Environmental protection has become an increasingly important item on the Austrian social and economic policy agenda. Due to the complex nature of the problems related to environmental pollution and the traditional distribution of public tasks among a number of regional authorities, measures aimed at protecting the environment are not only taken by the federal authorities, but also by Province governments and municipalities, all of whom make considerable investments.
Austria is one of the leading countries in Europe in the field of environmental policy. This was not only recognised by the OECD in its report on the environmental situation in its Member countries; the report of the EU Commission on the accession of Austria, Sweden and Finland also clearly showed that environmental standards within the European Union were substantially improved due to the accession of these three new Member States.
In the fields of waste management, chemicals or air pollution related to boiler installations, the standards in force in Austria are very stringent by European comparison. The limits for airborne pollutants are also within the bandwidth of those applicable in Germany, Japan, the USA and Switzerland. Moreover, ecological criteria have increasingly been taken into account in agriculture. Thus the regulations in force for the use of pesticides and fertilisers, for instance, are very strict.
The objective of the Environmental Information Act is to enhance transparency in the field of environmental information and access to environmental data. Since 2003 Austria has been a party to the Aarhus Convention, under which Member States undertake to actively make information available to the public and to provide a comprehensive, computer-based information network for the collection of data on environmental protection. The Environmental Impact Assessment Act of 2005 provides for the assessment of direct and indirect effects planned projects may have on humans, animals and the environment. Austrian legislation is thus increasingly taking citizens’ health and environmental concerns into account.
As a result of the programmes implemented, the water quality of Austria’s lakes was raised to excellent levels. Implementing the EU Water Framework Directive, which undertakes a type-specific assessment of the ecological state of domestic bodies of water, Austria has amended its Water Act. In order to classify the system, a detailed, state-of-the-art computer-based documentation of all Austrian rivers and lakes was prepared.
Likewise, Austria attaches vital importance to safeguarding and improving the protective function of forests which is indispensable to a mountainous country. To this end, the Ministry of Agriculture in cooperation with the Federal Provinces elaborated a national concept for the rehabilitation of protective forests. This comprehensive programme is further complemented by the measures implemented by the Austrian Federal Forests. Moreover, the specific steps taken with respect to emissions of airborne pollutants also led to considerable reductions.
By adopting the Federal Constitutional Act for a Nonnuclear Austria, Austria renounced the use of nuclear energy. In this spirit Austria is advocating the creation of a nonnuclear Central Europe. At the international level Austria strongly supports strengthening the International Atomic Energy Agency as a control instrument and advocates the increase of funds for nonnuclear energy research under the EURATOM programme. Austria’s efforts are aimed at ensuring that the nuclear power plants in the EU accession candidate countries are retrofitted to meet at least Western safety standards.