International Environmental Policy
Environmental pollution and serious ecological disruptions - climate change, desertification, forest die-back and the extinction of species, to give but a few examples - do not stop at national borders. They are global challenges which require global answers - and they concern us all.
International environmental and sustainability policies promote environmental protection and sustainable development around the globe. International agreements define standards and targets for conserving nature and natural resources, which are subsequently discussed, reviewed and further developed at international conferences.
The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (Earth Summit) held in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) in 1992 was one of the most important international conferences on environment of the last few decades. It resulted in three agreements that are of key importance for international environmental policy.
1. The United Nations Framework on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol which was adopted in 1997 and entered into force in 2005, deal with climate protection. Their paramount goal is the stabilisation of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level at which a dangerous disruption of the climate system is avoided. To this end the Kyoto Protocol obliges all industrialised countries (except for the USA and Australia, which have not ratified the protocol) to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions between 2008-2012 by at least 5 per cent compared to 1990. The EU has committed itself to reducing its greenhouse emissions during this period by 8 per cent compared to 1990. Within the EU-internal system of burden sharing, Austria has committed itself to reducing its emissions by 13 per cent compared to 1990.
2. The Convention on Biological Diversity and the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety adopted in 2000 are committed to three goals: the preservation of biological diversity, i.e. the diversity of animal and plant species on our globe; the sustainable use of the components of biodiversity; and fair access to genetic resources and benefit sharing. The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety extends these goals to include protection of biological diversity against risks emanating from modern biotechnology, in particular from living modified organisms.
3. The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification in Countries Experiencing Serious Drought and/or Desertification, Particularly in Africa, aims at a fundamental reorientation of economic and environmental policies in severely affected countries. The focus is on using existing resources in an ecologically meaningful and sustainable manner to combat the degradation of soil in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid regions.
Alongside these three conventions the Rio Earth Summit also adopted Agenda 21 - a development and environmental policy action programme for the 21st century, in which sustainable development plays a prominent role.
Sustainable development, commonly defined as development that "meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs" has since then developed into a central policy area. Ten years after the Rio Summit, the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg (South Africa) - was specifically dedicated to this issue , a follow-up conference ("Rio+20") is foreseen for the year 2012.
Sustainability is one of the overarching goals of the European Union. During Austria’s EU Council Presidency the Renewed EU Sustainable Development Strategy was adopted.
The Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs is involved in all ongoing developments in the field of international environmental and sustainability policy, and through its network of international representations makes available a valuable infrastructure in this field to other Austrian institutions, e.g. the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Environment and Water Management and the Austrian Development Agency.
Through the Green Diplomacy Network, which was launched to promote the integration of environmental issues in external relations, the EU Foreign Ministries’ environmental and sustainability experts are connected in an informal network.
For an annual update on the developments in the field of European environmental and sustainability policy please refer to the Foreign Policy Yearbook of the Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs.