unfortunately not the case according to the Council’s most recent report: it concludes that progress is too slow if the goal is to reach net-zero emissions of greenhouse gases by 2045. To target the transportation sector, which accounts for 32% of total emissions, is critical since it has a sector-specific goal (reduce emissions by 70% between 2010-2030). This objective will not be achieved if the following measures are not going to be implemented: accelerate electrification; increase the share of biofuels, and intensify transportation-efficiency. 

On the 17th of December 2019, the Government presented its first Climate Action Plan, covering more than 20 policy areas, with 132 concrete items. 55 of these are directly related to the transportation sector, including measures to promote car pools; increase maintenance of – and investments in – railways and high-speed trains; advocate for taxation of aviation fuels globally and in the EU; and expand the range of electrified roads and charging stations, especially for heavy transports, etc.
The plan has been positively received by NGOs like WWF, Greenpeace, and Naturskyddsföreningen, but they also stress the urgency of implementing the measures listed in it and invoke the recommendations issued by the Climate Policy Council: in order to achieve the goals set forth by the Paris Agreement and the Climate Policy Framework, it is imperative for all sectors of society to make a transition to ecological sustainability, and the pace of change must increase drastically. 

Sweden, EST Ambassador 2020: Egil Sturk 


References

Sources:

The Swedish Climate Policy Framework

SFS 2017:720 Klimatlag. Stockholm: Miljödepartementet. Retrieved 2019-12-30, from: https://www.riksdagen.se/sv/dokument-lagar/dokument/svensk-forfattningssamling/klimatlag-2017720_sfs-2017-720

Panorama. (2019). “Transport 16 Mton.” Retrieved 2019-12-30, from: https://app.climateview.global/public/board/ec2d0cdf-e70e-43fb-85cb-ed6b31ee1e09?part=b541b91c-5de1-41e3-8f4c-b8953d98732f

Klimatpolitiska Rådet. (2019). “Klimatpolitiska Rådets Rapport 2019.” Retrieved 2019-12-31, from: https://www.klimatpolitiskaradet.se/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/kprrapport190426.pdf

Miljödepartementet. (2019). “Klimatpolitiska handlingsplanen – Fakta-PM.” Retrieved 2019-12-31, from: https://www.regeringen.se/4af76e/contentassets/fe520eab3a954eb39084aced9490b14c/klimatpolitiska-handlingsplanen-fakta-pm.pdf

Naturskyddsföreningen. (2019). “Sveriges första klimathandlingsplan välkomnas men genomförandet brådskar.” Retrieved 2019-01-02, from: https://www.naturskyddsforeningen.se/nyheter/sveriges-forsta-klimathandlingsplan-valkomnas-men-genomforandet-bradskar