Increasing global industrialisation and the exponential population growth in the past century have had a major impact on the natural resources of our planet that are subject to man-made intervention to an extent as unseen before. In the 1970ies, an ecological awareness process began that, in combination with better scientific understanding of the global context and the knowledge that man-made environmental problems do not stop at national borders, called for action of the international community. Austria is a member in numerous multilateral environment fora and agreements that take account of the cross-border aspect of ecological issues and the respective efforts taken globally to preserve the natural basis of life.
Global environmental protection involves foreign relations, and therefore the Federal Ministry for Europe, Integration and Foreign affairs is involved in the respective Austrian activities. Together with the other Austrian ministries in charge (e.g. BMLFUW) and organisations, the Foreign Ministry fights for sustainable environmental and climate policy both on a bilateral and multilateral level by contributing foreign policy aspects to the Austrian positions on global environmental and climate protection.
Milestones of international environmental protection are, for example, the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer 1985 and the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer from the year 1987, as well as the climate protection process launched in 2005. The two conventions on the protection of the ozone layer demonstrate that efforts of the international community can be successful.
One of the most important and best known multilateral processes in which Austria is involved is the UN climate process that consists of two components, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The parties to the Convention hold annual conferences to negotiate solutions to the consequences of climate change. The Kyoto Protocol that entered into force in 2005 commits all industrialised states to stabilise and/or reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. At the Conference of the Parties in Durban (2011) it was agreed to develop a follow-up agreement to be adopted in 2015; under this agreement the unilateral commitment of the old industrialised states should be replaced by a more diversified reduction obligation.
Together with members of other Austrian ministries, the Foreign Ministry represents the Austrian interests and positions in the Kyoto process.
The positions in the climate process are coordinated within the EU to ensure that the EU, as a vital global player that is open to climate protection interests, can bring its influence to bear in the best possible manner in the global negotiations. The Federal Ministry for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs is involved in the determination of the Austrian position, the European coordination and also in making the case for EU positions on the environment in third countries.
Other essential multilateral agreements include: The Ramsar Convention, an international treaty on wetlands, especially as waterfowl habitats. The Austrian areas "Wilder Kaiser" (Tyrol) and "Obere Drau" (Carinthia) have recently been added to the Ramsar list. The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification is dedicated to fighting desertification and consequences of drought in the countries experiencing serious drought and/or desertification, particularly in Africa. The Convention on Biodiversity serves to preserve biological diversity, i.e. the diversity of flora and fauna.
Bilateral environmental issues are typically discussed on a bilateral level. The Federal Ministry for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs is an important point of contact in bilateral ecological concerns and acts as a mediator between Austrian and foreign authorities.