Klimwandel - Court of Auditors rebukes domestic climate policy

The Court of Auditors criticizes Austria's climate policy in a report. Climate change is already causing economic costs of one billion euros a year. In addition, from today's perspective, Austria will clearly miss the EU's climate targets for 2030. "Therefore, compensation payments for the purchase of emission certificates of up to 9,214 billion euros can be expected," it said in a broadcast on Friday.

Environment Minister Leonore Gewessler (Greens) spoke of “a historic mission” in a reaction. “The current audit report on climate protection measures in Austria up to 2019 shows one thing very clearly: we have to catch up in the fight against the climate crisis. And we have to reduce our emissions quickly. That is why we launched major programs at all levels last year. From the comprehensive expansion of the rail infrastructure and the switch to e-mobility, to the exit from oil and gas heating systems, to the energy transition. At the moment we are working on a new and consistent climate protection law, which of course will also address the recommendations of the Court of Auditors. It is particularly about the joint responsibility that the federal and state governments have in terms of climate protection, ”said the minister.

Emissions increased

While greenhouse gas emissions fell by almost a quarter on average between 1990 and 2017 in the EU, they increased by five percent in Austria during this period, according to the report. "Austria was one of six EU countries that did not reduce greenhouse gas emissions during this period," said the Court of Auditors. In 2017, Austria exceeded the maximum amount of greenhouse gas emissions provided for in the Climate Protection Act by around 51,5 million tons for the first time with a total of 2 million tons of CO1,3 equivalents; in comparison to the limit value stipulated by Union law by around 2,1 million tonnes.

The irreversible consequences of climate change therefore also have “far-reaching economic effects”. “The weather and climate-related costs of global warming in Austria are currently at an average of one billion euros per year. By the middle of the century, the social damage would be estimated at 4,2 billion euros to 5,2 billion euros per year. Should the temperature rise more sharply, this amount would increase to 8,8 billion euros, ”warned the Court of Auditors.

The main cause of greenhouse gas emissions in the non-emissions trading area is traffic. According to the report, 47 percent in 2018 - almost half - can be attributed to this sector. The reasons for this are increased fossil fuel sales and the higher mileage of cars, buses and trucks. “Since 2014 Austria has continuously failed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the transport sector. A trend reversal towards a sustainable reduction in emissions was not achieved, ”said the Court of Auditors.

The binding climate targets of the EU for 2030 envisaged a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in the non-emissions trading area by 36 percent compared to 2005 for Austria during the test period. In its long-term strategy, the European Commission set itself the goal of reducing emissions by 2050 percent to 80 percent compared to 100 levels by 1990. According to the report, on the basis of the binding measures implemented so far, Austria would “clearly miss” the 2030 and 2050 climate targets. “For the period from 2021 to 2030, the first accounting of the total emissions at EU level will take place in 2027. According to a statement from the Ministry of Finance, costs in the four-digit million range can be expected. Based on the calculations of a study from Germany, without additional climate protection measures, Austria would incur expenditures of around 4,607 billion euros to around 9,214 billion euros for the purchase of emission certificates during this period, ”the report says.

The Court of Auditors recommended developing a timely strategy for purchasing emission certificates. “The currently envisaged cost allocation of the countries according to the population key does not offer any financial incentive to strive for climate protection measures more ambitiously than in other countries. Therefore, we should work towards a regulation of the distribution of the costs for the possible purchase of emission certificates between the federal government and the federal states, which is as fair as possible, ”said the audit office.

The Court of Auditors also recommended improving cooperation between the responsible federal agencies and between the federal government and the federal states and implementing suitable processes in terms of overall control responsibility for climate protection measures. Central monitoring and reporting would also be necessary in order to be able to react more quickly to developments relevant to climate protection.

The Court of Auditors also saw room for improvement in the National Climate Protection Committee, an advisory body for fundamental questions on Austrian climate policy. There is no clear task profile here. It is also unclear “to whom this body should address its recommendations and what binding force the recommendations are”.

Criticism came from the opposition. “The Court of Auditors' report on climate protection clearly shows that if we continue like this, we will miss our climate targets and have to pay nine billion euros for emissions certificates. Instead of sending the contribution to Brussels in a few years, we should invest it now ”, said SPÖ environmental spokeswoman Julia Herr. In its “power pack”, the SPÖ had made specific proposals for the way out of the crisis, “with the aim of creating 300.000 jobs, among other things by investing in climate protection”.

“The Court of Auditors' report on environmental policy is simply a devastating testimony for Austria. If the Court of Auditors has its way, Austria will not achieve all of its goals by 2030 and 2050. The green environment minister Gewessler fails all along the line. The previous pollution and announcement policy is relentlessly exposed, ”said FPÖ environmental spokesman Walter Rauch. However, greening the tax system would lead to new taxes and the abolition of social measures such as the commuter allowance.

The NEOS criticized that Austria “with this turquoise-green climate policy” will not achieve the climate targets, said the chairman of the audit committee, Douglas Hoyos. The party called for the greening of the tax system, with a simultaneous reduction in wage tax, the abolition of environmentally harmful subsidies and “finally sound climate protection policy through a climate transparency law with clear responsibilities and a CO2 budget”.